TBY talks to Leonard A. Schlesinger, President of Babson College, on instilling entrepreneurship as part of education and life-long learning.

Leonard A. Schlesinger
Leonard A. Schlesinger became the 12th president of Babson College on July 1, 2008. He came to Babson from Limited Brands, based in Columbus, Ohio, where he served in executive positions from 1999 to 2007, most recently as Vice-Chairman and COO. From 1985 to 1988, he was Executive Vice-President and COO at Au Bon Pain. His academic career includes 20 years at Harvard Business School where he served as the George Fisher Baker Jr. Professor of Business Administration, leading MBA and executive education programs.

In June 2009, along with several hundred business, government, academic, and foundation leaders from around the world, I attended President Obama's Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington, DC—the first global forum focused on building entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities. Sixteen months later, Prime Minister Erdoğan hosted a second summit with a similar focus—Entrepreneurship, Values, and Development: A Global Agenda—and I again welcomed the opportunity to participate in a discussion of best practices and new insights on how to stimulate entrepreneurial activity.

At the forum, Vice-President Biden quoted an adage from US politics: all politics is local. In my own view, all entrepreneurship is local as well. Reinforcing this theme, Dr. Cevdet Yılmaz, Minister for Development, outlined the ways Turkey is building regional capabilities rather than undertaking a centrally planned entrepreneurial development process.

The success of a “bottom-up" approach is reflected in the research and practical experience of decades of work at Babson on factors that foster entrepreneurship and how the entrepreneurial process generates economic growth and jobs. As the number one school in the world for educating and training the next generation of entrepreneurs, advancing entrepreneurship has been Babson's central mission for the better part of half a century. This has led us in recent years to launch a global outreach initiative, partnering with like-minded institutions of higher education, as well as with governments, philanthropists, and companies, to diffuse our practice-oriented pedagogy and tools for policymakers worldwide.

One of our newest initiatives, the Babson Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Project, is demonstrating on every continent and in very different environments how to build entrepreneurial ecosystems using a codifiable and replicable methodology. The goal is always the same—to foster high growth entrepreneurial ventures on a self-sustaining basis. What we have learned is highly relevant to Turkey and its shift to “bottom up" entrepreneurial development.

Three years into the project, we can tell you with absolutely clarity what does not work. Institutions typically try to stimulate entrepreneurship by emulating Silicon Valley in California—even though attempting to replicate someone else's success that evolved, and was not designed, in a dramatically different environment, is a serious mistake. Another error is resorting to “silver bullets"—incubators, angel networks, venture capital, education, micro finance, or technology transfer from universities. Each of these can play a significant role, but each must also be part of a broad-based ecosystem that is appropriate for a particular environment.

Another measure that does not work is the “top-down" selection of sectors, clusters, or companies that are deemed to be “winners." These strategies, typically driven by government organizations, have been a great disappointment in global economic development. Equally disappointing is the adoption of a single nationwide policy by governments, under the assumption that regional differences can be homogenized. That understates the complexity of the situation—and the reality that the elements of an entrepreneurial ecosystem must be intentionally designed on a local or regional basis.

In contrast to what has not worked, we can advance some recommendations based on what has worked in other parts of the world that we believe will lead to substantially more positive outcomes. We have learned in developed economies that most job growth, particularly on a large scale, comes from a small portfolio of high-impact growth enterprises that are nurtured by the ecosystems of specific geographies. This explains why it is so important to move forward from an understanding that all ecosystems are local.

I have visited Turkey on several occasions at different times in my life and there is no question that the robust economic growth and development over the past several years has stimulated an environment for entrepreneurs that has never existed before. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2011 data—showing that slightly less than 12% of the population identifies itself as being invested in entrepreneurial activities—when coupled with Turkey's robust growth, suggests that there is huge potential for educating and training people to identify opportunities and see the possibility of becoming entrepreneurs. Opportunities abound throughout Turkey and the locus of activity needs to continue to shift from the central government to regional and local initiatives to capitalize on these opportunities.