OPINION: An injection of youth to revitalise small business
JOHANNESBURG - Youth Month in South Africa is often a sombre time of reflection as we evaluate the challenges that young people face in achieving their goals, especially in an environment of limited support.
In particular, Covid-19 has resulted in an especially difficult June as we have seen official unemployment climb to 30.1 percent and the education of thousands of students without digital means come to a near halt.
There is a lot to be worried about, and there is a lot of work to be done. Yoco’s purpose has always been to enable people to thrive. We see supporting and enabling entrepreneurship as a powerful vehicle to bring this purpose to life.
Through the independent small businesses on our platform, we have witnessed first-hand what people can do when they are empowered to take control of their livelihoods and finances.
We believe that the earlier that empowerment finds its way into the hearts and minds of our youth, the better chance we give them of overcoming the status quo that is not yet structurally set up to help them thrive.
Southside Streetwear is an e-commerce business based in Lenasia, Johannesburg created and run by Ethan Govender, who is 17 years old.
This online fashion store is one of many examples of ways in which young people are able to quickly harness technology to help them set up and run a business.
Ethan works with two of his friends to market, sell and distribute sneakers, street wear and accessories. They balance the needs of the business while still being in school.
“Running a business gives me a sense of independence and it gives an overview of what the working life is like,” said Ethan. “I started my business out of a passion for sneakers and use the knowledge gained from my Business Studies classes to inform my strategies.”
Entrepreneurship is often dominated by stories of grand technological invention nd Silicon Valley-esque success. However, the real foundation of South Africa’s mall business economy are thousands of business owners like Ethan who use heir passions and the tools and resources at their disposal to forge their own paths. Alongside lofty ambitions comes hard, often unsexy, work but the reward is a self-empowerment that can’t be bought.
Starting a business has plenty of barriers, which include unnecessary red tape and paperwork to navigate successfully. To cut through the clutter and get things done takes a great deal of dedication and grit that would intimidate even some adults. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and certainly not a catch-all solution for the youth of this country. But it is viable, and if we make it more accessible, then perhaps it will yield a greater reward than we think.
Shaquiel Sewell, 17, is the owner of Créatif Mediums and Promotions that offers social media training and support as well as brand activations and promoters.
Shaquiel works as a one-man band doing all of the heavy lifting by himself from finance to marketing and general administration.
“Lockdown or not, it’s tough being a young entrepreneur,” commented Shaquiel. “Apart from a lack of funding and [traditional] bank support, it’s hard getting anything done when you’re constantly blocked by age requirements. There are training courses to teach crucial skills, many of which are free, and these are great. But for example, business registration remains unavailable due to an age restriction and this lack of documentation has ended potential
deals and partnerships for me.”
Young entrepreneurs raise very valid questions when you consider the economic climate of the country. Why not create a financial business system that is accessible to as many people as possible? Why limit small business opportunities when ultimately it is a small business that underpins employment and economic growth?
The reality is that it will take a long time to recoup and rebuild the economy. The tabled Covid-19 budget as announced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has painted an uncomfortable picture of what South Africans are up against for the next five years. Perhaps most sobering is the fact that the South African economy will shrink by an expected 7.2 percent in 2020.
“We have come to the crossroads and have to confront the problems head-on,” said the Finance Minister.
When you consider all these roadblocks to a successful small business, it is remarkable that so many South Africans opt to start at all – not to mention starting as young as 17. It has been a great source of hope and pride to watch new independent business owners join the Yoco community of merchants of more than 80 000.
Even with an economy deep in decline and the world in crisis mode, South Africans are finding ways to thrive and enabling and empowering them will make all the difference. The message is always: you are never too young, or too inexperienced to start. The challenge of clearing the path and making the system accessible rests with businesses like Yoco. All you need to do is just start.
Katlego Maphai is the co-founder and chief executive of Yoco, a financial platform for small businesses. The Yoco Small Business Recovery Monitor in partnership with IOL is a live small business transaction data resource. The index is updated daily with the latest information from more than 80 000 Yoco merchants, relating to their turnover by province and industry.