A tale of two talkshops
Africa, South Africa and all its cities, including Cape Town, always bring to mi n d o u r c o mpl e x dichotomies. The glass is half full or half empty depending on how you look at things. We have lots of problems or lots of opportunities, depending on your filter.
The different scripts were brought into focus in the first week of June.
We had the global fanfare of mainly mega corporations, along with their advisers and with big government in tow, to talk up the “good story” of low economic growth and rising unemployment. They attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).
Across town on the outskirts of Somerset West was the South African Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMME) conference. It was organised by a lesser-known organisation – the Africagrowth Institute (AGI).
Whether t he t i ming was a coincidence is unknown, but they were clearly not chasing the same market.
The big business one cost R60 000 to attend. Add to that entertaining, logistics, advertising, sponsorship and publicity budgets to leverage the benefit of attending. The cost of attending the SMME conference was R1 800, but it was only a day long. I was sponsored by the organisers to attend on behalf of the SA Institute for Entrepreneurship (www.entrepreneurship.co.za), which focuses on capacitating survivalist, base-of-the-pyramid entrepreneurs.
President Jacob Zuma graced the opening of the WEF at the CTICC but the N-word was not mentioned when discussing governance, nor FIFA when discussing corruption. Fasttracking redress via entrepreneurship development was not raised, nor the added cost of one-off tenderers.
Possibly as a sop to the masses there were aspects of the informal economy at the WEF. Often the perspective was more on how big corporates, facing lowgrowth economies both internationally and in SA, can access the overlooked and forgotten informal economy.
In SA it covers 70% of South Africans, according to UCT’s Unilever Institute.
Five social entrepreneurs were recognised at the WEF, but would it not have been better to list a thousand examples to show the art of possibility?
There was not enough discussion at the WEF on Africa on how to fasttrack economic growth, stimulate entrepreneurship or provide hand-ups rather than unsustainable handouts.
Presenters at the SMME conference did not always provide solutions but were good at (re)recording the challenges, such as: Access to education, especially maths and literacy, Access to debt finance for working capital, Access to angel equity f inance to expand or allow additional gearing, Recovering from blacklisting, and Access to markets. Eighty percent of the SMME speakers and panelists were from banks, government-supported entities or software providers. Finance and cash f low is the missing lubrication to get the wheels turning. We urgently need more of them to connect effectively with job-creating entrepreneurs.
We have an economy dominated by a few mega corporations, which were at the WEF. We have a multitude of informal survivalist entrepreneurs who were at neither conference. Proportional to the WEF’s 1 600 delegates, the SMME conference should have had close to 150 000 delegates instead of the roughly 150 present.
What is missing is the middle economy of SMEs, but government is relying on SMEs to provide the employment for 11m j obs. The challenge is there, but I’m not hearing the how from either conference.