South Africa’s entrepreneurs must operate within this particular context and will need to rise to the challenge of finding innovative and inclusive means to chart a new way forward. Our politicians have not done enough to apply their minds to how entrepreneurship can be utilised to drive and support the transformational agenda that South Africa must embrace.
Instead, South Africa has been modelling a particular type of entrepreneurship. A model that serves us poorly. It is a model that is often focused on technology, glossy and glitzy sound bites and one that is simply focused on creating personal wealth. The path we are going down must be revisited and we must consider what is the more appropriate approach to addressing our collective challenges.
The only way to do so is to acknowledge that our approach must be rooted in an underlying value system that wishes to create opportunity and effect the necessary change for South Africans from all walks of life.
Entrepreneurs work within ecosystems and often are best placed to drive disruptive and innovative thinking, which is required not only to shake the tree but to pull down South Africa’s monopolistic and cartel-inclined approach to business. That context must inform our thinking around small businesses.
We only need to look to Kenya and East Africa to see how disruptive, innovative and context-based thinking can change the lives of citizens for the better. Innovative thinking rooted in the social context has allowed millions to access the markets through M-Pesa, for instance, and to be able to grow their businesses and for people to transact without the hassle of traditional banking mechanisms.
South Africa’s entrepreneurs in certain silos are doing a similar thing, although we are lagging behind. President Jacob Zuma’s Black Industrialist programme will not be enough to ignite and enable a new generation of South Africans to lead the way. We need to rely more on collaboration and cross-generational thinking and to embrace the idea that the market (our communities) must guide the type of entrepreneurship we are executing.
The Wheat Trust is doing a different type of thinking guided by the social context and looking at mechanisms to fund programmes that train unemployed women and children, restoring their dignity in the process, enabling local solutions and – important – supporting sustainability. The organisation is a non-profit focused on poverty alleviation but, more important, it is driven by the desire to empower women and children across the country.
The organisation is mindful that often women and children are pigeonholed into the narrative that they are in a state of victimhood and so it seeks to provide funding and assistance to support their own local solutions. The work of Wheat Trust is not simply about awarding small grants to social entrepreneurs and community-based organisations but about unlocking the agency of women and children.
Projects of this nature often go unnoticed. For instance, Warielda, who is 52 years old, is the founder of Hanover Roses on the Cape Flats of Cape Town, and she is passionate about creating a viable and sustainable ecosystem in Hanover Park. Warielda, through a small grant from the Wheat Trust, was able to establish an early childhood development centre, coupled with a skills transfer platform for adults as well as carving out space for coffee and baked goods to be sold to those adults and allowing for some cross-subsidisation to the young children yearning for better opportunities.
All of this is guided by Warielda under the same roof. What is very clear is that Warielda is not driven by the desire of personal wealth or personal achievement but instead is driven by the impetus to contribute to South Africa’s new story.
The impact of projects of this nature are countless and wide-reaching and extend far beyond people like Warielda. The approach is duplicated in the work of entrepreneurs in organisations such as Small Beginnings, which is focused on training unemployed women and children in the art of costume jewellery making as well as HIV/AIDS awareness, or the Masikhanye Food Garden, which is driving collective co-operation of small and home vegetable growers and enabling them to get to market. These projects are all supported and funded by the Wheat Trust.
These are projects not rooted in models and test cases. Lives are being changed and communities across the country are being shaped not simply by the market but by a value system that does not wait for anyone but moves boldly. These projects don’t have the necessary marketing gloss but what they do have is real impact.
Entrepreneurship in South Africa can never simply be about creating jobs or wealth. Instead, it should be about driving the disruptive and important change that is needed across this country that many of us love.
Imagine the impact that an organisation like Wheat Trust and grantees like Warielda could realise if it had access to an Nkandla-size budget of say R260-million or the billions in wasteful expenditure that is caused by reckless and self-entitled politicians every year. DM