I am a student. Can I do business?

“… I am a 14 year old student currently in my Senior 2. I am very much interested in doing business but every one I talk to discourages me including my parents. They say that I will not study well if I start business right now. Is it true that students can’t do business?”

This is an inquiry I received a while back and it sent me thinking. I will start by recounting two efforts I observed during my days as a primary school pupil in Buganda Road Primary School.

The first one was of my elder brother who having observed how people with cars in our residential area were ready to pay for any one to wash them approached our father and asked him for permission to wash cars. He had a decent albeit verbal proposal and it was one of him washing cars during the holiday season, saving the money and using it to contribute to his school fees. My father being the traditional civil servant who believed in ‘studying hard and looking for a job thereafter‘ vehemently objected to this proposal. Being the obedient son that he was, my brother dropped the plan.

Two classes ahead of me in the same school was a young man by the names Salim Uhuru. Each time class ended, he religiously found his way to downtown Kampala to work in his father’s restaurant performing menial tasks like taking orders from customers, serving, manning the register among others. When we completed primary school, as some of us were proudly embarking on our new lives in the then prestigious secondary schools, his father took him to a day school in the city so he could continue with his school/practical business education. Today, he is the proprietor of Uhuru Restaurants, having inherited his father’s business and has gone ahead to more than triple its worth.

These two stories teach us that young people too can have business ideas and even actualise them given the chance. We also learn that given proper guidance, the young can also run business and grow it alongside their pursuit of traditional education.

Teaching the youth how to earn and manage finances from a young age is crucial

Teaching the youth how to earn and manage finances from a young age is crucial

I grew up in the era where parents believed that successful people had to be Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers and maybe a President. Any one who deviated and tried to do anything out of the ordinary was looked at as a loser. This is the mindset society had then about musicians, DJs, Sportsmen and Sportswomen among others. Business was regarded as a route for failures who couldn’t get employed. Its probably the reason why for many years the known rich people in Uganda were mainly those with low formal (western) education.

The fear of money derailing a child in school is justified but it can also be managed. After all, from experience I know too well that even if you are shielded from making bad financial decisions as a young man or woman, the time comes when you have to make decisions independently and the mistakes you would have committed earlier with less repercussions come back to haunt you this time with even bigger repercussions.

So, my verdict is that as a student, you can do business. However, you need to study the circumstances under which you will operate. Your approach to this as a student in boarding school is different from that of someone in a day school.

There are numerous possible ‘light’ business ventures one can embark upon in a school like;

  • Selling Snacks: You can invest your pocket money in buying long lasting snacks, keep them for sale to students at a time when they have run short of theirs. I bet you they’ll buy like crazy depending on the choice of snacks. My son in Primary 6 and my daughter in Primary 4 when offered their favourite bottled Hibi Juice decided to start selling their allocation to other pupils for a profit. To-date, whenever they stock this bottled juice, orders from their classmates simply overwhelm them.
  • Selling Branded Clothes: With lots of cartoon caricatures and celebrities that have a cult following among the youths lately, one could print T-Shirts with these images/pictures and offer them for sale.
  • Scholastic Materials: Pens, Pencils, rubbers, sets, rulers, exercise books are some of the highly consumed items in any school. By stocking and selling to fellow students, a decent sum could be made. My daughter did stock Pens and Pencils in her Primary 3 and used to sell to fellow pupils that were in need at school.

Since business is best done based on identification of a need in one’s environment, your task will be to find out what that is around you that can be exploited to make money and yet also offer a much needed solution to the community. Just make sure that you do not slacken on your academics as they are equally important.

To the parents, develop an open mind, start exposing your children to finances as early as possible. The earlier they learn financial prudence the better because they’ll start making more concrete decisions earlier on in life and have a good head start. It’s not so much about how much one earns but how wisely one utilises what they earn.

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