South Africa’s triple-challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment requires interventions that would have a lasting effect in transforming the economy and also create a dynamic environment to drive sustainable and inclusive growth.

Although there has been significant progress toward building institutional capacity to tackle these core challenges, there remains a formidable disconnect between what is prescribed as policy interventions and application.

Judging from our recent past, it is clear that there is still a lack of commitment even to some of the most creative solutions that have been put forward through various initiatives to bring millions of South Africans into the mainstream economy.

It is unfortunate that as a country we continue to see gaps in the way that policymakers and the private sector go about trying to create an environment that would provide sufficient space to invest and thus create jobs.

Alternatives

If South Africa wished to make even the smallest dent on the unemployment rate, the country, with the help of business, would need to explore various alternatives in the way we develop and nurture small business.

One of the most critical steps in this regard is for business to understand that creating strategic partnerships will help the country establish a more united front to solve our socio-economic challenges.

This collective approach needs to leverage some of the already existing interventions, especially enterprise and supplier development (ESD).

At the heart of ESD is a realisation that developing black enterprise is good business for South Africa.

Through enterprise and supplier development, corporate South Africa should be able to make a meaningful contribution in transforming the economy by making strategic investments that are geared - not in empowering just a few - but to have a lasting and sustainable impact on small and medium enterprises.

Enterprise and supplier development is meant to give corporate South Africa an opportunity to create a legacy of making strategic investments that enable emerging black enterprises to receive support, mentoring and market access through a set of clearly defined parameters.

Enterprise and supplier development is a journey not a destination.

Business should by no means see it as an inconvenience or a box-ticking exercise meant just to bump up the BEE scores and look good.

If we are to deal decisively with the triple-challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, enterprise and supplier development represents the most pragmatic approach for business to put money where its mouth is.

And that approach involves identifying black businesses that can be capacitated to deliver on your procurement needs and qualify for financial support through a target-oriented process that unlocks opportunities for entrepreneurs, whose success will then be a catalyst for sustainable growth.

During our annual conference scheduled for August 3, 2017, in Johannesburg, we are going to feature an in-depth discussion about the most optimal approaches to enterprise and supplier development.

At the end of the day, every manager involved in this critical space will leave with a road-map to guide their efforts..

Practical insights

In other words, we plan to provide actionable and practical insights into this important aspect of transforming our economy so that there is better delivery, benchmarking and integration of our changing socio-economic context into the investment decisions.

We will also share specific case studies about some of the ongoing successes in the field. I believe that the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) is best-positioned to match emerging black businesses with corporate South Africa to deliver on enterprise and supplier development the way it was intended.

Our project portfolio of assisting small businesses throughout the years means that we have cumulative experience that big business can leverage to identify strategic enterprise and supplier development opportunities across the country.

Estimates put the spend on enterprise and supplier development at more than R20billion, but the impact of this spending on the broader economy has hardly been felt because of the disjointed and ad-hoc nature of ESD efforts thus far.

Done right, enterprise and supplier development has the potential to make the South African economy more dynamic and resilient. Moreover, business gets to diversify their supplier base, develop new growth avenues, and create an enabling environment for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Ernest Mahlaule is president of the JCCI.