Adding the right role models to your entrepreneurship education programme can improve participants’ beliefs, attitudes and intentions towards entrepreneurship. But the choice of the role model is key.
What’s the rationale behind this?
Successful role models are thought to be able to affect the career aspirations and decisions of individuals through various channels:
- If individuals are able to relate and connect to their life stories, role models can help them to shape their ideal or potential selves.
- Role models that belong to underrepresented groups can help to counterbalance detrimental stereotypes that affect people’s beliefs about which socio-demographic groups are able to succeed in certain careers or fields.
- By sharing their own experiences and expertise, role models can be a source of vicarious learning.
As a result, entrepreneur role models have been widely used in entrepreneurship education programmes to try to influence young people’s attitudes, intentions and actions towards entrepreneurship as well as to serve as a channel for business knowledge transfer.
Outcomes of interest
Business knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards entrepreneurship, business starts
Does it work? Here’s what we know so far…
- Listening to stories of real-world entrepreneurs might make individuals perceive that their general knowledge on entrepreneurship has increased.
- However, exposure to role models doesn’t seem to help build actual entrepreneurship-related knowledge and hard skills.
Beliefs and attitudes
- Being in contact with entrepreneurs can make secondary school students temporarily more confident about their abilities to establish their own business, but these impacts might vanish if the beliefs aren’t reinforced over time.
- Being exposed to successful entrepreneurs can improve secondary school students’ attitudes towards self-employment.
- Exposure to successful women can influence beliefs about the abilities of women to pursue a successful career in entrepreneurship among women themselves and among groups with discriminatory beliefs about women.
- Exposure to role models doesn’t need to be very intense. Low-interaction and no-interaction formulas can influence some of the relevant outcomes like beliefs, attitudes and intentions towards entrepreneurship.
- In countries with low economic opportunities for young people, being exposed to real-life entrepreneurs in a non-interactive format might not be enough to reduce the perceived importance of some of the barriers to entrepreneurship such as lack of funding, lack of skills or complicated regulations.
- In contexts with thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems, linking university students interested in entrepreneurship with real-life entrepreneurs can increase the probability that they pursue a startup career by joining an early stage venture, but it doesn’t increase the likelihood of them funding their own.
Who benefits the most?
- Entrepreneur role models are particularly suited to individuals such as women negatively affected by stereotypes.
- Students who haven’t had intensive exposure to entrepreneurship through other sources of influence, like having entrepreneur parents, also benefit more.
Choosing role models
- Role models work better if individuals can easily relate to them, particularly for individuals from underrepresented groups affected by negative stereotypes.
- In contexts with poor education systems, presenting successful entrepreneurs who are former school dropouts can negatively impact investments in education by young students with entrepreneurial ambitions.
- Using uncommon success stories, particularly from individuals belonging to underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship, might give a distorted image of the difficulties of becoming a successful entrepreneur and the discrimination faced by certain groups.
- When access to real-life entrepreneurs is difficult, classmates can also be exploited as role models.
Ideas worth trying
- Try including real-life entrepreneurs to provide testimonies and act as mentors or advisors in your programme.
- When selecting role models, try choosing individuals from groups that are underrepresented in entrepreneurship.
- Try pairing participants with role models of the same gender.
- If you’re hoping for an easily scalable intervention, consider using non-interactive formats such as recorded interviews with real-life entrepreneurs to expose participants to role models.
What to avoid
- Avoid presenting a distorted image of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Such images can lead to unrealistic beliefs and expectations about actual barriers to self-employment.
- Avoid using role models if the main objective of your programme is to build the participants’ entrepreneurial skills and business knowledge.
- If you’re selecting role models for school-aged students, avoid including successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, as this might reduce the effort they put into their own education.