A few weeks ago, tens of thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the One Nation March on Washington. The purpose of this rally:  jobs and equal access to fundamental human rights for all Americans.  Those who attended were eager to know whether attendance trumped that of Glenn Beck’s (I asked too), and more importantly, anticipated action that would come as a result of their own. 

The march, and similar movements, come at a time when the nation continues to dig its way out of the economic recession, when nearly one in every 10 Americans is unemployed and when productivity and payroll employment – indicators of private sector health – remain down. Furthermore, in a time of a pivoting political landscape in the District of Columbia, the situation, though improving, continues to remain bleak.  Unemployment and most notably, poverty rates, trump national averages by, in some instances, nearly 4 percent.

These figures are but symptoms of a larger national and local issue: quality education for growing youth, college-age, unemployed and under-skilled populations. The United States education system ranks, not first, but 18th when compared to 35 other nations in a report by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And, though the District spends more than $17,000 per student, the public school system ranks 51st.  

Given such, demanding jobs may not be the best approach.  Don’t get me wrong, policies to further stimulate industry and economic activity are much needed. But, if people are not prepared to both assume existing, and more importantly, create future positions, how does that leave us better off?

Increasing entrepreneurship education at the high school, university and adult continuing education level seems a small notion in the face of such economic and educational hardships. But, organized and implemented effectively, it could have an enormous impact on the economic vitality of the District of Columbia.

Here’s why. 

While the U.S. government has infused capital into the economy, real economic transformation cannot occur until these funds reach millions of small businesses and entrepreneurs who in turn have the ability to employ millions of workers.  For the District this could translate into thousands of new jobs to support just a few of the more than 45,000 small businesses that reside here. However, just as funds need to be available, entrepreneurs need to be ready.  For this reason, it is critical that we inspire early, teach often and reach historically disenfranchised communities. District competitiveness rests on the collective not the individual. 

Furthermore, entrepreneurship is a vital economic development activity.  Increasing the rate of successful small business creation can transform communities, adds to the local tax base, and has the ability to reduce poverty that has eroded some of the District’s most historical communities. 

Lastly, when surveying the entrepreneurial aspirations of youth ages 8 to 21, the Aspen Institute found that 40 percent had entrepreneurial aspirations.  Statistics such as these demonstrate that entrepreneurship and the possibility of business ownership has motivational effects that can improve the depressive effects of poverty.  Furthermore, entrepreneurship education encourages the fundamental activity of learning. It can improve critical thinking and reasoning and gives purpose to subjects such a reading and math – requirements for developing a sound business plan and concept – areas where we are lagging.

Without placing a focus on entrepreneurship, it is difficult to see how the changing dynamics of the regional economy will be able to provide the level of economic activity needed to sustain healthy employment rates.  If elected officials policymakers, educators, and community leaders join to increase the number of local entrepreneurs, we would all be doing each other, District residents and our country a favor.

Natalie M. Cofield is president of the NMC Consulting Group, a Washington, D.C.- based consulting firm with specialty in entrepreneurship and economic development. In 2006, Ms. Cofield was named one of “Ebony” magazine’s Top 30 under 30. She has been featured in “Ebony,” “Essence” and “Honey Online.”