#OutToLunch You don’t have to drop out of university to become a social media influencer
By Denis Jjuuko
On a recent trip to west Africa, some young people argued that to get opportunities is very difficult as they have to write proposals for funding, jobs etc. yet they don’t have the skills to do so. Somebody shot back that it is easier to fill an application form than walking the breadth of the Sahara in order to be loaded on a rickety boat to cross into poor Europe.
Then Twitter erupted when somebody said the majority of degree holders were unemployed. Referencing himself, he said he dropped out of his engineering course at Makerere University to concentrate on being a YouTuber. He argued that unlike in the past, people today can learn skills by just watching YouTube videos and such other things. He didn’t, however, say how much he was earning from YouTube and social media influencing.
The debate on whether one should continue with their academic education or simply drop out is always a long one usually punctuated with examples of a few examples of successful entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs whether holding academic degrees or not are usually few in any economy.
The debate is also usually devoid of many other factors. People usually point out the founders of Facebook and Microsoft as examples of successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of university to concentrate on their ideas. They usually don’t mention the type of universities and colleges they attended before and most significantly the resources at their disposal.
The parents’ garage, free accommodation, meals and all other paid for expenses are usually not mentioned. Connections and interest free loans (grants is much more appropriate) from parents and relatives are never mentioned.
The YouTuber who created the latest debate on Twitter, people argued, spent approximately US$4,000 (about Shs16m) on an idea of making the biggest Rolex in the world, which he achieved in a second attempt. People said that he was speaking from a position of privilege.
In Uganda, most entrepreneurs who dropped out of school and made it big had an ecosystem that enabled them to become so successful. They were largely children of successful traders so they had somebody to learn from and even capital that enabled them pick critical lessons while failing.
If you are a student whose dream is to build your parents a two roomed iron roof house in the village at one stage in your life, you don’t have many choices in dropping out of school to become a social media influencer. The only way for most African youth to make it in life is by excelling academically or finishing their education.
For most of these youths, it is through education that they get invited to the table. People say many organisations don’t care what you studied and that may be true but they will ask if you did attend any schools. In most cases, those with an academic degree stand a far better chance of earning a sustainable income over their lifetime. Without education, you start at the very lower bottom and in many cases, you have to work thrice as hard.
Skills like YouTubing and social influencing may be great today but are they sustainable as somebody ages? Can somebody do this for 20 or 30 years? How many digital influencers today who are in their 20s will be influencing just 15 years from now? The jury is still out there.
Many university students in Uganda have a lot of time on their hands as they only attend class a few hours a day or even a week. They can do digital influencing without necessarily dropping out of school. Many already do more strenuous jobs than creating content on YouTube or Instagram and still manage to succeed academically. That is the route students grappling with ideas of whether to continue with their education or concentrate on entrepreneurship should take.
Of course, many degree holders have no jobs but I believe if you get 100,000 people who have academic degrees and 100,000 youth who dropped out of school in secondary or primary school, those with degrees, diplomas and certificates most likely earn sustainably and live far better lives than those who didn’t. There is evidence to back this up. A World Bank study says that for every additional year of school, a youth in Africa or Asia earns 18-25% more. So keep in school but get skilled. You don’t know when you will need that degree. I hear even for Members of Parliament, the qualification may be raised from Senior Six to a bachelor degree.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. email@example.com