You don’t need straight-As to be successful in life – just ask high-school or college dropouts like Bill Gates (Microsoft) or Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group). And you don’t need to come from a wealthy family – just ask Oprah Winfrey or Ralph Lauren.
But you do need to learn some business basics, and in Israel there’s an enrichment program called Entrepreneurship for Kids (EFK), approved by the Ministry of Education, for starting this process as early as kindergarten.
Developed by Israeli serial entrepreneur and mother of four Galit Zamler, EFK offers a curriculum introducing younger children to entrepreneurial skills in a fun fashion, while finding and fostering each child’s personal strengths.
For older grades, EFK offers ready-to-teach modules on different aspects of entrepreneurship leading to group projects conceived and developed by the kids for presentation at a year-end fair.
Under the guidance of teachers trained by Zamler, pupils in participating schools go through the same process that adults do in business accelerators: identifying needs and opportunities, defining a target audience, writing a business and marketing plan, and creating and pitching a proof of concept.
One third-grader named Yair had the idea of an adjustable t-shirt inspired by the sci-fi movie Back to the Future, where the hero pushed a button enabling him to enlarge or shrink his clothing.
Yair’s EFK group went to visit Israeli fashion designer Rotem Eyal – who had spoken to them during Global Entrepreneurship Week – to learn about the business side of fashion, and worked with a student’s mother, a bridal studio owner, to sew a prototype.
A fifth-grade EFK participant, Itai, learned to look at his classmates as potential customers to be dazzled, honing his public-speaking skills to the point where in ninth grade he launched a YouTube channel that now has over a million views.
Polished presentation doesn’t come easily to many children. Zamler recalls one seventh-grader too shy to talk about her startup idea to her peers. But later in the year, she was the one to volunteer to explain the class business project to a delegation of educators visiting from a developing country.
Sponsored by Israel’s MASHAV Agency for International Development Cooperation, such delegations come to see EFK in action twice a year. Two additional school systems from developing countries that found EFK online are trying to raise money to buy the program, says Zamler.
EFK also has been adopted by the Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, and a company from Hong Kong franchised EFK from Zamler.
“They’re starting to teach the program this school year in Hong Kong and China,” she says. “They admire Israel as a startup nation and want to learn from us.”
From volunteer job to full-time career
This year during Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 12-18), about 14 schools in the EFK program will hear guest entrepreneurs talk about their challenges, difficulties and successes, “so the children will understand it doesn’t happen in a minute,” says Zamler.
Starting EFK didn’t happen in a minute either.
Its history dates back to 2009, when Zamler’s son’s grade-school principal in Ramat Gan wanted to launch an afterschool entrepreneurship club 10 years ago. But the educational service she consulted wanted to charge a steep price and accept only outstanding students.
“I went to the principal and explained that I was an entrepreneur and I was willing to run the course voluntarily,” says Zamler. And she did, to great acclaim by kids and parents.
However, the club didn’t survive the arrival of a new principal the following year. So Zamler tried running it at the local community center, only to find that those who signed up were exclusively boys from well-off families.
“I wanted to reach many more kids, especially those whose parents are not aware of the benefits of this kind of activity and cannot afford high fees,” says Zamler, who has a master’s of business administration.
She realized she needed to bring the program back to schools. “I did it for six years voluntarily because I really believe in this,” Zamler tells ISRAEL21c.
Until late 2014, she made time for EFK alongside her work with her husband in launching a series of startups – two of which (Ada2C++ and Live Dist) achieved success.
Just before the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, a principal in Herzliya contacted Zamler about starting an EFK program.
When Zamler said she was too overwhelmed with existing sites, the principal persuaded Zamler to stop volunteering and make a new career out of inspiring the next generation of Israeli entrepreneurs.
Zamler no longer leads EFK clubs personally. She develops lesson plans containing activities, questions and videos, and trains teachers chosen by each participating school to run the sessions.
“When teachers are being trained in entrepreneurship, they also acquire skills that are important to everyone today in a rapidly changing world,” Zamler points out.
“It’s not just about business and money. Education for entrepreneurship fosters independent and positive thinking, identifying opportunities, having faith in yourself and your abilities, defining goals and objectives and persevering until they’re achieved, taking responsibility, and developing creativity, teamwork and interpersonal skills.
“In addition, the process of entrepreneurship studies helps teachers identify the potential of each student, even in those who are not outstanding at school.”
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