How Entrepreneurship Translates Around the World

Here’s what it means in Swahili, Amharic, Arabic, and Spanish

The definition of what makes an entrepreneur is different for everyone. In the English language, however, the dictionary definition is clear: an entrepreneur is a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.

But did you know the literal definition of entrepreneurship can mean different things depending on the language being used?

In many countries around the world, “entrepreneur” and “entrepreneurship” are made up of two or more words. While the definition remains the same, the words selected to describe entrepreneurship are interesting. They often offer examples of characteristics an entrepreneur possesses or actions an entrepreneur takes.

As a result, those words can say a lot about how a country or culture thinks about its entrepreneurs and innovators.

Wondering what we mean by this? Here are a few examples.

In Swahili, the word for entrepreneurship is “ujasiriamali.” That one word is actually two: “ujasiri” is the word for courage, bravery, daring, and audacity; and “mali” translates to mean belongings or something that is owned.

Think about what that means for the idea of entrepreneurship in Swahili speaking countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. By choosing these two words to describe entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs are considered people who are bold and willing to take risks with their opportunities, ideas, and property.

Since courage, bravery, and audacity are typically positive and admirable characteristics, one could argue that entrepreneurs in Swahili speaking countries are regarded in the same way. Good or bad, one thing is certain from the Swahili choice of words: entrepreneurs are not people who crave comfort or sit idly by.

In Ethiopia, the Amharic word for entrepreneurship is ስራ ፈጠራ (“sira fetera”). The Amharic phrase translates literally to “job creation.” But some Amharic speakers say the word does not quite capture the essence of entrepreneurship, since job creation is only one small element of being an entrepreneur. They say this existing word fails to recognize that entrepreneurship can involve solving an existing problem or challenge in the community. So in this example, the words chosen to describe entrepreneurship may not do entrepreneurs justice.

In Latin America, the Spanish phrase for entrepreneurship is similar to English. “Espíritu empresarial” translates literally to mean “business spirit,” a reference to the business instincts needed by entrepreneurs.

In Arabic, entrepreneurship is ريادة الأعمال, which is two words: “riyada” and “aamal.” When translated to English, “riyada” means leadership, and “aamal” means businesses.

Just as Swahili connects entrepreneurship with courage and daring behaviours, Arabic links the word to leadership in business. Another positive association between the words chosen to describe entrepreneurship and the characteristics shown by an entrepreneur.

Think about your language. What does entrepreneurship mean in the country you are from?

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