JOHANNESBURG – Over this past weekend, I watched a movie called Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith. He plays a successful New York advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy when his family dies.
Will sought answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death on why this unfortunate event took place. His letters received “answers” and he began to understand how these three constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.
To set the premise for this article, collateral damage is defined as the damage left after an incident or tragedy to the unintended “victim” or other persons, while collateral beauty is the positive or beauty of what comes after an incident or tragedy.
From an African experience perspective, our collateral damage is the continent’s high and rising unemployment rate, lack of risk appetite to invest in our start-ups and the severe absence of commitment from our leaders to improve the welfare of their citizens, especially the frustrated, market-hungry youth.
At this stage in our development, our experiences should be shaped on the collateral beauty that exists. The power, knowledge and opportunity that many of our youth present to us is undoubtedly a blessing for the continent, but why do we constantly turn a blind eye and not leverage their capabilities?
Every day I meet many young bright sparks with brilliant concepts and I wish we could implement just 5 percent of their initiatives. Yet, nine times out of 10, their frustrations and the ever-present stumbling blocks force them to cower away and become just another nine-to-fiver, trying desperately to climb the never-ending corporate ladder.
Most governments try hard to offer big businesses incentives to create jobs. But the fact of the matter is they do not understand that big business cannot just create jobs, pull them out of thin air, so to speak.
Last week, I spoke to several large corporate executives and many told me that it’s easier to pay R10million to R50m to their advertising and marketing agencies than to create a single, entry-level job for a low- or mid-skilled worker. Creating just one job is wrapped in red tape.
But for small business owners, it’s a different scenario. Once they realise the need for additional human resources, they’re able to post the position immediately, justifying my opinion further that the government needs to invest more in start-ups to help them grow, which in turn helps them to kick-start youth employment from the ground up.
Recently, one of our start-ups needed funding. She went through various development finance institutions and government channels, yet was met constantly with the dreaded “F-word”. Frustration.
This stems from the fact that most in charge of funding and approvals do not actually even understand a business plan or a turnover forecast, as they have never run a business. I sit in boardrooms and often hear “that we have outsourced our most prized possession of investment capital to people who have no clue about what is going on”. Our start-up then chose the private capital route and boom, she got the funding she needed to take her business to the next level.
We must not be scared of the risk to invest in them. We must nurture, support and believe in our start-ups to reinvigorate our economy. As Franklin D Roosevelt said: “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) - 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.