Entrepreneurship is a Way of Life; an Approach to Living

Everyone, well almost everyone, talks about entrepreneurship as though it is something that almost anyone can do and it doesn’t take much effort. But if you talk to those who have tried, those who have tried and failed; those who have tried and succeeded, they all have one thing in common to say: It is a tough road, do not underestimate how hard you will have to work and be prepared for the struggle for success too last a few years. Most entrepreneurs have tried more than once and often have failed a few times as well.

Failure is a great school! Indeed, failing at your first effort should not ever be seen as failure but rather as your first year or so of entrepreneurship education. And we all know by now that education is not for free, even if you don’t pay school fees you will pay in some other way!

But should South Africa bother with encouraging entrepreneurship? This is a good question but there are so many good reasons to do so that there is insufficient space to unpack all these reasons in full in this article.

It is important, however, to have a look at some of the primary reasons. There is none that is more important than the other, most of them feed into or have a close connection with some of the other reasons; and none is more important than the collective impact on our economy and the lives of millions if we do not do so!

South Africa has far too many people working for government at all levels and/or dependent on government for livelihoods and survival for this to be a feasible, long term sustainable option. We simply have to find another way.

If one looks at the statistics, there are about 2.16 million people employed by government in South Africa. If one adds to this the fact that Public Service salaries have increased faster than private sector salaries, we have a trend which is completely unsustainable. Our current payroll for the public sector is about R500 billion – approximately one-third of the total budget!

Big private sector companies have been shedding jobs for a long time now and will continue to do so. This is for a host of reasons – cost-cutting, technology, outsourcing of non-core activities to name but a few. We cannot look to big corporates to be primary drivers of job creation

We have too many poor people in our country and the inequity that exists between the haves and have nots is hopelessly unsustainable. In fact, it is so bad that within this difficult conundrum lie the seeds of unrest and even revolution. Many of the violent protests, service delivery protests, #FeesMustFall protests are a direct result of this tragic fact. It has it genesis generations ago but the responsibility for resolving it lies with our generation.

Our economic growth rate has not kept up with the population growth rate. We are not generating a sufficiently positive differential between economic growth and population growth to alter the trajectory of poverty and unemployment. These trends add to the toxic mix.

Our global competitiveness has slipped…..and slipped…. over the last 2 decades. The reasons for this can partially be found in the issues above but also mostly in our own national mind-set. About the only area in which we remain pretty competitive is the in banking and financial services sector…..and, of course, cricket!

We worry about youth who compete their schooling and/or tertiary studies finding a job. This is the wrong question!

So what to do is the BIG burning question?!

We have to change our collective mind-set away from seeking employment, to an intense focus on creating employment amongst our burgeoning youthful population

The first thing we all have to work at is to get away from the idea that government is the best place to work. We need to get away from young folk thinking that government is the place to be. We need government to start shedding jobs and slowing the rate of pay increases. We are almost at a tipping point as far as this is concerned and if we add the plethora of government grants to this ugly picture we are creating a monster which is too hungry for us to feed. We have too few people paying too much tax. Is this too much to ask. I don’t think so. We are the voters and the tax-paying part of the population and so we need to start making our voices heard.

We need to focus on education. In this focus we need to prioritise a focus on teaching marketable skills such as artisan skills of which our country is desperately short.

We should consider changing the funding model for tertiary institutions away from funding the institutions towards funding students on a differentiated funding scale where those students studying in areas that reflect the skills shortage in our country are better supported than those studying in other more non-essential areas.

In primary schools kids should be given projects to start little businesses. The size of the business is unimportant. The idea is critical. We need to get every kid in our country imagining themselves as a business owner.

This is a crucial and strategic issue. It is far too important to be left to government. It is not someone else’s problem. It is a problem that belongs to all of us, we are all impacted by it; we can all make a difference. This will mean that we have shift out of our customary blame-it-all-on-government mind-set and say to ourselves: “Who can we work with and how can we make a difference?”

Every educated adult in this country has it within them to mentor at least one or two young people. Not only help them acquire skills and start and manage their fledgling businesses but to fill them with hope; build enduring relationships with those who you would not normally talk to; and learn a great deal about themselves and the needs of our country at the most basic level!

Entrepreneurship is not only about starting and building businesses. It is also about starting initiatives of hope for all South Africans. Initiatives like this can start as altruistic and contributive, but can also easily become significant business opportunities. Just take the Park Runs initiative of Bruce Fordyce and others. This started small but at last count had 85 Park Runs on its books. These runs bring South Africans of all backgrounds together in beautiful surroundings in a positive frame of mind to enjoy healthy activity and these in and of themselves are entrepreneurial experiences for many.

What other ‘Park Runs’ are out there that can change the way we think about each other, change our attitudes to each other and too our country, and end up being an immensely satisfying and rewarding business?!

November 2, 2016 | Tony Frost

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