“Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor” – Proverbs 10: 14-15.

If I propose that there is a high negative correlation between education and poverty, I would certainly expect to get general support for such an hypothesis since it would be commonly accepted that the higher the educational achievement the less likely we are to succumb to the scourge of poverty. But then, I may also get responses which argue that there are several people whose formal education, for one reason or another, ceased before they were fifteen years old but yet they are among the wealthiest persons in their geographic domain and, in some cases, among the wealthiest persons in the world. The key to resolving this apparent paradox is probably in the definition of “education”.

Prior to this resolution, what do we mean by poverty? There are those people who have little or no money and lack the means of providing material needs or comforts but still exude a spirit of happiness. They have been supported by elements of holistic wealth which include factors (e.g. health, self-help, contentment, positive thinking) that “money cannot necessarily buy”. In defining poverty we are primarily concerned with those who neither have the means of providing material needs and comforts nor are able to muster the psychological strength to exude a spirit of happiness.

We may pause for an interlude to visit the discovery spectrum (data – information – knowledge – insight – understanding – wisdom). Education may be defined as the combination of processes of discovery, garnering more and more from the experiences gleaned along the way, while at the same time building the host of character (e.g. vision, temperament, personality, quality, moral fibre, spirit, discipline, diligence) towards the goal of becoming the consummate human being.

Our distraction is that we are conditioned to think that educational advancement is measured only by attendance at formal courses and taking tests and examinations but this is not necessarily the case. Of course, the majority of people take that route, but many others have not and have not been relegated to the doldrums of poverty.

Another observation is that some people seem to think that because an individual is formally trained in a given subject then his/her knowledge is restricted for life to this. It would appear that these people are myopic to the extent that, not only is their own distant vision blurred but they want to extend this blurred effect to the potential of the brains of others. The active mind can absorb much in a lifetime through informal training and exposure in a number of disciplines over and above those in which he/she is formally trained. Similarly, those who have not been formally trained can do the same and become equally as accomplished thus avoiding the trap of poverty. Wise men store up knowledge. Whereas wise men are careful about what they say, the mouth of a fool invites ruin and may induce, if not monetary poverty, mental poverty.

The entrepreneur is a category of person who is innovative, not necessarily the recipient of formal education, but who recognizes opportunities and organizes resources to take advantage of the opportunities. These entrepreneurs, even if formally educated, have a passion for their particular enterprise, take risks and usually have a bumpy start to their operation. Those who succeed may do very well thus giving some meaning to the phrase “we cannot get growth without risk”. In addition to financial resources, these entrepreneurs need all the help that they can get. They must be shepherded by experienced business systems professionals on their journey to success, another form of education. In this context of the wider definition of education, they will not be at a disadvantage. We need to aggressively address this wider definition of education which builds character, continues the formal thrust but also provides systems which would allow the entrepreneurs to survive and thrive.

Someone, who has been formally educated and who is in a secure job and receives a monthly salary, said to me recently that he really admires entrepreneurs who take the risk, through thick and thin, and try to develop their enterprises in an uneven and sometimes uncertain revenue environment.

To quote from Sheikh Mohammad of Dubai: “Education offers one of the clearest and most effective ways to turn good intentions into actions that change the lives of people immeasurably and for the better. The satisfaction to be gained from a single act that helps the needy or curbs injustice can be immense. Imagine how much stronger that satisfaction must be if that act helps – as only education can – to free generation after generation from grinding poverty. The names of those pioneers who put their efforts into opening schools and providing the funding to support education, will be longest remembered and are an undeniable part of our history. Those who forget their responsibilities towards their community are soon forgotten”.

If we extend Sheikh Mohammad’s sentiments to the broader definition of education, the list of pioneers will be longer and the wealth of the rich will be fortified and poverty will fade into the past.