August, 2015 | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Caught and taught – entrepreneurship insights by Mosidi Modise

Caught and taught – entrepreneurship insights by Mosidi Modise

In this, the third and final instalment of our Women’s Month articles, we turn to our sister company, Allan Gray, and ask Mosidi Modise to pen her personal entrepreneurship lessons. Mosidi is currently an Analyst at Allan Gray. Not only does she hold an MBA in Entrepreneurship from GIBS, she’s also a World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper who, at the tender age of 20, established and ran an award-winning guesthouse, Your Own World, in the Free State for four years. Mosidi serves on the Young Alumni Advisory Council of her alma mater, the University of the Free State.

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We cannot underestimate the influence that women have on purchasing decisions. The Huffington Post recently reported that women influence 85% of all consumer spending in the US. The article also highlighted that women tend to have a holistic approach to leadership and decision making. Our decisions are more future-orientated and not only focus on the bottom line but take all stakeholders into consideration, including the community and the planet.

Locally, I think that more can be done to harness women’s collaborating with and empowering one another. I am, however, encouraged by the funds that are established with the intention of prioritising funding to women-owned ventures. I think that South Africa has been relatively progressive through BBBEE codes advocating for the increased economic participation of women. Young women should be equipped with more knowledge about the sectors that hold entrepreneurial opportunity. Such sectors exist in South Africa to enable women to establish businesses that can have a significant impact and achieve high growth in key sectors such as private equity, technology, retail and agriculture. The Kenyan government, for instance, has done a lot to get women into the tech industry by developing a successful model to be a progressive tech hub on the continent.

There’s not much difference between male and women-owned businesses in my opinion however, women gravitate towards establishing lifestyle businesses that are not always geared towards high growth and impact, whereas when most men start a business, they start it with the intention to “take over the world”. I certainly didn’t buck that trend when I ran Your Own World.

I established the guesthouse at a very young age and didn’t have much guidance on how to put an effective exit strategy in place. There was a time when we had overwhelming expressions of interest from potential buyers but I was not proactive about the potential sales opportunities. Your Own World sailed high mainly because of the 2010 world cup wave. I was very passionate about it and found meaning in what I was doing. Even though I only earned R3,000 a month it never bothered me because I loved what I did. I learned what it takes to lead well – humility and the will to ensure that everyone reaps the fruits of the business’ success. This is the first lesson I’d share with other entrepreneurs.

Pursuing my GIBS MBA, made me realise the futility of returning to a business that had served its purpose. At GIBS I learnt about the need for businesses that have high potential for growth and impact. Despite the accolades, I didn’t think Your Own World exhibited such potential. My experience with my guesthouse and the GIBS curriculum have, happily, left me with mixed views on how entrepreneurship can be fostered – it’s caught rather than strictly taught in my opinion.

I was excited when I was given the opportunity to join Allan Gray after having consulted for some boutique outfits for four years. I’m involved in great projects and find the culture at Allan Gray conducive to my being entrepreneurial in my role. So it’s not true to say that returning to the corporate world means being less entrepreneurial. This is the second insight I’ve gleaned.

I provide strategic support to GrowthShoot Inc – a company that empowers smallholder farmers by providing access to viable markets, effective farming business skills and collaboration. GrowthShoot’s projects are in my home province, Free State, and they encourage the youth to participate in the agricultural sector. Entrepreneurship is about leaving the world better than what you found it. This is my third lesson.

My final realisation is the need for supportive networks, mentors and role models. I really admire Oprah Winfrey, Ipeleng Mkhari, Phuthi Mahanyele, Judi Dlamini and my friend Stacey Brewer. Stacey is the CEO of Eadvance – a for-profit network of low-fee private schools that went from one to ten schools within three years – and is playing an active role towards improving education in South Africa.

These women exemplify the need for women to go for gold and punch above their weight. They hold the ladder for the rest of us to climb to their heights and beyond.


Like Mosidi, you too can have your article published if you’ve got what it takes to write for us! Send confirmation of your blog subscription and a 600 word article on your favourite topic in entrepreneurship to by 7 September.

The ball is in both our courts – Marisa and Luthando’s mentoring journey

The ball is in both our courts – Marisa and Luthando’s mentoring journey

1Marisa Kaplan began her career at Allan Gray in 2007. She then had a stint as a Consultant at Bain & Company in 2012 but returned to Allan Gray in 2014 to her current role as Analyst. She has proudly mentored eight of the Foundation’s Candidate Fellows over the years. This year, she’s mentoring Lauren Hess, an Honours student at Stellenbosch, and Luthando Lulu Mzilikazi who is completing her Finance Honours degree at UCT.

Given her current mentees, it would be convenient to assume that Marisa’s passion is in mentoring young women, but she believes that anyone can be a mentor and be mentored since “we learn different things from different people”. She fondly remembers how her, now 95 years-old, grandfather, who holds two Masters degrees, enrolled for the same courses are her when she was completing her undergraduate degree so that the two of them could compare notes and discuss lectures at home.

Marisa borrowed a page from her grandfather’s book in more ways than one. She loves learning, reading and challenging herself. From Luthando she’s seen how indispensable confidence and a bubbly personality can be for the career and personal opportunities that one is presented with. Marisa admires the ease with which Luthando engages with others and how she makes an outstanding impression on everyone she meets. Her chances of meeting Marisa, however, were initially very slim and Marisa, apparently, didn’t make much of an impression on Luthando.

Marisa believes in letting her mentees guide the relationship while she avails herself to assist as requested. Luthando’s demanding schedule, however, made it difficult to have the first meeting and even at that first meeting, she was uncertain about her compatibility with Marisa. This is because Luthando expected to be paired with an industry mentor in her preferred career, Investment Banking  and not a Management Consultant. Luthando wanted guidance from someone with first-hand experience in Investment Banking in order to help her evaluate her chosen path. Luthando was pleasantly surprised when Marisa helped her to reframe her career choices and she soon realised just how little she knew about Investment Banking! Luthando now has offers for jobs that she didn’t even know existed and that she would not have considered applying for were it not for Marisa’s advice.

Respect, honesty and punctuality remain non-negotiable for Marisa and Luthando. The latter regrets not having made contact with Marisa sooner and she hopes that Marisa will remain her mentor beyond 2015. Marisa always encourages her mentees to seek out other mentors so that they have varied insights but she remains keen to support Luthando in the next phase of her life.

Luthando realises that careers are not, or should not, necessarily be the sole basis for pairing mentors with mentees as she and Marisa also share a common love of tennis. Marisa uses the analogy that both on and off the court she endeavours to play against people who are better than her as that’s the best way to learn. Luthando has heeded the advice and surrounds herself with people who are smarter than her, personally and professionally. With a mentor list that also includes Wendy Appelbaum, Wande Madikane (her internal mentor at the Foundation) and Trevor Manuel, it’s easy to see why Luthando is serving nothing but aces!

No lip service but polishing the femtrepreneurship mirror

No lip service but polishing the femtrepreneurship mirror

Womens+march+Union+BuildingsSunday marked the 59th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March and national celebrations in honour of women achievers and the strides made in women empowerment in the past two decades were the order of the day.

At the national Women’s Day celebration in Sasolburg in the Free State, President Jacob Zuma released the first report on the status of women in South Africa’s economy. Compiled by the Ministry in the Presidency responsible for Women‚ the report is a baseline document that promotes gender equality, the socioeconomic empowerment of women and the advancement of their human rights. Pres. Zuma said that there was no doubt that great strides had been made since 1994 to improve the status of women but that “notwithstanding the plethora of progressive legislation, women have not advanced as rapidly in terms of socioeconomic empowerment and gender equality as we would wish‚ and they remain the hardest hit by inequality‚ poverty and unemployment.”

As a force for economic growth, femtrepreneurship has gained momentum across the world and SA is no exception. The bulk of the available data on female entrepreneurs comes from studies in developed economies. In the developing world – and in South Africa specifically – research in this area is skewed towards the informal sector.

SBP’s SME Growth Index is a comprehensive and unique study of the SME community in South Africa. It is a multi-year research project on the dynamics of the country’s under-examined formal SME sector and is geared towards establishing an evidence-based understanding of South Africa’s SMEs.

Now in its fourth year, the SME Growth Index is constructed from a survey of a randomly-selected panel of 500 firms, employing between 10 and 50 people in the manufacturing, business services and tourism sectors. These sectors are deemed to have value-adding potential. The SME Growth Index focuses on established firms rather than start-ups or survivalist enterprises because it is, largely, from established businesses that South Africa’s growth and developmental benefits will be sustained. In a November 2013 occasional paper, insights gleaned from the SME growth index, presented interesting, if not disconcerting, key points about SA’s women-owned companies.

  1. Women-owned firms are in the minority in SA and are heavily concentrated in the tourism sector.
  2. Firms owned by women tend to be smaller than those owned by men, both in terms of turnover and number of employees. The average turnover of a woman-owned firm in the study was R8.2m, considerably lower than the R12.1m average turnover among firms owned by men
  3. Women-owned firms are significantly smaller in terms of employee numbers. The average woman-owned firm employs 23.1 people, while firms owned by men employ an average of 29.6
  4. Firms owned by women tend to have been operating for a shorter period than those owned by men.
  5. Motivations for starting a business vary almost infinitely but generally women are motivated to a higher degree than equally qualified men to become entrepreneurs for family-related lifestyle reasons; they are less motivated than men by wealth creation and advancement reasons.
  6. Women fall behind men in relation to previous specific entrepreneurial experience

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SA and the US exhibit similar traits in terms of femtrepreneurship. A recent report on women-owned businesses in the US found that that there are just over 9.4 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.5 trillion in revenues and employing over 7.9 million people. Women-owned firms are found in all sectors of the economy. However, the greatest number of women-owned firms is found in health care and social assistance.

Women-owned firms account for 30% of all enterprises in the US, and are growing faster in number and employment than most other firms. Despite this fact, women-owned firms only employ 6% of the country’s workforce and contribute just under 4% of business revenues – roughly the same share they contributed in 1997. When large, publicly-traded firms are excluded, women-owned firms comprise 31% of the privately-held firm population and contribute 14% of employment and 12% of revenues.

While it’s comforting to see that SA and US are, relative mirror images of each other, it’s the continued polishing of the femtrepreneurship mirror, by supporting new and existing women-owned firms, that will ensure that their glistening potency is appropriately reflected.

Entrepreneurially yours, Kenya

Entrepreneurially yours, Kenya

AI0E0945“Kuuambia ulimwengu kwamba Africa ni wazi kwa ajili ya biashara!” which means “Tell the world that Africa is open for business!” were the welcoming words of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, at the Opening Plenary for the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi.

The 6th GES, organised by the Kauffman Foundation and co-hosted by the Kenyan and American governments, aimed to catalyse the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems and promote entrepreneurship. The global media coverage of Pres. Barack Obama’s speech at the Opening Plenary made history for Kenya and for Africa. The excitement in the auditorium was palpable. Obama’s speech, his engagement with Pres. Kenyatta and three young entrepreneurs, was symbolically significant in buttressing the expectations of the next generation of game changers who are emerging globally and in Africa especially.

A Youth and Women (Y&W) pre-summit, dedicated to driving entrepreneurial growth in women and youth, set the tone on 24 July. This pre-summit was opened by Amina Mohamed who challenged our perspectives and encouraged young people to continually ask “why not?” and to have the courage to take a stand by saying “no more!” to the current way of doing things. In a tweetable quote, Rick Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Affairs in the U.S. said that “Youth and women are not the future, they’re the present!” and I couldn’t have agreed more. This empowering theme continued throughout the day through dialogue and workshops.

Entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their business ideas at “Spark the Fire” – an initiative that put participants through their paces by having them pitch to a panel of high profile judges. The top ten finalists impressed Lauren Kickham (Social Impact Investor), Jean Case (CEO of The Case Foundation), Iqbal Paroo (Managing Partner at Paroo & Associates and previous CEO of the Omidyar Network) and Courtney O’Donnel (Head of External Affairs for Airbnb). Southern Africans were proud when two finalists from our region walked away with top awards. Ally Angula from Namibia received the “Top Women Owned Business Award” and South African, Rapelang Rabana, was awarded third place with a total prize of US$6,000.

There are many insights to share from the Summit, so I’ll reflect on five recurring nuggets:


Julie Hanna, Executive Chair of Kiva and Advisor at Idealab, challenged everyone by saying that “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. Technology needs to be used to make opportunity universal.” This statement resonated with me as Africa is filled with talented young people. But how do we ignite opportunities that will unlock our latent potential? How do we grow and develop entrepreneurs and catalyse their impact? Technology and other innovative methods must become a long-term focus for government, corporates and civil society if we really want to drive sustainable change. Kellie Kreiser, from Thunderbird School of Global Management, has been mandated with just that.

Kreiser administers the global implementation of business and entrepreneurial training to entrepreneurs in over 44 countries. This programme has already created opportunity for over 110,000 entrepreneurs some of whom were at the summit showcasing their products in a global market place.

It was evident from many interactions that there is a universal need to provide innovative ways to catalyse and fast-track human potential, and through this, drive economic growth and the impact of entrepreneurial talent.


Self-knowledge and self-belief are often referred to as key to entrepreneurial mindset because they drive entrepreneurial behaviour and action. Most people hold this view. However, an entrepreneur’s role is also about being able to identify one’s own weaknesses and to fill these weaknesses with people who have strengths in these areas. In order for entrepreneurs to have significant impact, collaboration is critical. Jose Andres, Chef and Founder of Think Food Group, summarised it well – “Money will show up, what is more important is finding people you can trust and hiring people better than you”


Daymond Garfield John, founder of the clothing brand FUBU, said “Invest in people who have failed more than they have succeeded”. Depending on perspective, the ongoing battle against the fear of failure and fear itself might not be a battle at all, but rather a blessing. Daymond’s mantra was for entrepreneurs to “take affordable next steps”.

Dash Dhakshinamoorthy, founder of Startup Malaysia, provided a useful analogy for the necessary mindset to achieve entrepreneurial success. He said that many young entrepreneurs want to jump straight onto a cruise ship with their idea or start-up. If the cruise ship sinks it may be exceptionally difficult to recover. Instead, he said, entrepreneurship should be like surfing. When you are starting out, jump straight into the water with an old surfboard and give it a shot. Falling off and failing are part of the journey. Be prepared to apply the learning and continue until you find your balance. If you fail – you can afford the failure enough to get back up and try again. With time and effort, you will be ripping and the journey will be characterised by stepping stones to success.


Sometimes even with access to all the opportunity in the world, things still do not progress. This may be because the one obstacle between you and the true value you can bring as an entrepreneur, is the person in the mirror – YOU. A golden, and yet implicit, thread throughout the GES was the need for you to challenge your mindset.

When I asked some key panelists what they deemed the most important mindset to challenge or develop, Selima Ahmad (Chair of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce) said self-belief. Nic Nesbitt (General Manager for IBM and former CEO of KenCall) added other-belief, which is the ability to realise that you need others and to trust them. Debbie Hockley, in a blog post after the GES, said that it is a half-truth that launching a company will make you a successful entrepreneur – you must adopt an entrepreneurial mindset in order to be a successful entrepreneur.


During the coffee conversations, I met Armelle Kouton from Benin. She was deeply moved by the problem of malnourishment in her home country and made it her mission to find an innovative solution to turn this problem into a viable business. Her company “Biskara Biscuiterie & Divers” creates top quality biscuits that address the specific nutritional needs of children aged 6-12 months, 1-3 years, older children and adults. Kouton was understandably passionate about her product and its viability in serving its customer segments. Kouton is my entrepreneurial heroine because of her innovation and courage.

In closing, Jonathan Ortmans, President of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, said that young entrepreneurs are not only motivated to do well, but also to do good. He reminded us that the largest global entrepreneurship conference – the annual Global Entrepreneurship Congress – will be taking place on African soil, in Johannesburg in 2017. This is an incredible opportunity for the continent to showcase its talent and learn from others across the globe.

An African Proverb says “When cobwebs unite they can tie up a lion”. I’m convinced that through Ubuntu, Africa can rise on the shoulders of entrepreneurship.


Author – Immanuel Commarmond

Commarmond is the Foundation’s Head of Impact Assurance

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