My primary school headmaster was a stern Welshman from the hills overlooking the Dee Valley, an ex RAF fighter pilot from WW2 – he took no nonsense!
However, one of his main concerns was preparing his charges for the rigours of the big wide world, not just the three’s, but self reliance, industriousness and a good work ethic. He believed in Young Enterprise before it had been invented, his mantra could’ve been “Entrepreneurs, start ‘em young!”
Well before it was fashionable for schools to do their own fund raising, he instigated a couple of annual events which raised much needed funds for the school. One of these events was called, “Make A Shilling Grow”. Every pupil in the top two years was given a shilling, (well it was the 60’s!) and a month to see how much they raised from the initial seed fund of one shilling*.
All very interesting you may be saying and a lovely trip down memory lane, but what’s it got to do with modern business?
Well, quite a lot really!
Mr Elwyn Hughes, my former headmaster, was not a captain of industry. He was not a venture capitalist, he was a headmaster of a small provincial primary school on the outskirts of Chester in the 1960’s. Furthermore, as all people of his generation from North Wales were, he was well versed in the bible and not averse to hitting us on the palms of our hands with a sturdy bamboo cane if we didn’t do as we were told!
Yet inadvertently he was a business start up guru! He was way ahead of his time. His “Make A Shilling Grow” idea was incredibly clever.
First of all, it introduced an element of competition, because there was a prize for the pupil who raised the most cash. Secondly, it sparked a creative landslide of ideas in our 10 and 11 year old minds. Thirdly, there were very few parents who weren’t co-erced into digging deep to supplement the shilling provided by the school.
There were only two conditions, you must at least have the shilling to hand back at the end of the month, and you mustn’t do anything illegal.
Of course entrepreneurs have been around a long time, but decades before we realised the importance of entrepreneurs Mr Hughes was encouraging us to have ideas, try them out and make some cash for a good cause.
So what did we do? Some of the best things were very simple. We bought a bottle of orange squash and set up a drinks stall in the play-ground at break times, we made rice crispy cakes and sold them for a penny each, we put the shilling at the bottom of a bucket of water and invited our friends to see if they could drop a coin and cover it completely (no one ever managed to win!).
But the key lesson here was that we were learning, we were becoming self-reliant, creative and, dare I say, entrepreneurs.
When a new idea emerged it was seized on, one girl started making cards which became a craze for a while, then a boy started brokering deals on used records, completely innocently and without guile we were participating in an entrepreneurial experiment, we were becoming young entrepreneurs.
Then just as quickly, the month was over and the school was back to normal, it was probably conker season next, or marbles, or we got back to playing British Bulldogs!
What Can Be Learnt From This Stroll Down My 60’s School Days
Without doing a fairly lengthy piece of research into my former classmates, I have no idea how many went on to become entrepreneurs, business leaders or start their own companies.
But that’s not the point. We can all appreciate the entrepreneur, the Steve Jobs, James Dyson’s, and Sir Alan Sugar’s, it’s the creativity that entrepreneurs bring to all walks of life, that’s what is worth encouraging.
Now I have no idea how successful the “Make A Shilling Grow” event was. The fact that it happened year after year probably means it was successful at raising cash, and I’m sure there were problems behind the scenes that we, as children were never privy to.
But the simpleness of the concept, and life long learning, for me anyway, that emerged from it make it a really great idea and one that maybe we can still learn from, 50 years on.
*A shilling was a pre-decimal unit of currency. After 1971 when our currency changed, a shilling became a 5p coin.