A tale of two talk­shops

Finweek English Edition - - LAST WORD - BY GUY HAR­RIS

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.

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