SA needs urgent injection of entrepreneurs and rainmakers

SA needs urgent injection of entrepreneurs and rainmakers
SA needs urgent injection of entrepreneurs and rainmakers

One of the most vexing questions of our times in this country is how to address the joblessness crisis; more specifically, the ticking time bomb that is youth unemployment. We cannot create jobs if we do not stimulate the economy and encourage the rapid growth of existing businesses and the creation of new ones.

The inherent benefit of this strategy is that its success will also reflect in the long-awaited racial transformation of the ownership of the economy, a concern that is becoming as pressing as unemployment in this our 30th anniversary of democracy.

In the midst of all this, we have to deal with a world that is undergoing profound, ongoing change and with that a lot of talk about how we train people for this new world of work which will be underpinned by AI and machine learning and where the perpetual rate of change will force us to learn, unlearn and relearn from now until we draw our last breath.

But do we even understand this? If we are going to meet this challenge by bringing about radical change in the way we teach, we must intervene at a far earlier stage than the days, months and years after the end of formal secondary schooling; we must start at the schools themselves.

Entrepreneur and author Robert Kiyosaki is fond of saying that disrespect of the symbols our school leavers get, globally the school system is designed to churn out Es: employees. The A students become attorneys and accountants, actuaries, doctors and engineers. Some of the B-aggregate matrics will go into the professions too.

It’s perfectly understandable in a society such as ours with its inequality and generational pressure for social mobility to break the chains of poverty and do better. It wasn’t too many generations ago that the forebears of today’s professionals were unskilled laborers or at best artisans, whether here in South Africa or Europe.

It’s human nature to want our children to do well, to do better than we have, but a blind determination to get them into university and qualified, hopefully in one of the professions, means that for the most part they will end up working for someone else — probably someone who only got a C, or lower, were denied entry into university and so they had to create their own magic.

It is important to always remember that the professions mostly do not drive the economy, they manage it and make it healthy. That should never mean that there is no place for them in the brave new world, on the contrary; we need professionals to scale up and make what has been created more effective, we need professionals to establish standards and ethics and to hold people to account (even if State Capture might have proven otherwise).

Read more in Daily Maverick: What the State Capture Report got right – and wrong; and why there’s reason for optimism about SA’s economy

The bean counters and the bean growers are mutually interdependent, yet the bean growers seem to get less emphasis in our education system.

Entrepreneurial excellence

We need entrepreneurs, we need rainmakers and unfortunately, our education system hardly allows us to encourage this, beyond the usual tired extra-mural attempt to sell home-baked pies or a poorly constructed rabbit hutch in your final year at primary school.

We have placed a primacy on academic excellence (mildly leftned with an equal fetishization of sporting brilliance), but so little on entrepreneurial excellence. It’s a mistake because the skill set required to excel academically through a deep and narrow analysis is perhaps the polar opposite of the attributes needed for inventing and hustling the big deals.

Imagine if we created another category of excellence in our school system to recognize and encourage those who can think out of the box, find solutions and monetize them? We would probably often find the academic Cs are the venture/rainmaker As. We’ve done it for sport in some of our schools and we’ve reaped the rewards in stadia across the world, how much more could we achieve if we started recognizing — and nurturing — a different form of excellence in the classroom?

This is not an either/or situation, nor a zero-sum game; on the contrary, we need all these different types to work together in tandem — we need the rainmakers to create and exploit the opportunities and we need the professionals to make sure those businesses are well run, ethically governed. One without the other simply doesn’t work; too many professionals will simply micromanage a legacy company into the ground, while too many cowboys will fray the fabric of society as we have seen before in America’s Wild West and, to a toxic extreme, in our own recent era of State Capture and corporate collusion .

Drive for disruption

We live in a world of three dimensions, we need to encourage the creation of a fourth dimension — people who can disrupt the world we live in, shatter the corporate glass houses of habits and vested interests that keep an economy that is adequate from transforming into a new model. We need innovation — not breathless and incoherent, but grounded, informed, bold and developing answers for questions many of us haven’t even begun to formulate yet.

At the same time, we also need to develop skill sets and qualifications for the 95% of South African school starters who don’t get a degree within five years of leaving school. Those who are neither swinging up to join the managerial class, nor becoming the entrepreneurs who start the companies; we need to develop people who actually do the work; the crafts- and the tradespeople, an entire subset of workers who somehow got lost in the last 30 years in the headlong rush to wear office clothes and ultimately sit around a table.

Not for nothing is it said that the lawyers and the accountants dress in formal wear and those who employ them wear jeans and T-shirts, but somehow we lost the ability to provide vocational training for those who wear the overalls and carry the tools.

South Africa needs rainmakers, we need to identify them early and we need to give them the proper training to ensure they become more effective. The good news is that we are already doing that through a network of good business schools.

Some are a vital part of this process — they are the ones that have developed a ladder of learning providing an alternative education journey to the traditional undergraduate and honors degree route, allowing their students to continue to earn while they learn.

The answers exist, but the hardest part of all will be accepting them — changing a process that has been hotwired into the South African psyche for generations.

The simple truth is accountants and attorneys, valuable as they are, don’t kickstart the economy — and at this stage, our economy is deindustrializing as we speak. We must turn it around, not manage the little that is left. DM

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