The Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, is shown around the 22 on Sloane campus in Johannesburg by the co-chairperson of Global Entrepreneurship Network, Kizito Okechukwu.  I  Supplied
The Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, is shown around the 22 on Sloane campus in Johannesburg by the co-chairperson of Global Entrepreneurship Network, Kizito Okechukwu. I Supplied

Heed warning on policy and economic woes

By Kizito Okechukwu Time of article published Feb 4, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Whether it’s a collapsing state or anything else for that matter, more often than not we deem failure as the end of the road and we surrender our will to persevere.

But in the innovative entrepreneurial space, it’s quite different. For example, Elon Musk says that if you haven’t failed hard enough, then you might not have innovated hard enough; while legendary car innovator Henry Ford reckoned that failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

So failure is understandable and prevalent in entrepreneurship, because it leads to success, when it’s calculated.

However, when a state has failed or is failing, it takes decades to get it back on its feet. Most times, the failure that various states experience is not because of innovation or building towards a sustainable future, it’s due to poor leadership, governance, planning and the lack of willingness to build for the next generation.

In this light, the Fragile State Index powered by Funds for Peace published an annual report in 2019, which groups various countries in categories such as Very Sustainable, Sustainable, Very Stable, More Stable, Warning, Elevated Warning, High Warning, Alert, High Alert, and Very High Alert.

If one looks closely at the report, no African country made it to the first four categories of Very Sustainable, Sustainable, Very Stable and More Stable, except Mauritius and the Seychelles.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a successful entrepreneur in Aberdeen, whom I was encouraging to invest in South Africa and/or the rest of Africa. He did not view Africa as having sustainable investments due to the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the continent regarding stable economic policies to protect investors, its leadership, and infrastructure issues.

Last month showed further economic instability. Many listed companies are set to cut jobs, some predict as many as 10000 in the first quarter, not to mention other companies that haven’t publicly announced their projected cuts. These will be tabled in the first quarterly Labour Survey to be published soon by Statistics SA.

With this South Africa’s unemployment rate could deteriorate even further. The International Monetary Fund just last week sounded an urgent warning to South Africa to address its policy and economic challenges, and it predicts the economy to grow by only 1percent by 2021.

The number of youth unemployed is also still a major concern, with less than 50percent of learners who started school matriculating.

With no formal education to secure proper work experience, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

From a young entrepreneurial perspective, during discussions with municipalities, the biggest challenge they face with their various entrepreneurship interventions is that the most applications they receive are people just looking for jobs, who lack even a simple understanding of basic business.

So why spend funds trying to convert them to entrepreneurs, instead of enrolling them at school?

The linkage between education and entrepreneurship cannot be underestimated.

Even a few billionaires who did not attain a higher education qualification will still tell you that some form of education they got earlier on in their life played a vital part in their business success.

My MBA thesis in 2013 highlighted the contribution of higher education in advancing entrepreneurship in South Africa.

Entrepreneurship remains pivotal to build a sustainable future for our country. Looking on the bright side, the looming job cuts might entice those former employees to consider entrepreneurship, given the work experience they have banked over the years.

Times are tough! Especially when the four African superpowers are not doing well on the Fragile State Index. South Africa is on Elevated Warning, Egypt on High Warning, while Nigeria and Kenya are on Alert. It does not bode well, and it is confidence draining for any country that is now ranked alongside Iraq and Afghanistan.

With our burgeoning youth population, there is no doubt that we have the potential to define our own global path. Yet we must remember that in Africa, our youth population is growing faster than our economy, which is a serious red flag.

On the flip-side, many economic pundits and institutions have positioned Africa as a continent of the future.

Toyota’s recent announcement of a R4.28billion investment in South Africa is a sign of confidence.

But much more needs to be done to improve this confidence among various other multinationals, and investment and jobs will follow.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.


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