JOHANNESBURG - Conferences are a little like magazines insofar as there’s one for every business sector, hobby and interest. In fact, there are so many indabas and lekgotlas that there’s even a song called Imbizo by Phuzekhemisi bemoaning the convening of quite so many.

Be that as it may, Proudly South African has its very own event, namely the annual Buy Local Summit, which we hosted at the Sandton Convention Centre last week.

This was our 7th edition, and every year I am amazed at our capacity to create something bigger and better than the previous year.

You might think “conference, shmonference”, but around 1000 delegates over two days would disagree with you.

The summit was oversubscribed long in advance and was well attended on both days.

After our 5th summit, we decided that we needed to dedicate an entire day to SMMEs and entrepreneurs and look at what kind of support we could give them.

SMMEs are a critical cog in the economy and in job creation and their success is imperative if they are to become the employers of 90percent of the workforce by 2030, as envisaged by the National Development Plan.

This was the second year that we have put together an agenda to address the issues facing small businesses.

The two biggest cries we hear from emerging businesses is how to access funding and how to access the right markets for their products or services.

Enter our 2018 headline sponsors, Standard Bank, with solutions for the first problem, offering a basket of financing solutions for our entrepreneurs’ “next”.

And to address the second issue, Lloyd Cornwall, founder of the immensely successful DStv Delicious International Food & Music Festival, bounced on to the stage to LL Cool J’s I’m Bad and spoke about the need to plant the seeds of a new business deep so they can properly take root and grow.

For new businesses struggling to find their “next”, who better to help them see the road ahead more clearly than small business guru Pavlo Phitidis, who took three Proudly South African businesses and made each a case study from which we could all learn.

As if subjecting your company to close scrutiny wasn't enough for those members, we commend the five who confidently strutted their stuff on the catwalk after receiving a “dress for success” make-over courtesy of Edcon.

From mucky day jobs to meetings with the bank manager, our models were transformed and even got to keep the outfits that were picked out for them.

All the good advice and elegant outfits won't help, however, if your company isn't legal and compliant, and so we pulled in some 14 entities in one space to give on-site assistance to our delegates in matters of tax as well as provide financial and non-financial SME support among other issues in our immensely successful One Stop Shop.

Day 2 saw Minister Rob Davies take a walk around the Expo and give the keynote address (did I mention we also staged an exhibition of about 200 Proudly SA member companies alongside the summit, and that each one was there free of charge as part of their membership?)

The conference content shifted on Thursday to focus on the business of buying local under the theme “Buy Local: Policy or Preference” with some anecdotal evidence of how this can make commercial sense from big business including Edcon, AB InBev, TFG, Massmart and Mango, as well as from fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo.

We also threw in some politics with business and put referee Redi Tlhabi in the ring with the ANC, DA, Cope and Sactwu to debate 2019 manifestos and who is the biggest champion of the buy local movement and who promises to buy their election paraphernalia here in South Africa. We will be uploading the discussion on to our website in the coming week, so be sure to check it out.

The grand finale was an amazing fashion show staged by Edcon and David Tlale, with the last catwalk seeing the models brandishing placards and banners reminding us all to buy local.

All in all, we saw more than 1500 attendees to the conference, more than 30 speakers and panellists, 200 exhibitors, more than 500 walk-ins to the exhibition, two breakfast television shows crossing back and forth to the event, radio outside broadcasts, more than 25 media interviews. If you weren't there, you missed an amazingly instructional conference, but there’s always next year.

In the meantime, become part of the buy local movement by ensuring you buy locally grown, produced or manufactured products and that local services become a preference as well as your own personal policy.

Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly SA.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

 - BUSINESS REPORT