Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Lesson From Canada

I just came across a very interesting movement started by Canadian business for Canada. Yes, you heard me, not by government but by business in order to help the nation become more globally competitive, grow the economy and create more sustainable Canadian jobs.

It made me think for a second why, whether you agree with Dr Reuel Khoza or not, it is critical that business and government are engaging about the state of our nation. In particular our economy, and not have such topics be for the exclusive consumption of a few.

The Canadians have come up with something called "Start-up Visa Canada". This is their pitch:

"In an increasingly globalized world the economic success of a city, a region or a whole country depends increasingly on their ability to attract the best and brightest from all around the world.

This has been the driving force behind the rise of Silicon Valley as the technology hub and whole countries like the US and Canada.

But often we make it too hard for (technology) entrepreneurs to come to our country and build great companies that can create thousand of new jobs. Entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists in the United States have recognized this first and have lobbied the US government in the past months to encourage immigration on the valuation of their business ideas and legislation is now pending in Congress.

So it is about time that we pursue similar ideas in Canada and we are therefore happy to announce the launch of the Startup Visa Canada initiative.

Here is what we are proposing:

Currently, the federal and provincial governments’ entrepreneurial immigration programs contain minimum personal fixed asset provisions and a long approval process that make it nearly impossible for today's immigrant entrepreneurs to start companies here.

The Startup Visa Canada Initiative would create an additional new visa program that:
  • would allow for an investment of $150,000 into a newly formed Canadian technology startup to qualify in place of the minimum asset provisions.
  • would enable approved local investor(s) to endorse qualified entrepreneurial immigrants to obtain their temporary work permits which this permit would only allow the immigrant to work for a newly formed company, and thus not take jobs away from qualified canadians.
  • would require immigrants to have at least a third equity position in their companies, be active in management and create at least 3 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs over the course of a 2-year program period.
It would be truly fantastic if we could beat the US to the punch and be the first to extend an invitation to the best entrepreneurs out there: Entrepreneurs of the world, Canada is open for business!"

As I read this it got me thinking about us, South Africa. Imagine if we set out on a mission to entice the best entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa to  come and set up their businesses here in South Africa. Imagine the potential. Imagine the impact on job creation, on innovation, on global positioning, on economic growth, on international relations, and the list goes on.

But no, not us. We have the rare ability think of all the reasons why we SHOULDN'T do what the rest of the world is doing. The developed world thrives on attracting the best skills in the world to grow their economies. I can already hear the debates in the media about 'these foreigners taking our jobs', and not realizing that these 'foreigners' are more likely to create jobs for your own children than any government and any slow, innovation-bankrupt, conglomerate driven economy like ours.

It's time we catch a wake up, and start doing things for ourselves. We need to start being overtly and unapologetically competitive. The world doesn't owe us anything, anymore. No one is gonna give us a head start in this competitive race just because we conquered apartheid and have Nelson Mandela.

That's the old world. The new world is competing for everything, most notably talent, and they couldn't care less about us and our history.

There are a very few entrepreneurs I meet in the rest of our continent, who don't see South Africa is a big player in the global economy and see the value in being linked with SA Inc.

South Africa has a rare opportunity, one that will be taken by either one of Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt or another if it doesn't grab it now. That is the opportunity to entice the best entrepreneurial brains and talent on the continent to operate from right here eMzansi.

Like the Canadians we should be saying: Entrepreneurs of Africa, South Africa is open for business!"