Entrepreneurial resilience is a capstone of South African heritage
Specialist SME financier calls on entrepreneurs to combine strength with innovation for future success
21 September 2022: The word “resilience” has been used repeatedly over the course of many years to describe the South African spirit. And nowhere has evidence of the country’s inherent resilience been more apparent than in the realm of business. Several of South Africa’s most iconic brands began in kitchens, and garages – ordinary places where extraordinary ideas were conceived. Heritage Day provides the nation with an opportunity to take pride in these success stories and celebrate entrepreneurial drive.
Businesses as icons of national heritage and South African ingenuity
Providing her perspective on how South Africa’s heritage of resilience in business has helped to shape the sector and the future of the country, is Rene Botha, Area Manager at Business Partners Limited.
As she comments: “Small businesses don’t always remain ‘small.’ In fact, in South Africa, many ubiquitous household brands started as small businesses. ‘Ouma rusks,’ one of the country’s most beloved heritage brands was started by Ouma Greyvenstein, who answered a call from her church to find ways to alleviate the financial hardship brought on families by the Great Depression. Out of a turbulent period in history came a truly proudly South African brand.”
A number of further examples paint a telling picture of the interdependent relationship between entrepreneurship and economic development. One such example is the success story of the MAXHOSA AFRICA brand established by Laduma Ngxokolo, who has enhanced some traditional South African knitwear designs and introduced them to the rest of the world. Ngxokolo started with clothing but has now expanded to carpets and other home décor items too.
On his entrepreneurial journey, Ngxokolo opted to not only focus on growing his own brand but to contribute to economic development and job creation as well. To this end, instead of outsourcing the manufacturing of his products to Asia at a possibly lower production cost, he elected to keep it local. His story is a testament to the resilient spirit for which South Africans have become widely known.
Innovation as the key to South Africa’s future in business and beyond
“South Africa’s small business sector has taken hits from multiple angles over the past few years,” says Botha. “The pandemic, a spate of civil unrest, record-high unemployment and financial instability exacerbated by the tense global climate have buffeted businesses from all sides. And yet, from within the midst of this turbulence, shining examples have emerged of how innovation can be used as a catapult for South African SMEs.”
‘Innovation’ was once a buzzword assigned to the likes of California’s Silicon Valley – a distant and unreachable mirage for many under-resourced South African entrepreneurs. This climate, however, is changing.
The 2019 – 2021 National Business Innovation Survey, commissioned by South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation, found that innovation was a major driver of several key objectives in businesses across a broad range of sectors in the country in the recent past. According to the survey, the top five effects of innovation in local businesses were improved quality in goods and services, increased revenue, better profitability, an enhanced range of goods and services and more flexibility in production or service provision.
“Sectors that continue to lead the way in terms of South African innovation,” says Botha, “include engineering, technology, manufacturing and trade. An analysis of thousands of respondents revealed that nearly 70% of local businesses are “innovation-active” and are taking active steps towards inculcating a drive towards innovation within their businesses.”
Asserting her confidence in South Africa’s future as a hotbed of innovation, Botha points to the 2021 Global Innovation Index in which South Africa ranked 2nd amongst the 27 indexed economies within Sub-Saharan Africa, preceded only by Mauritius. According to the index, South Africa’s high ranking can be attributed to the sophistication of its market. A strong correlation was also found between innovation and economic development, with South Africa performing above expectations for its level of development.
Commenting on what this means for the sector, Botha asserts that, “while there is undeniable evidence of the visible knock that local entrepreneurs have taken over the past few years, there is also every indication that innovation is being used as a steppingstone to recovery. And with small businesses being the engine that drives the local economy, success for SMEs means success for South Africa.”
Concluding with a message of hope for aspiring local businesspeople, Botha comments: “To the entrepreneurs of tomorrow we say, ‘remember that your heritage as a South African is one of strength and unwavering determination – build your dreams on that foundation.”