Igniting opportunities

Joseph Maisels and Zikhona Ngumbela _TSiBA Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Joseph Maisels and Zikhona Ngumbela _TSiBA Mandela Rhodes Scholars 2015.jpg

Driving sustainable social change in a way that impacts directly on community needs is part of the entrepreneur that South Africa’s smallest university creates.

Celebrating its 10th year in 2014, TSiBA, the Tertiary School in Business Administration, South Africa’s smallest university, proudly announced another two Mandela Rhodes Scholars, making them the producer of the highest percentage of this prestigious calibre of students in the country.

But for TSiBA, it is about more than simply producing world-class graduates. Established in 2004 by a group of women armed with the passion to ignite opportunity, this institution which gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to excel in life, embodies a unique learning environment that stresses the importance of viewing entrepreneurship not simply as a subject to be learned, but a behavioural aptitude to be mastered.

Having the right skills and training also needs to be accompanied by creating value in and around your community, and who better to learn from about community needs and challenges than other entrepreneurs within the community itself. For this reason, TSiBA established its Ignition Centres in 2007 which today provides a unique platform for experiential learning and engagement between students and entrepreneurs.

BBQ was afforded an exclusive with members of the TSiBA team who elaborated on the importance of creating sustainable, relevant businesses in and for communities, as well as expand on the topic of entrepreneurship.

Graham Moore, Development Manager (Sustainability), says that although entrepreneurship is a subject all students at the institution major in, it is not merely treated as a discipline to be learned academically, but as a behaviour to be applied to real life solutions. This includes practical involvement in creativity and innovation, the acceptance by each student of risk and failure, and of the need to search for practical and viable solutions to societal problems according to him. “We aim to hone students’ practical skills and their attitudes in approaching positive change.”

“This would not be possible without the presence of our Ignition Centres on both of our campuses. The Ignition Centres provide assistance to a large and varied community of local entrepreneurs who are grounded in the daily business challenges of South African life. In turn, our experience with local entrepreneurs informs the case studies and teaching material in the classroom - and in turn is woven into the curriculum. There is therefore a wonderful symbiotic relationship between the grass-roots entrepreneurs supported by TSiBA and our core mission of being an innovative learning community that graduates entrepreneurial leaders who ignite opportunity and social change,” Moore says.

Creating solutions

Adri Marais, TSiBA CEO, says that it is imperative to create solutions that are relevant to the community it is intended for. She points out that it is a critical mistake often made by educators, namely to create solutions that they think the “other” needs, without any real sense of the reality of the community the solution is intended for.

“Basic business skills is one of the main reasons community entrepreneurs fail, but the important link here is to know when and how to mentor and build skills. We recognised this some years ago when we created the Post Graduate Diploma in Small Enterprise Consulting – a programme for the “hand that holds the hand of the entrepreneur””, she says.

Regarding the link between creating community relevant businesses/skills and grassroots empowerment, Marais says that a typical way of growing an economy focuses on enlarging the existing pool of economically active citizens. Holding, upskilling and nurturing community businesses at grassroots level allows for new “nodes” of economic activity to develop according to her.

“In terms of what businesses and skills we need in our communities at a grassroots level, my view is two-fold. Firstly, humans are resourceful and the immediate market needs are filled in our communities. You will see that if you drive through the streets, basic services and goods are over-traded in an almost “perfect competition” space ranging from hair braiding and barbers, airtime, spazas and local “cockroaches” (taxis) dominate the economic space. But what we are slow to develop, is the space for a broader and more innovative range of services and products. I am saying slow, but there has been some excellent examples of widening the economic circumference which is fantastic to see.

“Secondly, regarding business skills, I think the inference here is ‘trade skills’. The lack of business acumen is hampering economic growth at grassroots level and I mean here business skills at all levels: communication, basic marketing, high levels of service, quality and reliable delivery etc is not a consistent feature in grassroots startups,” she says.

Besides the hard work put into acquiring a degree, students are often faced with the harsh reality of an often oversaturated market which can be quite difficult to penetrate. Marais says that sadly, training is not typically accompanied by relevant entry points into the market. “Government’s revision of the BBBEE scorecard is however now addressing this by focusing extra points on Enterprise Supplier Development (ESD), creating relevant market entry points, and I am pleased about that, this is relevant,” she says.

Marais further explains that as part of their initiative to engage in grassroots empowerment, they have focused their attention on equipping their students with a major in Entrepreneurship as part of their degree. This, she explains, does not refer to the “usual” way of teaching business skills such as marketing since this is covered in the rest of the course.

Instead, emphasis is placed on teaching entrepreneurship on both a practical and developmental level which includes the development of the person, his “entrepreneurial flair”, innovation, the ability to take risks, face failure etc, through the curriculum where “students start and run their own businesses and consult to businesses in their communities.”

Abraham Oliver, TSiBA Ignition Centre Manager, demonstrates the efficacy of engaging students with other entrepreneurs as well as other public bodies such as government, and refers to involvements with bodies such as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) among others. “TSiBA’s Ignition Centre in its vision to support youth entrepreneurship engages actively with National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). NYDA was involved in our adjudication of our student companies in 2014. Sparkle Costume Jewelry was successful in obtaining a grant from NYDA this year. We also collaborate with Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) in terms of referrals of small businesses for voucher support programme and their open events. Also an active participant in the launch of the joint venture between NYDA, SEFA and IDC to financially support youth ventures.

“Small business key challenge is to find markets for their products or services. As a result this is a key area which the Ignition Centre strives to use its network with business community to facilitate linkages. The IC assists the business community who wants to expand their supplier base to Exempted Micro Enterprises. These business development programmes focus on increasing the supplier readiness of EME through a structured training and mentoring programme which spans over 10 months on an annual basis. Current customised business development projects include corporates such as Sanlam, Johnson & Johnson, Louis Karol, Safepack etc. The small business owners benefit is access to sustainable market, business community enhances their BBBEE positioning and TSiBA stays true to its vision of igniting opportunity by developing confident entrepreneurs who earn sustainable livelihoods, create jobs and drive economic and social prosperity,” he says.

Focus area

Abraham also mentions that civil society remains a key focus area of the Ignition Centre. “We need stable communities to grow our economy and our country as a whole. The antidote for unemployment is for civil society to spot challenges and turn them into exploitable opportunities. Through our quarterly networks we foster partnerships with our surrounding communities. We actively assist small business owners through our Field study consultancy project. This sought after project has been running for the past six years with North Eastern University in Boston. South African and American student’s forms consultancy teams to solve key challenges identified by small business owners.

“Through our entrepreneurship curriculum we go beyond our borders as HCBA students work with small business in their community for six months. Students are given opportunity to deepen their understanding of business management principles and small business are given opportunity to evaluate their systems and process. More than 80% of these small businesses continue their involvement with the IC centre post the 6 months,” says Oliver.

When asked about how community relevant businesses and business skills can be a driver of transformation, Marais says that community relevant businesses will provide the community with the products and services it needs and deserves. “Money will stay “in” the community, strengthening its social fabric and driving transformation. To date, many of our communities are places where people live, but not “where” they spend their money,” she says.

Looking at some of the biggest challenges that graduates face in terms of starting businesses within their own communities, Marais says that by far, the biggest hurdle for graduates is the pressure from their immediate family circle to provide for the family. She mentions that students do not contribute to the household income for up to five years while they are studying and there is the obvious pressure on them to earn a stable income to contribute to everyone’s well-being. “This is not an environment conducive to the stimulation of entrepreneurship.”

Marais concludes by adding that 95% of their graduates are today either employed and or studying at postgraduate level and have a conservative, combined economic contribution above their working lives of over R600 million. “It is sustainable, it is forever, and their entrepreneurial leadership traits are making them employees of choice, driving transformation in a fundamentally sustainable way.”

Michael Meiring

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Issue 83


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