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Volunteerism - Today's MBA for Tomorrow's Entrepreneurs

Remember that gung-ho teen who stopped you at the shopping centre for your signature on a petition or donation to a local cause? You might have just met tomorrow's millionaire entrepreneur.
Jeff Vinnick via Getty Images

Remember that gung-ho teen who stopped you at the shopping centre for your signature on a petition or donation to a local cause? You might have just met tomorrow's millionaire entrepreneur.

Sure, manufacturing and financial services remain an important part of the UK's economy, but the real economic drivers and job creators are entrepreneurs. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, small - and medium-sized enterprises provide 60% of all private sector employment in the UK, which equates to 15.6million jobs.

Many believe entrepreneurial spirit and skills can't be taught. Certainly that was the opinion of one of Craig's MBA professors. "Either you've got it or you don't," he once opined to Craig.

We disagree. You can teach entrepreneurship, and you might be surprised how: through volunteering and being active in social causes.

We took a closer look at the business and charitable work of Virgin founder and inveterate volunteer, Sir Richard Branson to back us up.

Branson started his first charity before he founded Virgin

Some people know that the Virgin brand, currently made up of 500 companies employing 60,000 people in 50 countries worldwide, was founded in 1970 with Virgin Records--a business that Branson started out of the boot of his car.

But few know that in 1968, two years earlier, Branson had already started his first charity: the Student Advisory Centre.

"I started the Student Advisory Centre as a place people could come and talk through their problems," says Branson on

The advisory centre counselled young people on all kinds of crises, from matters of law to housing to health. It was born out of one of Branson's early ventures: a magazine called Student, which he began working on during secondary school.

Fuelled by activism and idealism, Student was designed to address the social and lifestyle issues that mattered to young people. The magazine never turned much of a profit and most of the staff were unpaid, but it did bring together the team of volunteers that ran the advisory centre - which continues to run to this day.

Even more importantly, it was volunteering at the centre and running Student magazine that gave Branson a crash-course MBA. Here are the lessons of entrepreneurship and leadership that he used to build the Virgin brand.

Lesson #1: businesses solve problems by listening

The Student Advisory Centre was a place that young people could come to have someone listen to their problems and take them seriously. Branson regularly sat in the advisor's chair, and learned how to use listening as the basis for offering meaningful solutions to the pain points in people's lives.

"To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening," says Branson on

And he would know. He started Virgin Atlantic when his flight from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands was cancelled. It was the last flight out, and the airline didn't even bother taking the time to hear the concerns of its passengers. They were upset, not just because they were inconvenienced, but also ignored.

But Branson was listening. He chartered his own plane, and as a joke wrote "Virgin Atlantic" on the airport's flight board, offering tickets for $39. That was the first-ever Virgin flight, and the beginning of the brand's focus on making travellers feel appreciated and comfortable.

"It's amazing what doors can open if you reach out to people with a smile, friendly attitude and a desire to make a positive impact," Branson says on

Lesson #2: businesses need a purpose beyond profit

How did Branson get Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Jean-Paul Satre, Jean LeCarre, Henry Moore, Vanessa Redgrave, Bertrand Russel and Peter Blake (designer of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's album cover) to make creative contributions to an unproven student publication?

He shared a purpose that ran deeper than getting his spreadsheets in the black.

"People want to work for a company they are proud of, one whose values they believe in. I like to think that our staff is as proud as I am about the good that our companies do," says Branson in an interview on BDlive.

On Branson says, "If you are unsure about what your business's purpose is, except perhaps to make money, it might be a good time to rethink your approach."

It didn't hurt that he kept morale up by buying his volunteers the odd pint, but the bedrock of his group was a shared passion for the issues they were giving advice about.

Lesson #3: helping others breaks down your own barriers

Branson has spoken numerous times about the challenge that his dyslexia posed in school.

"I was completely hopeless in the class," he says in an interview with Peter Thompson on Talking Heads. "I think my dyslexia just meant that I'd look at a board blankly."

Secondary school was discouraging for him. When he left at 16, his teachers hadn't given him much reason to believe in his abilities. He didn't hit his stride until after he started Student.

"Once I was really working on the magazine, and I was doing something that I was interested in, then I started gaining self-confidence," recalls Branson in his interview with Thompson/

And between directing volunteers at the paper and the Student Advisory Centre, Branson soon learned that while his dyslexia inhibited him at some tasks, it refined his strategies as a leader when he had to delegate certain tasks to others.

He said to Thompson, "I think with dyslexics generally, once they realise that they've found something that they can excel at, which often dyslexics can, and they can put aside the areas that they can't excel at, then they find a purpose in life, and they can do really well."

It took a project that he cared about - a project with a social mission - to help him find his strengths as a leader.

Encouraging young people to get engaged and be active citizens will ignite a culture of entrepreneurship in the UK. If we got every student primed by starting their own volunteer initiatives in primary and secondary school, imagine the number of entrepreneurs we could create.

It may be the best economic stimulus plan yet.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity Free The Children, the social enterprise ME to WE and the youth empowerment movement WE Day.

Catch the live stream of WE Day UK on 9 March 2016 starting at 9:45am GMT at and