Ecosystems for South African entrepreneurs and business leaders
Every country in the world is striving to grow and maintain a productive population and sustainable economy. This is the intent of governments and conscientious business leaders in all countries. Simply put, countries need productive workforces to contribute to the development and sustainability of their economies, and in doing so, grow their tax base to underpin government’s capacity to provide leadership, infrastructure, and services.
Countries become and remain sustainable through intellectual contributions from citizens in day-to-day problem solving, through creating cultures that encourage ongoing innovation and opportunity, and by ensuring enduring value creation and relevance in product and service conceptualisation and delivery. This supports manufacturing capacity, local reliance, and capitalising on local and international product and service distribution opportunities and channels and is commonly referred to as a healthy business ecosystem.
South Africa’s challenge
South Africa is no different from other countries in striving for these outcomes, although it is severely hampered by its own uniqueness as a society where a large portion of the population are not enabled to contribute physically and financially to the growth and development of the nation. This phenomenon is due mostly to inequality in both opportunity and an understanding of business processes and structures. The South African population is thus deeply divided in its ability to contribute towards growth and sustainability at the macro level. The majority of South Africa’s population is made up of self-reliant citizens, but who in most cases are able only to eke out a marginal existence. Lack of financial and business acumen is often cited as the foundation missing in helping to propel entrepreneurial ventures and business initiatives that would help to grow the nation’s economy.
Furthermore, South Africans, due to their country’s history, have largely been unable to contribute towards the nation’s economy due to inadequate education and support programmes to help prepare children and young adults for the modern world of small business management. South Africans, as a generalisation, lack access to essential elder mentoring from parents, family, and competent business leaders.
The vastness in divide of understanding commerce, personal advancement and business sustainability, is too great a void for many, in fact for most, people to rise above the low and lingering poverty line. Change is essential, to reactivate hope and opportunity, and this is established through a supporting business ecosystem and aiding commercial value chain.
Successful entrepreneurism at all levels of society is the key to prosperity and a brighter tomorrow for everyone. South Africa has an informal business sector that operates outside of legislated confines. This informal sector contributes to the livelihoods of those involved in its practices.
However, these ventures contribute only small amounts to the financial needs of government and the formal economy. South Africa needs a revolution, namely, a dynamic adjustment in survival skills as individuals and communities within society, as well as contributions to the country’s collective needs and ability in order to progress beyond its current limitations.
Starting an entrepreneurial venture in South Africa is hugely complex. The education system does not prepare youth adequately for the complexity and challenges that exist within the world of commerce. Success in business requires skill, experience, access to resources and networks, and commanding leadership practices to help access and sustain opportunities within the economy. These understandings and know how elude most of those attempting to set up and run a business in South Africa, and as such success is often elusive, or at best unpredictable. The challenge is exacerbated by limited government aid in any of the stages of enterprise establishment and continuation. An analogy may be in asking people to sing without any voice training, musical equipment, and platform to perform on. Entrepreneurs all too often have no business training, no access to essential resources, and no networks or established trade routes.
The business ecosystem as a solution
A good business ecosystem welcomes and assists entrepreneurs and business leaders at all levels throughout the business development processes, and right up to its maturity and point of sustainability. Entrepreneur development incubators are a welcome help, as they provide support during initial set up and learning phases of the enterprise, but without mentoring, guidance and encouragement post this basic foundation stage, little continuity and value is created. No matter what industry or business type an entrepreneur chooses, or if it is a product or service being delivered, it is still enormously complex to remain profitable and compliant with engaged and contributing staff members resulting in a successful and sustainable enterprise. This is the purpose and intent of a business ecosystem.
A powerful business ecosystem has three distinctive aspects, the first being in helping entrepreneurs off the starting blocks. This is the incubator process, where fundamentals and responsibilities of business leadership and administration are shared with participating and energised entrepreneurs. Second is quality assurance controls and sustainability methodologies. This is where business mentorship and guidance are critical in providing the business framework and foundation. Third is accessing markets and opportunities.
Having a well-structured and compliant business is easily possible through following the science within these disciplines. Accessing new markets and opportunities is the result of consumer awareness and qualified network introductions.
Potential for success
South Africa has a number of advantages over the rest of the world in creating effective business ecosystems; the prominent one being perhaps its sense of a desperate need to create a productive and more self-sufficient society. The South African Government is already providing some 18 million grants to its population of approximately 60 million people. This number of grants from its 14 million registered taxpayers, where only 8 million people contribute employee tax towards the fiscus is in itself alarming. The countries national debt has grown by some 20% since the beginning of the pandemic, and the unemployment level has in recent months become one of the most extreme in the world, with some 75% of the youth not working, nor having the opportunity nor ability to access the economy.
Citizens have learned to live and survive in South Africa, but to lift the tide as it were, within each of the sectors and communities in the country, it is essential that the natural entrepreneurial culture of South Africans is encouraged and enabled through business and financial management awareness. Growing each business marginally each day, and providing an ecosystem safety net for entrepreneurs and business leaders to result in improved success ratios and reduced cost of wasted resources, will contribute to employment opportunities and the growth of the nation.
South Africa’s path forward as a sustainable nation is to nurture the country’s entrepreneurial culture, and to provide business skills and support to create growth and development opportunities for existing enterprises and new entrants to thrive in the market. There needs too, of course to be a common language in South African business based on meeting stakeholder expectations, ensuring business objectives are met in a timely and quality assured manner, and honouring societal ethics, governance and sustainability measures.
Progress to date
Through sheer single mindedness, we at DRG, BusinessFit and the SA Chamber of Commerce, United Kingdom, have created opportunity for quality client and network introductions, professional business and leadership mentoring and support, and a five-stage quality assurance process with individual enterprise sustainability reports created at level four of the quality assurance process. The sustainability report is based on a set of 34 criteria essential in helping enterprises meet organisational objectives and shareholder measures. These measures include developing authentic and confident leadership, building business minded administration and related compliance and reporting frameworks, ensuring adequate functional area procedures and administration foundations, and encouraging energised staffing through designing productive and highly engaged work environments.
A team of us have been providing business development and ecosystem services to entrepreneurs and business leaders for many years, and are now at a point where we aim to scale these operations. We have considered that Business Sense readers may like to play a part in our unfolding story. Your involvement and contribution in this work would undoubtedly be a catalyst in advancing the desired outcome of our vision of a working nation, with each participant excited to be a contributor in building the nation’s pride and prosperity.
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