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Posted: 2008-01-09 / Author: Jan Beeton

Leadership Driven Entrepreneurship: Top Down And Bottom Up

Any number of dimensions may need to be considered for SA to develop as a leading entrepreneurial nation of the world. We need a model for integrating these dimensions. Some key building blocks important for the writer in developing the integrated model we need are addressed in this article. Mechanistic, inappropriate and fragmented efforts at the top and on the ground outside of an integrated larger framework are simply not going to get us there.

To get to the right answers, we need to ask the right questions. There are very many initiatives going on all the time trying to build entrepreneurship in the country as an answer to endemic unemployment, and in the quest for ever increasing economic growth for the creation of jobs. The cumulative impact of these initiatives remains questionable, however, as the Global Monitor on Entrepreneurship has indicated. According to the latest monitor , SA has slipped in the global rankings .A key question for the writer is what are we not getting right? Leadership is a position at the top, and a function at differing levels of activity. It is the writer’s belief that we can succeed as an entrepreneurial nation with the right leadership from the top and the right initiative from the bottom.

A position-based view of leadership dictates that we start with the tripartite government, and business, leadership of the country. Building the resolve and entrepreneurial image of the nation entails inter alia the following kinds of initiatives:

Low bureaucracy/high facilitation policy approaches and a model informed by successful entrepreneurs and business people working as part of government – Since civil servants, or trade unionists for that matter, are largely not business people or entrepreneurs, it stands to reason that they cannot legislate or make appropriate policy and regulations that really facilitate entrepreneurial development

Simple and appropriate legislative and regulatory frameworks that really do support start-up entrepreneurs to launch and grow quickly in order to provide employment for themselves and others. Key examples are: special forms of business registration and compliance frameworks for start-up businesses, as well as incentives to register and comply, such as no taxation for a limited period (even above the threshold).

Specialist mechanisms for access to finance and other services provided by the banks and other finance providers, which really are supportive of start-up entrepreneurs – giving them access to accounts, small overdraft facilities and loans, which are easy to access and low cost.

National days and events celebrating entrepreneurship and SA’s great entrepreneurs (including social entrepreneurs), which contribute to building a national entrepreneurial culture and value system

A national brand to nurture the image of SA as a leading entrepreneurial nation (this could include slogans like I am a proudly SA entrepreneur, ’I chose entrepreneurship as my career’)

Government exhibitions inclusive of all government departments and agencies which offer assistance to entrepreneurs, putting on display all the services and facilities available to them, with officers available to speak to.

Appropriate and visible business leadership at all levels on the issues demonstrating a systemic understanding of what is needed, and supported by appropriate company core values and action concerning the integration of the large/medium/small first and second economies for a new developmental economy to emerge in SA of benefit to all

High visibility awareness generation and celebration of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of an entrepreneurial nation – the achieving entrepreneurial family and community, the enterprising school, college and university, the successful small, medium and micro business, and the dedicated development initiative at work to build entrepreneurs in the country.

……… And From the Bottom

A functional approach to leadership on the other hand dictates that initiative is taken from the bottom up as well, informed and supported by the national model and framework, to build our country as a leading entrepreneurial nation. Key building blocks for such an initiative to succeed for the writer are:

The Entrepreneurial Family

As a business mentor, the writer knows only too well that those start-up business people she works with who come from a background of family business, no matter how humble, are likely to do better in business than those who don’t. That is the importance of the entrepreneurial family or the family business. But even those families who do not have their own business can instil in their off-spring the importance and value of business from an early age.

It can happen in, for example, play activities, and in discussions at family meals about where the products and food on the meal table come from, and how they got to the family table. It can happen in the bank, post office and in shops by taking the time to explain to children what is happening in these places, how the products and services available there work and why you are there. It can happen by mother, father, or care giver spending time with a child explaining what work they do and why they do it. The first place of education is in the home and it is a very powerful place of education for a child’s future. Using some of the family time available to address issues of work, business and the larger world around the child will be time well invested in the future.

The home is also very influential concerning a child’s career or work choice. Value placed on self-employment as a worthy career choice will stand the child of today in good stead in a world where the nature of work is changing rapidly and opportunities for formal employment are not readily available.

The Enterprising Community

One of the best examples of an enterprising community I have worked with in over 25 years is in a rural village in Limpopo. It is a community resource information centre started by a group of villagers themselves in their quest to access the outside world, prepare their people for the 21st century and support schools and the development of school and community libraries in their area. They raised R5m themselves from a corporate foundation, built the centre and established a network of schools in the area to assist in their development. They also developed strategic partnerships with not for profit organisations who could help them.

They were successful to such an extent that they were approached by government departments who wanted to open offices at the centre to establish a local presence easily accessible by community members. This pioneering initiative is sorely needed by communities all over the country in their quest for development. The principle at work here which is so successful is that communities attract large-scale assistance once they are able to demonstrate they are helping themselves.

The Entrepreneurial School

One of the most powerful ways to influence the future development of a nation is through the activities in its schools, colleges and universities. In the writer’s view, whilst continuing to value and place importance on academic studies, policy approaches and planning need to focus without doubt much more on the education of children and young adults in our country for business careers and entrepreneurship in the future.

The key to this for the writer is to pay much more attention to how and what educators are educated and trained in at tertiary level, and once working, in in-service training and development programmes. In her view, educators themselves need far more exposure to business, to entrepreneurship and to the world of work outside the education system as part of their initial and further education and training.

Also, the outcomes aimed at with learners in the education system in terms of OBE need to be linked much more with the competencies and skills needed by the economy of the country. It is not enough to report on the level of matric passes each year – we need to know what education outcomes and skills learners are coming out of schools with as a result of matric, how these fit with what is needed by the country and the impact they make of benefit to the economic and entrepreneurial development of the nation.

Schools which demonstrate entrepreneurship by being entrepreneurial are, however, without a doubt first prize for the writer. They not only demonstrate and educate concerning entrepreneurship but also raise income for learning activities, with learners taking part and very often earning income for themselves as well. A fine example of such a school or college in Johannesburg is SA Life College.

Enterprise Development Initiatives Which Are Entrepreneurial

Too many enterprise development initiatives in the country operate solely from donor funding – either private sector or governmental. Whilst this is important, it is even more important that projects developing enterprise and entrepreneurs are seen to be doing what they teach (preach), and do it themselves, in a business-minded manner, acting as role models for those they support. In other words, they should demonstrate their own capacity to generate income to support their work, as they work to develop entrepreneurs.

Many not for profit organisations and government agencies are challenged simply to be business-minded, engaging in effective business planning and with good management ability to establish and implement development initiatives effectively.

Funding provided by governmental and corporate agencies should come with provisos around these issues- those who develop entrepreneurs should be capable of being entrepreneurial themselves. Social entrepreneurs are an outstanding example of people who fit this category very successfully. They aim to generate income and profit as they work for social and economic change.

About the Author:
Ms Jan Beeton is a Managing Consultant and owner of QED Development Consulting.
The consultancy seeks positive transformation in the socio-economic realities of the marginalised and poor in South Africa. Find out more about Jan on her website

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