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Sikhulile Nhassengo
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Changing the culture of “yes sirs”….one entrepreneur at a time

31 January 2014, 07:43

I am constantly amazed when I speak to ordinary South Africans about the economy and where we are going wrong. The conversations point to the fact that South Africa is suffering from a shortage of young entrepreneurs. This phenomenon has our country on the back foot. The Gini co-efficient is rising year-on-year, and we all look to the government for assistance.

Where are we supposed to get entrepreneurs from?

On close inspection of the country’s schooling system, it is clear that it cannot produce such captains of industry. I do not want to be drawn into a political debate about the quality of education, unionism in education or teacher competence, but unions have changed our education system into a political game. There are dedicated teachers in the system, who are loyal to their calling and give of their best, but cannot produce entrepreneurs as the curriculum does not foster the desired outcome.

Our education system has never been geared towards nurturing the spirit of entrepreneurship. We produce employable graduates who study to be employed and not to become employers. A few matriculants or graduates can produce a business plan, yet have no knowledge regarding various government incentives for starting up companies or how to access seed capital. However, a majority of graduates are well informed and aware of various graduate programmes offered by industry.

In Primary School, we were introduced to entrepreneurship by means of a Market Day. During lunch, we would set-up stalls along the corridors and sell sweets, chips sometimes even sandwiches. This encouraged and fostered the entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. Some of my peers found this a daunting task as it ate into their play time. We never really understood the reason for having them besides being a fundraising exercise.  

A few years ago, I walked into an Indian shop on Victoria Street where I learnt about business. The owner (an old man) was shouting at his grandchild who had not stocked the shop correctly. The child could not have been older than twelve. To some, that might be considered child labour, but I recently discovered that this child, now a family and business man, is running one of the biggest distribution centres in KwaZulu Natal. It is clear that this first-hand experience instilled in him a sense of hard work and business skills. 

So how do we address this shortage of king makers?

These stories reveal three themes: the first one is teach youngsters about business early on in life, the second is that practical experience is a necessity and thirdly, support plays a key role in guiding young leaders.

The education system must nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship in our youngsters. It is never too early to start introducing this topic. I have heard that in Greek families, business is promoted at a young age. Dinner time is used to discuss how to become a fearless entrepreneur. Talks revolve around expanding family businesses. I believe that the idea of teaching your children to be self-sufficient from an early age is an honourable one.

We need to promote strong mentorship programmes to groom and guide these fearless future leaders with the private sector taking a lead role in this process. Future leaders must be prepared to go the extra mile. While ordinary students strike over poor study material and learning conditions, future leaders need to focus on the task at hand and excel. It is not easy to thrive in business, especially during these harsh economic times, but they need go all out and grab every opportunity which presents itself. No one owes you anything, but you must use your God given talents.

Finally, government departments must shake up their act and work at assisting young businesses in getting off the ground. The prevalent “we do not care” attitude which is meted out to budding entrepreneurs who approach these institutions for support to access funding needs to be eradicated as it does not have a place in a progressive society.

In closing, I call on all South African’s to be patriotic and have pride in buying locally produced products (like the sport drink produced by Laice Beverage or design clothes by David Tlale). We can only address inequality and joblessness by supporting new businesses and less on slicing the existing pie. South Africa needs us all.

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