South Africa: Let's talk about our need to achieve


Piecing this article in the week Trevor Noah won an international award (MTV Award)  as a presenter is perhaps an opportune time to tabulate some of my reservations and ideas for the future of the country. Perhaps the most telling influence, which motivated me to write this article is an interview on entrepreneurial success by Vusi Thembekwayo on Sunrise, which I caught through social media. There is a quote from Nelson Mandela to Francois Pienaar in the book, “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation” by John Carlin, which is telling to me and might inform my public life in service of this nation one day.

"South Africa Deserves, Greatness"

Greatness is a goal under threat!

There is no peace that one can make with the fact that, reports say that an estimated 14 million South Africans go to bed hungry every evening out of a population total of 50 million. The unsaid burden on women heading up these households, which have seen significant increase non communicable diseases from bad nutrition is shocking enough to keep us up at night. I know the philosophical debates we have had as opines around inequality, minimum wages and racial profile of wealth concentration. I would like to make that secondary to this confab, while recognising how these issues are also very hard to ignore. When a nation has more than half of its people living below the poverty line, the motivation of those directing its turnaround should be incredibly high.

Achievements of nations!

Those familiar with the work of David Clarence McClelland would be aware of the phrase, “Need for Achievement (N-Ach)”. N-Ach refers to one's desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, control, or high standards.  This includes: "intense, prolonged and repeated efforts to accomplish something difficult." Quoting McClelland, "N-Ach produces enterprising men among labour leaders or managers, Republicans or Democrats, Catholics or Protestants, capitalists or communists."

The greatness our nation deserves requires a level of enterprise that we have not started to imagine. In fact the amount of productivity required to turn our country around against the available resources should be daunting to begin with. Enterprising leadership would undertake projects of importance and difficulty, with a commitment to see process through despite real obstacles. This has informed the correlation between the NAch content in popular literature (in children’s textbooks) and subsequent rates of national economic growth. Societies with an early childhood system instilling values of achievement and mastery against adverse social ails are amongst the highest growing in the globe.

N-Ach and Entrepreneurial Success

This is perhaps the point from the interview I mentioned earlier from Vusi Thembekwayo, where his submission was that South African entrepreneurs should find more enterprising ways to drive their success. Using the example of would-be property developer, he suggested an incremental build up that might have an entrepreneur starting out as a leasing agent. There are several submissions that might not make it into a ten minute TV interview and it’s hard to fault the essence of what he was saying. If an entrepreneur has a high, N-Ach, they will struggle through and find means to achieve success irrespective of the challenges they face. In fact even as he said, they have no business calling themselves entrepreneurs, if they are unable build their capital requirements through incremental initiatives.

The South African narrative would however also point to the fact that, entrepreneurship is not a choice but a means to survival. The bulk number of those that venture into business do so for the survival and not as career choice. The vice from this significant population size trying to do business every day in South Africa, is a cultural capital they require innately but their background has not deposited. Cultural capital is a person's education (knowledge and intellectual skills) that provides advantage in achieving a higher social-status and advancement in society. Thus in order to desire a high N-Arch in our local entrepreneurs, we need a system that cultivates a set of skills that they would need to survive in the field. This is the biggest challenge facing the system and thus confronting the economy in SA today even against our credit rating environment.

What is my proposed way forward?

 First, we need establish SA’s place in the global economy and declare the desired goals for the country. Where globally the world is dealing with questions of managing business costs, in SA with our social challenges this is a far more complicated debate. Let me illustrate, the biggest driver of business cost is labour. In SA, the current median income per black male employee is R 2 900, and in supporting a family of four, it would mean the family is living below the poverty line of R 900 per month. This in turn makes the R 3500 proposed minimum wage a meaningful debate for the economy. Thus as much as it’s a requirement to help SA business manage costs, we need to strike a balance. We therefore need to establish a new equilibrium where our social goals are matched by the performance of the economy.

Second, we need to ensure that the framework for economic activity is firm and functions effectively. In the case of SA, it means we need the financial system to remain strong and sound. Companies must continue to have access to working capital to import components, produce and meet demand orders. We then need to develop behind our strong academic institutions, a strong innovative pipeline for first to market products, which will in turn anchor our true second economy.

Third, we need to maintain healthy investor confidence. Foreign and domestic investments determine the level of business activity. We should accept and face up to the stark challenges of the crisis, but not turn overly pessimistic and bring about an unnecessarily sharp economic contraction by our own attitudes and actions.

Fourth, we should step up capability-building and economic restructuring to make our economy even more productive. SA should use this window of opportunity to upgrade its capabilities to keep ahead of competition and remain attractive to investors.

Fifth, we need to further expand our trade with growth markets in the developed countries and seek out new markets beyond the region. We should actively help local companies in their market diversification efforts.

Sixth, we should leverage on market opportunities in regional economies to form strategic partnerships. SA companies should actively scout for opportunities in the region to form strategic business partnerships to spur business recovery and growth.

We deserve to be Great!

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