Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Does Mangaung Mean to Entrepreneurs

In the short time I have been working on the launch of StartUpSA (Twitter: @MyStartUpSA), I have been really encouraged by the many tweets, emails and chance meetings of many people who keep telling us how much we need StartUpSA. Thanks for all the well-wishes and rest assured we are working very hard to deliver a really powerful tool.

The truth is we are a country of very enterprising people. The problem is and has always been that we do not have an adequately enabling environment to harness that entrepreneurial spirit. We have also not promoted entrepreneurship as a real opportunity to address the many social ills created by inequality, unemployment and poverty.

So I decided to take some time out to go though the ruling party’s discussion documents on their policies, as published on its website. I wanted to see whether entrepreneurship would feature at all in the party’s discussions, as just under 5,000 delegates go into conference to decide on the policy direction of South Africa’s nearly 52 million people.

Whether you like it or not, decisions to be taken in the country’s legal capital between 16-20 December 2012 are going to impact you, as an entrepreneur.

So I picked up the “Economic Transformation – Policy Discussion Document March 2012” to try and gauge if Mangaung may deliver any progressive thinking about entrepreneurship and perhaps promoting it out of the obscurity it finds itself into the centre of policy formation and strategic direction of South Africa.

The document opens by stating: “We have an opportunity and an obligation to deliberate on actions which could best enable the economic emancipation of our people”

The Oxford dictionary defines emancipation as ‘the fact or process of being set free from legal, social, or political restrictions; liberation’.

The word “entrepreneur” appears twice and the acronym “SMME” appears 8 times, in a document where the basic thrust and master plan is: In order to get South Africa economically transformed we need a more labour intensive economy. The simplistic argument is that to get South Africans out of poverty, they need to be employed, and for them to be employed the economy needs businesses which rely on employing people. Okay?!

The first time the word “entrepreneur” is mentioned is in the context of the many complex decisions the state would need to make around new ideas and keeping what works. In a way, entrepreneurs are made out to be the alternative to that which has worked over the years. It presupposes that the two cannot co-exist.

“Should we look for new investors in mining in order to open new opportunities for black entrepreneurs, or should we go with more experienced existing companies?” the document questions.

We need to educate our government that there is a big difference between an entrepreneur and a business owner. We need to educate our government that there is a big difference between Entrepreneurship and SMME Development.

The one is a Plumbing business that has hired 15 people in the past 10 years and will continue to hire 15 people for the next 10 years. The other is a malaria testing kit made by two Coloured gentlemen in Cape Town, which currently hires 10 people and because it has signed up an international pharmaceutical is about to build a factory in Goodwood.

One of these is an SMME. The other is an Entrepreneur.

The first time the document mentions “SMMEs”, one can clearly see the confusion:

“The SMME sector plays an increasingly important role as an engine for economic growth SMMEs are a critical source of innovation. They have a higher degree of labour intensity, and tend to adapt more rapidly to changing conditions than larger organisations. They also provide opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those who are unemployed. However, SMME’s continue to face challenges of access to finance, markets, support and information. We should target the creation of new firms, especially black owned SMME’s if we are to achieve our employment creation goals”

Here the document is talking about entrepreneurs, not SMME’s. An education is required to enable our government to support Entrepreneurship accordingly.

Whilst I don’t have the privilege of being a voting delegate in Mangaung, I hope to tell anyone who cares to listen that if we really care about the future of this country, we should bring entrepreneurship into the mainstream debate as it provides us a real chance of changing the game and making progress in creating ‘a better life for all’.

Here's to a Ministry of Entrepreneurship. I dream.