All Hashtags Are Equal, But Some Hashtags Are More Equal Than Others

I’ve often wondered if I was destined to go into digital. When it comes to website URLs and social media pages, you had better decide on a business name to secure your online real estate pretty much before you’ve even decided to start a business, if you’re going to grab the right name in time.

Because I, back in the day when I was writing for the sake of it and not the share of it, obsessed over what to call any creative child I was about to give birth to, I was pretty much bred for digital baptisms right from the start.

In most cultures, whether contemporary or ancient, naming a newborn is a significant rite of passage, for it’s in this naming act that the child’s future is shaped. Early folklore told that failing to name a child in time was to leave the door right open for fairies to snatch your precious youngling away in exchange for a changeling of their own choosing.

Thus, as per usual, I find myself compulsively obsessing over what to call something – clearly an important endeavour, as I’d much rather have my brainchildren see my light of day than that of Neverland. Only, in this case, that something is more than a domain name that is SEO-friendly or an article name that will entice clicking ‘Read more.’ Today, having over a period of time steadily borne witness to its growing existence, I am to lend a hashtag to a movement. Of course, as a 30-year-old white woman who owns precisely zero pairs of sneakers or leggings, whose idea of downtime is pressing the ‘Randomise’ button on Wikipedia, I’m hardly riding the skateboard of cool. So let’s not expect the hashtag of the revolution now, shall we?

I started off, as one would expect, with Afripreneur. I won’t lie. For the 8 seconds it took to load the Google search results, I thought it was awesome. Of course, once I realised I’d have to marry an IP lawyer if I wanted to refer to this anywhere other than said company’s marketing boardroom, I’d have to find fault with the term, for my own ‘no regrets’ peace of mind, if nothing more.

But that process of idea-dissing was a fruitful one, for it made me dig real deep. Ask the hard questions. Put off creating the Facebook page a little longer.

Is this a term worthy of the goosebumps this phenomenon gave me?

Having been an entrepreneur, having – to my psychologist’s accountant’s delight – an evergreen entrepreneurial spirit that has solemnly pledged to haunt me every minute of every day that I don’t spend in pursuit of its calling … I am full and well aware that entrepreneurs are something else. When cloth was cut, someone herded the crowd over to the table to get in line for a measurement, and the ones who were too busy living life on their terms to come to attention when the bell struck 12, those were the ones we tend to call whisper about as ‘those people with their own businesses.’

Of course, having ‘betrayed’ my tribe by going over to the dark side of “safe” employee-ing in the “safe” corporate stratosphere, I’ve had to widen my definition of what it means to be “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.”

However, seeing that as an entrepreneur, profit was – to the detriment of my balance sheets – never the dot that ticked my i’s, then I should much rather call myself a socialpreneur. Which already winks at me that perhaps there is more to the business building-species than what meets the eye.

The word ‘preneur‘ is a French noun meaning ‘taker’, originating from the Latin word ‘prendere‘, ‘to seize’. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in Africa, as in other third-world parts of the world, and even in Number 1 Nations, entrepreneurship is not always a question of being all that and seizing opportunities.

In keeping with the trends, these days ‘growth hackers’ and ‘bootstrap businesses’ are all the rage. Hipsterpreneurs (there’s currently only 3 search results on Google for said term, so I’m expecting a hashtag mushroom on this one)* don their thick-rimmed, edgy-coloured glasses as they do their startuping and their digital nomading and in the process reinvent business as we know it. God bless their vintage-with-a-modern-twist souls.

*Update: Turns out it was the typo ‘hispterpreneur’ that cried for a hashtag. Viva la the Digital Age where there’s no new search terms under the sun.

According to Silicon Valley Dictionary, a hipsterpreneur ‘sits frequently in hi-design coffee bistros’, claiming to change the world ‘with his big eco-friendly & non-scalable idea.’ Harsh.

But I am an African, and part of the reason I am filled with such tears-to-my-eyes pride when I say that, is because Africa is not for sissies. South Africa, for example, has her leaders of the pack: Think Elon Musk. Charlize Theron. Only, people like them are considered South African by birth but very little else, for they soon spread their wings to greener pastures. Why? Because the world, of course, is their oyster, and you grab the bull by the horns. And remember, Africa ain’t for sissies.

Entrepreneurs in Africa – Afripreneurs? – generally have more pressing needs compelling them into business. Like poverty. A scary big unemployment rate. Child-headed households.

So I have to come up with a term I feel goes a long way in describing the nitty and truly gritty reasons Africans sometimes become entrepreneurs: Because, more than a calling, it can be a way out, and oftentimes the only way out.

Enter contextual inspiration.

Over a span of two days, I sat on the judging panel of a SEDA initiative, spearheaded by Nico de Klerk, a bona fide socialpreneur who has dedicated his life and livelihood to fostering not simply a theoretical appreciation but instead actively driving a practically applied passion for entrepreneurship, starting at school level.

What I witnessed, what I was momentarily part of, was a spark of hope, a coming together of those who care and those who need the caring and reaching out.

As the KwaZulu Natal Grade 11 winners were crowned at an awards ceremony that, for many must have been their first-ever exposure to a minuscule version of glitz and glam, I couldn’t have been a prouder African. Regardless of what ails may plague our nation and our continent, we are walking alongside everyday heroes. The future of a nation and a world lies in the hands of our youth, and with us as empowering mentors, I have so much hope for our tomorrow’s leaders.

Township kids with little to no resources and little to no exposure to the world out there – hey, let’s not forget that most of them probably still use a shared outhouse when nature calls – but with big ideas (huge!) and big dreams holding their prize money smiling alongside Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, who spread a message of hope and a plea to embrace failure, as it’s continued failure that results in eventual success. This is what is possible. For our nation, for all nations. This is what embracing and fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship can do, bottoms up. Bend the tree while it’s young. It might just end up a mighty oak, and able to provide shade to a whole village.

These two learner teams, one a social entrepreneurship endeavour, the other a for-profit team with a tech idea that will blow your socks off, will now go on to participate in the SAGE SA Nationals, before – fingers crossed – going through to the international arena in 2016’s event being held in Manila, Philippines, the way they did when South Africa came an astounding fourth in last year’s SAGE World Cup. SAGE is a worldwide initiative for Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship, and we most certainly need more of those.

And so it came to me … being an entrepreneur, whether for profit or social responsibility or both (so you can sleep with a clean conscience and afford a roof under which to do so), whether you become one because it’s your calling or because it’s the one thing that stands between you and imminent physical starvation, is a position you place yourself in that sets you apart from the rest of the world. To be an entrepreneur is to create a new world, an alternate reality that you have control over, a reality that you can introduce others to, ultimately bettering their lives in the process along with your own. Being an entrepreneur is to move about differently in this world, and through your choices and actions, to create ripple effects in the world around you.

All in all, I’ve found my subjective answer to world peace and the #YoungWorldpreneurs I believe we’ll call upon to drive it.