(Re-)Designing for Impact

(Re-)Designing for Impact

What elements of design shape our lives? Design is often seen as the mere beautification of the world, but there are in fact five elements of design that determine the functioning of the world we live in:

  • Spatial Design
  • Systems Design
  • Product Design
  • Service Design
  • Communication Design

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Design is a forward looking exercise where we ask – what might be? Design therefore forms part of every element of our lives. How do we then impact the world through entrepreneurial, responsible design? And how can this be done in a way that will bring transformation, justice, dignity, equity and sustainability to various spheres in our country?

A relatively new field of study, biomimicry is starting to answer these questions. Biomimicry can be described as a whole new consciousness, a multidisciplinary approach to design, problem solving and most importantly to adding value.  Biomimicry means to copy life. Contrary to popular belief, it does not only copy the elements of nature, but it turns to the elements of nature to design for function and purpose. This means that we need to reframe our questions. Instead of asking for example ‘how do we build a dam’, we should be asking ‘how do we capture water?’. And why is it that palm trees survive a Tsunami and yet houses are left in a pile of rubble?

Those in the field of biomimicry will say that nothing we create is new, since nature has already found a solution to it. How we apply the learning, the design – that is new.  The deep principles of design that nature provides are the following:

  • Adapt to changing conditions
  • Be locally attuned and responsive
  • Evolve to survive
  • Use life friendly chemistry
  • Be resource efficient
  • Integrate development with growth

The Foundation believes that entrepreneurial mindset can change and impact our context – socially, politically and economically. This is a mindset that can reshape and redesign the world that we live in. We therefore cultivate entrepreneurs by exposing them to a way of thinking which could lead to them potentially redesigning their spaces, systems, products or services. It is this type of questioning that has led to the reimagination of the system of transport (Uber), living (AirBnB), information sharing (Twitter), and most significantly political life (Apartheid).

Challenges we face in the 21st Century require us to rethink the world. We moved from two billion people in 1927 to seven billion in 2011. This alone has a wave of implications to the way we work and live.  According to Frost and Sullivan the top 10 mega trends to watch for in 2025 are as follow. These require design and us applying an entrepreneurial mindset so that we shape a world which honours our children and our future:

  • Urbanization: Mega Cities, Mega Regions, Mega Corridors, Smart Cities
  • Electric-Mobility
  • Social Trends: Geo Socialization, Generation-Y and Reverse Brain Drain
  • SPACE JAM: Congested Satellite Orbits
  • World War 3: Cyber Warfare
  • RoboSlaves
  • Virtual World: Fluid Interfaces and Haptic Technology (The Science of Touch)
  • Innovating to Zero! : Zero Emission Technologies
  • Emerging Transportation Corridors
  • Health, Wellness and Well-Being

If you are working in the field of design or in any of the trends listed above, please share how you have applied design to recreate the life in which we live.

For more on biomimicry, go to Biomimicry South Africa at http://biomimicrysa.co.za



Opportunities in the local entrepreneurship ecosystem

Opportunities in the local entrepreneurship ecosystem

The generic definition for opportunity references time or a set of circumstances that make it possible to do something. How opportunity is defined is perhaps not as important as what it means, especially for entrepreneurs and even more so in the current economic environment where South Africa’s growth is expected to reached a snail-pace of 0.7% for 2016 with expectations of an acceleration to 1.8% in 2017. The importance then is to focus on what can be done under the current circumstances to take advantage of opportunities to create value and perhaps push the growth rate for 2017 further north of 1.8%. If this is to happen we must take a bet on entrepreneurs for the creation of new industries, new jobs and additional value. This then will evoke an immediate question, where are these opportunities given the dire economic outlook.

My suggestion to bet on entrepreneurs in this trying time is grounded in the way entrepreneurship is defined by Timmons and Spinelli in New venture creation in the 21st century, the prescribed text for many MBA programmes. The definition, “entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, reasoning and acting that is opportunity obsessed, holistic in its approach and leadership balance for the purpose of value creation and capture” puts the obsession with opportunity as a key driver to discover, create and capture value. My optimism for entrepreneurs to step up in this challenging economic environment is grounded in this fact that opportunities for value creation are all around us irrespective of the trend of the economic cycle. This optimism is also fuelled by the fact that we are confronted with many problems and the bigger the problem, the better the opportunity for value extraction and the longevity of a robust business model. In South Africa we’ve got a plethora of problems ranging from basic services such as water and sanitation to general expected norms such as universal internet access. Globally there are 2.4bn people without access to sanitation while 600 million do not have access to clean water and One.org estimates that this is a US$32bn opportunity given that every US$1 investment in water and sanitation produce US$4 of economic benefit. In South Africa we enjoy universal access for water in urban areas, but you do not need to drive too far to observe that sanitation still presents a large opportunity. Internet access presents a similar opportunity with a current penetration rate of 61% by 33.6 million users as reported by Internet World Stats. The internet economy’s contribution to GDP and impact on GDP per capita is well covered in many global studies and reports with clear evidence of opportunity for value creation if one considers that ICT services grew by 30% per year from 2001 – 2013 as reported by the OECD in their 2015 Digital Economy Outlook.  More recently the arrival of ransomware introduced new opportunities in the internet security space with Gartner forecasting US$434bn in spending for 2017 and US$547bn in 2018.

Capturing value from an opportunity then requires a significant focus on getting your timing right. In 2008, Barack Obama got his timing right and took advantage of an opportunity to run for the White House with a political campaign that created youth engagement for first time voters, scientifically crafted social media tactics and good old fashioned knock-on-doors community mobilisation. In the late 1990’s the Levy brothers spotted the opportunity in the prepaid market  that was a result of the rapid growth of mobile subscriber penetration and launched what is today Blue Label Telecoms. One can argue that most of the listings on the JSE post democracy is a result of entrepreneurs who saw opportunity in the new South Africa and they leaped at it with an obsession to create and capture value.

Opportunities in the local ecosystem then are all located where there are problems to be solved and there are problems all around us. In Johannesburg for example we can do with traffic lights that are functional in the rain and if this is perhaps too trivial there are many others, such as affordable urban transport, affordable urban housing, affordable quality education. Sparks schools introduced a very compelling value proposition to the problem of quality affordable education and addressed it with a business model that has allowed it to roll out seven schools in Gauteng since launch in 2013 and facilitate growth into the Western Cape this year.

Our local ecosystem is well geared to support opportunity obsessed individuals who are driven for the purpose of value creation. Apart from the fact that we are faced with many problems that need innovative solutions, access to finance is not that big a constraint anymore if we look at the recent trends in private equity finance and all the additional funding made available through government programmes in support of the Black Industrialist. An entrepreneurial mindset is therefore most fitting to take advantage of opportunities presenting itself despite the current economic climate. As my daughter was reminding me quoting her teacher, “don’t say you can’t before you discover that you can” and discovering opportunities in the current economic environment will require a “can do” attitude.




From Crime to Creativity – Medellin, hosts the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress

From Crime to Creativity – Medellin, hosts the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress

Starting from a small initiative in the United Kingdom in 2007 to promote entrepreneurship through the idea of an entrepreneurship week, that seed has grown into a global movement touching 160 countries across the world, consolidated into a single global entrepreneurship ecosystem known as Global Entrepreneurship Network (“GEN”) with a wide variety of offerings in the areas of support, compete, understand and connect. In each of these fields, GEN is able to harness its global reach to create unique scale and insight for the purpose of accelerating the development of entrepreneurship across the globe.


The flagship connect event of the year is the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (“GEC”) which on an annual basis gathers key thought leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs and practitioners in one place to move the entrepreneurial agenda forward.  From the 14th to 17th March, the 2016 Congress was hosted at Medellin, Colombia with a total of 6,500 people in attendance. In our capacity as a founding member of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (“GERN”) and a member of the Local Organising Committee of the Johannesburg 2017 GEC, the Foundation was there to contribute and pick up on the latest thoughts and developments in the entrepreneurial field.

Fredell Jacobs, participating in the annual GERN meeting
Fredell Jacobs, participating in the annual GERN meeting

But first we must start with Medellin. How did the previous murder capital of the world get to host a Global Entrepreneurship Congress? It has been termed the “Medellin Miracle”.  Through a focus on social transformation, “the point was to bring together a fragmented society and show respect for the most humble,” says Sergio Fajardo, the city’s mayor in 2004-07, and a collaborative approach between business, the municipality, NGOs, unions, universities and even gang members a new future for the city was mapped, resulting in Medellin beating out New York City and Tel Aviv to be announced the most Innovative City in the world in a 2013 global competition, before then going on to win the bid for the “world cup of entrepreneurship” to host the 2016 GEC.  It is a remarkable story of hope and inspiration for all those that believe change is possible. No wonder the city is known by locals as “The city of the Eternal Spring.”

In addition to the power of Medellin’s story the GEC did not disappoint with its gathering of some of the best minds in the entrepreneurial world. Here are five takeaways from the 2016 GEC:

  • Trust is the new differentiator

The opening key note of the congress introduced a new paradigm as to how enterprise should be understood, moving from a simple consumer economy to a relationship economy where trust is the driver. In this new world, “the business of next”, the theme of the congress, values such a generosity and transparency replace scarcity and secrecy.

  • Relationships before transactions

As part of this reimaging the business of next, the importance of relationships comes to the fore. As we move from a transactional understanding to a transformational one, this cannot be achieved without authentic relationships.  It is fascinating to witness how softer issues and values are becoming increasingly central to the future of enterprise. It confirms our confidence at the Foundation in the importance of values driven business including our investment in the Allan Gray Centre for Values Based Leadership.

  • The audience of one

One of the highlights of the congress was a talk by Bill Aulet of MIT on “What’s next in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Mindset.”  A key insight was the observation, “In entrepreneurship specificity wins, generality does not win – that is consulting!” As we understand more about the process of entrepreneurship it inevitably becomes more specific and we need to apply this principle to our development of entrepreneurs.  Aulet uses different “personas” which follow different development paths to acknowledge the uniqueness of each individual pursing their entrepreneurial journey.

A treasure chest of entrepreneurship development materials are available at Entrepreneurship Educators Forum

  • Innovation hides in strange places

Innovation does not always come from the places that we would most expect.  One fact that emerged is that the average age of high impact businesses is 17 years old.  Not quite the fast emerging technology companies we would have predicted.  Another entrepreneurship development programme, which describes itself as the “non accelerator” doesn’t look for high potential, only for coachability in participants.  It also uses no external coaches and takes no equity in the business, yet their alumni of 400 have generated revenues in excess of $1bn over the last four years. We need to be careful in our implicit assumptions about how innovation is expected to work, else we might be denying ourselves important opportunities for unexpected breakthroughs.

  • Data is king

There is a tidal wave of data coming our way around entrepreneurship.  Whether it be a study of 100’s of accelerators or the intention to map the entrepreneurial ecosystem of 100 cities, or efforts to standardise government data collection, we will soon have no place to hide in terms of assessing what works and doesn’t work in the field of entrepreneurship. This is the next frontier for entrepreneurship and it is to be celebrated.

Finally, for South Africa, the best news is that this festival of entrepreneurial learning and partnership is coming to Africa next year for the first time ever, when Johannesburg hosts the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in March 2017.  We look forward to seeing you there as we build on the momentum of Medellin to showcase another part of the world capable of miracles of economic transformation.

The 2016/17 South African Budget Speech – An Entrepreneurial Perspective by Kevin Rodrigues

The 2016/17 South African Budget Speech – An Entrepreneurial Perspective by Kevin Rodrigues

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 9.21.38 AMKevin Rodrigues, a Candidate Fellow from UCT, was invited to participate in the 2016 Budget Speech competition. In this post Kevin shares the story.

On a mild Cape Town Friday afternoon my leisurely stroll through Claremont was interrupted by a phone call from On Point PR, Nedbank’s PR Agency. On Point PR is in charge of managing arrangements for the finalists in the Nedbank Old Mutual Budget Speech Competition. They requested that I write my own mini-budget by the end of that weekend. In my blissful ignorance of the magnitude of the task and elation at the prospect of being on radio, with haste I agreed to take the task on. With a considerable lack of sleep,  I submitted my rendition of what a 2016/2017 National Budget should look like by Monday’s deadline. This gave me but a taste of the mammoth task that faced Minister Gordhan as he sat down with the National Treasury to compile this year’s budget.

Considering South Africa’s contractionary monetary policy needed to quell the present inflationary environment, the fiscus tightly squeezed for resources, rising national debt servicing cost, crippling drought and commodity prices at a 10 year low; it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge how well the budget was crafted. One could feel the tension in parliament lift as the Minister reached the end of his speech where he brought to the fore the need for South Africa to double its efforts to implement the National Development Plan (NDP), focusing on building infrastructure, improving education funding and supporting South African business.

There were definitely portions of the budget that would appeal to South African entrepreneurs at the more established stage of business development. The Minister emphasised the need to build a strong mixed economy, and part of this process is the extension of South Africa’s public-private partnership programmes in infrastructure development projects. This is a necessary move from the government due to the prohibitive fiscal constraints, but also gives talented South Africans a foot in the door to launch renewable energy firms and build oil and gas infrastructure.

Another win for South African SMMEs was the focus on eradicating of corruption and the enforcement of the mandatory use of the new e-tender portal. Not only will this encourage government efficiency, but it will also give small players an opportunity to make competitive bids,  a greater chance against more established companies that may use their influence to sway decisions in their favour.

Along with this, the Minister emphasised interventions that encourage tourism, provide funding and assistance to entrepreneurs in high employment sectors such as the mining and manufacturing sector where we hope to see a rise in black industrialists, and extend funding for the continuation of the Phakisa oceans economy initiative, all of which are positive for South African entrepreneurs, and primarily support for new and established Small to Medium Enterprises (SMMEs). These interventions were capped with an emphasis on the need to reduce red tape at the regional and local level including the need to address business regulatory concerns as outlined in the NDP.

Indeed, this was a budget that was very positive for local entrepreneurs and I wish the government the best with the successful implementation of the outlined plans. There is, however, one area that I feel requires government attention, which was not addressed. Despite the government’s best efforts to support the South African venture capital cycle through the IDC, we still find that entrepreneurs are struggling for funding at the very early, high risk phase of business startups. This increases the barriers to enter and deters people from venturing out to experiment with ideas.

In the future I would like to see the government getting more involved with these very early stage ventures. The ideal would be to have every university establish a business incubator such as the University of Stellenbosch’s LaunchLab, which can be funded and supported by National Treasury. There should be opportunities for business development specialists to form medium venture capital firms that are solely government funded to support very early stage ventures at seed and startup phase.

Another ideal would be for the government to establish an entrepreneurial living grant that provides a reasonable living for a year or two to potential high impact entrepreneurs, so that they may free up time to attempt an entrepreneurial venture without worrying too much about whether their idea will generate cash in the short term. These grants should be given in collaboration with the private sector, purely based on financial and market viability of the ideas. The individuals given the grants should be closely monitored for integrity and viability. This, I believe, will do wonders to chip away the 80% failure rate that occurs in the first three years of startups.

Aside from this specific area, there are always other areas that can improve, such as implementing less restrictive labour regulations. There will also always be a need for greater funding in more industries where there is an abundance of opportunity. This has to been addressed in South Africa’s vital National Development Plan (NDP).

With all of this onus on the government and what they should do, it is absolutely necessary to look at ourselves as South African citizens and ask what our responsibility is. The government will never understand our own needs as well as we do, let us then take initiative to solve our own challenges wherever we can. Instead of asking the government to build our success, let us give them the opportunity to accelerate it.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution – an opportunity or challenge for South Africa?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – an opportunity or challenge for South Africa?

One of the appeals of entrepreneurship is that, by providing a platform for the harnessing of human potential, a relatively small number of individuals can have a disproportionately high impact. It is the main reason why we at the Foundation have such conviction that the current community of 750 Allan Gray Scholars, Candidate Fellows and Allan Gray Fellows, despite being few in absolute number, can have a material impact in shaping the future of the country. And recent global developments have made it possible for this impact to be further accelerated where the outcomes no longer grow in a linear manner but now exponentially. By way of example, Singularity University which explores how to apply this exponential technology to some of the world’s grand challenges has the goal of fostering ideas that each will be able to impact a billion Lives. Initiatives positively impacting a billion people is the new world of exponential technology.

The promise of exponential technology has been captured in the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which was one of the main themes of the recent 46th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos. So what exactly is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, what challenges are brought with it and how can South Africa make the most of the opportunity?

The World Economic Forum gives a very clear explanation of the progression of industrial revolutions: “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

So we have the following progression:

4th-industrial-revolution explanation

A powerful example of the possibilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is demonstrated by one of our own. Patrick Soon-Shiong was born in Port Elizabeth before going on the graduate as a medical doctor at the University of Witwatersrand. Patrick now lives in Los Angeles and founded NantWorks in September 2011, with a mission  “to converge ultra-low power semiconductor technology, supercomputing, high performance, secure advanced networks and augmented intelligence to transform healthcare” Simplistically he aims to cure cancer by using technology to fully sequence a person’s genetic information in a matter of minutes enabling far more targeted treatment. In the meantime he is also working to assist the blind to see through a process known as machine vision.  These are the sorts of extraordinary breakthroughs that are made possible with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

But the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not without its challenges.  Most acutely there is the prospect of greater inequality in society as the revolution disrupts labour markets.  One of South Africa’s respected business leaders returned from studying at Singularity University to explain how with enough information computers are able to generate better legal opinions than experienced lawyers or investment reports than analysts.  So skilled professions such as law and investment management are not immune from the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

But despite these challenges the Fourth Industrial Revolution creates great opportunity for South Africa and particularly for entrepreneurs.  As commented at Davos by Matsi Modise, Managing Director for SIMODISA and past Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Jamboree speaker “When you think about the fourth industrial revolution it’s underpinned by technology and technology essentially underpins all the industries and that is a great opportunity for entrepreneurship.”

Ultimately the extent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s positive impact will be determined by our own agency and willingness to shape, for the good, the opportunities that it creates. In the end it will be determined not by machine technology but human values.

In the words of WEF founder, Klaus Schwab: ”It all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”


10 Videos for 2015

10 Videos for 2015

2016 is just around the corner and what better way to the end this year and to start the New Year motivated about your entrepreneurship journey than with our selection of 10 of some of the best videos on entrepreneurship.

It’s been my observation that we see things not in terms of how they are but in terms of how we are.

Maybe entrepreneurship is no different from any other vocational pursuit but no matter how differently-coloured the lenses from which we each view entrepreneurship and contribute to its ecosystem may be, I think that some insights and experiences are common to all entrepreneurs at different stages of their personal lives and, by extension, business endeavours since entrepreneurship demands the “whole self”.

Remember that our entrepreneurial values are embedded in our 5 Pillars which are:

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.41.25 AM So I’ve developed a handy rating system that will let you know which one of these 5 pillars are activated by each video. Whether you’ve seen the videos before or some of them are new to you, you’ll draw inspiration from them, especially if you’ve changed since the last time you saw them. Each video is 3 minutes or shorter so grab some popcorn and a notebook and give your entrepreneurial mindset an audio-visual boost!

  1. Before you take the leap

If you’re still not convinced that entrepreneurship can and does change the world and that you have the potential to be a great entrepreneur then watch this motivational video by Grasshopper. Granted, it was contextualised for an American audience but its message is relevant for anyone around the world. This video will remind you that you’ve got what it takes, and that, in fact, you’ve never lost it.

Pillars activated:

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  1. When the going gets tough

Whether it’s the video above, a positive opportunity or negative circumstances that get you to become an entrepreneur, in the early days you’ll have moments when you feel like giving up and here’s a word of advice when you feel like doing so: DON’T. In the movie the Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith portrays the struggles of real-life-stockbroking-entrepreneur-and-billionaire-philanthropist, Chris Gardner, in a way that will make you realise that your challenges are not worth comparing to. He was a divorced, indebted, unemployed and homeless single parent – ‘nuff sed.

Pillars Activated:

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  1. The early days

The worst is behind you (or is it?) and now you need to know the do’s and don’ts during the early days of running your business. Watch these for some great tips.

How not to Network

Pillars Activated:

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Challenges of Scaling Up a Business – Vern Harnish


Pillars Activated:

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The 10 Reasons Businesses fail

Pillars Activated:

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  1. Learn from the best

How much is a relationship? What would you pay to be mentored by Rapelang Rabana, Elon Musk, Tony Elumelu or Mark Shuttleworth? Mentors are great for investor introductions, networks, advice, encouragement, praise and the occasional reprimand.

Simon Sinek: Why Reciprocity Improves Mentor Mentee Relationships

Pillars Activated:

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The Importance of Mentorship | The Top Tips

Pillars Activated:

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Steve Jobs on Failure

Pillars Activated:

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  1. Get bigger…not big headed

These videos explain how and why humility will help your business.

Leadership Takes Humility Harvard Business Review

Pillars Activated:

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Ivey | 60 Second Entrepreneur: Melinda Lehman – Humility

Pillars Activated:

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  1. Be a continuous contributor

With all the great tips from these videos success is inevitable. So why not use the success from your entrepreneurship journey to inspire and support others on their journeys too? Then send us the video link so we can share how you did it in next year’s Top 10 review!



Looking into the future and finding hope

Looking into the future and finding hope


Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 8.41.58 AM2015 has been a difficult year. It seems that at every juncture a new challenge rises to our attention. As load shedding started to subside, we were introduced to the increasing likelihood of water shedding. Just as the auditor general report entrenched a realisation that irregular government spending was now becoming the norm at levels of over R25 billion, we then face the prospect of a nuclear investment stretching toward a trillion Rand. Each success in the court that brings back some sense of order to the running of important national institutions is then met with yet another example of chronic lack of governance, most recently the reckless board interference at SAA. And through all this, one measure has been stubbornly consistent. Despite huge attention, a raft of initiatives and plans, South Africa has not been able to shift its unemployment rate from its unacceptable level of 25%. And looking forward it’s difficult to imagine this changing when according to the Global Entrepreneurial Monitor released earlier this year South Africa’s level of entrepreneurship has plummeted by around 30% to a level of 7% of the adult population, way less than our African peers and about two thirds less than an economy of our stage and size should rightly expect.

The greater challenge with all this battering is that is starts to extinguish that most precious commodity – the flame of hope.   We can endure almost anything when there is still hope for the future. This year has been tough on hope.

Yet there is one very strong remedy for this hopelessness and that is to have insight into the potential of youth. At the Foundation we have a privileged position. We have a unique window into the enormous potential and energy of youth. In a week’s time we will be hosting the final selection camp of 2015 bringing to a close our year-long mission to find around 100 of the most entrepreneurial youth in the country. We do this with the conviction, as described by Timmons, that “entrepreneurship is not just about innovation or creativity. It is also about fostering an ingenious human spirit for improving mankind”

Selection starts with the processing of nearly 2 000 application forms. On reading through these documents with applicants describing their inspiring and powerfully-held dreams and explaining some of the extraordinary achievements they have already undertaken, hope starts to return.  These submissions provide a unique glimpse into the future and it is a future that is filled with possibility.  From every corner of the country, from crowded cities to rural communities, these ambassadors of change, a real rainbow nation group, describe a new way, a way fueled by imagination and focused on solutions rather than problems. A way that opens the door to improving humankind.

Beyond the global recognition in fields as diverse as debating, sport and international olympiads, it is the deep-felt passion about shaping the future that is most impressive. As in years before, there is a consistent thread through the thousands of answers that the status quo must change. Interestingly, there is no word about politics or any suggested reliance on government to provide the solution. It is clear that this group at least appreciates its own agency over change and is not afraid to do things differently. Hope explodes off almost every page.

The list of enterprises in which the applicants have been involved touches all aspects of society from media, nutrition, retail and IT to education, creating secondary markets in children products or even beauty projects. One young lady had started her own non-profit which raised R100k for conservation by the age of 11.  Another had used multimedia to challenge societal norms of young learners. One had started a recording studio and yet another had founded a hybrid social network which facilitates communication across video, song and photography. But even more powerful than these initiatives is our complete confidence, after 10 years in this work, that these pursuits will lead to real future endeavour. The video below shows how this initial entrepreneurial energy gets harnessed at the next stage of university.

After each year’s selection, I am reminded of something Mr. Allan Gray often says – “We should have great confidence in the ability of youth.” Indeed we underestimate them at our peril. As we come to the end of 2015, I can’t help but think that he is right. And as always, I can’t help but be optimistic about what the future holds when the potential of these young citizens is realised. I have hope.


Where leaders (cannot afford to) learn

Where leaders (cannot afford to) learn

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 8.39.16 AMWhat began as a visit to the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics (AGCLE), housed by Rhodes University in Grahamstown, at the beginning of this week, ended in my witnessing a campus-wide protest about fee increases.

AGCLE hosted a two-day roundtable on Existential Conversations which philosophically address the grim realities about life in general and in Grahamstown in particular. It was fitting that last minute changes to the roundtable’s venue were because of protests.

The Black Students’ Movement and the university’s SRC, in solidarity with neighbouring Eastcape Midlands College, began the protest on Monday 19 October and staged an orderly march through Grahamstown yesterday morning which was supported by academia and workers. The use of water cannons to disperse protestors at Eastcape Midlands College on Monday sparked racial debate – it was telling that police did not resort to the same measures at Rhodes.

I’m still unclear as to the true motivation for the march but, from conversations with students and staff can hazard two guesses. Firstly, that it was an expected consequence of the contagion from the earlier student protests at Wits and UCT; and, secondly, that Rhodes University had been on the precipice of a legitimate collective outcry for some time and that, fuelled by the agitation of the “born-frees”, felt compelled to shed its non-defiant and placid reputation. For whatever reason, yesterday’s march was hailed, by the university’s Senate, as being a watershed moment for Rhodes in what was described as a watershed year for tertiary education in South Africa. The Senate thanked students for the manner in which they conducted themselves by mentioning that the Rhodes University march was one of a few in the country that was non-violent.

Moving, honest and, at times humorous placards voiced the students’ discontent.

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Their discontent, for which they sought responses from the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Mabizela and his colleagues, came down to the following demands:

  1. Protesting students should not be victimised
  2. A 15% decline in fees
  3. Removal of interest on late payments
  4. Removal of additional fees for students from African countries
  5. A signed commitment by Dr. Mabizela that academically-sound, but financially needy students, not be excluded

Demand 1

The Senate agreed that it was students’ Constitutional right to hold demonstrations and reaffirmed that their victimisation would not be tolerated.

Demand 2

When the students’ 15% decline in fees was weighed against Dr. Blade Nzimande’s proposed increase, capped at 6%, the university would lose R54m – which would impact the students’ experience during the next financial year. It was mentioned that the library, alone, needed R29m for books and running costs. The university would look at other ways, such as cutting the entertainment budget to lower expenses.


Demand 3

Rhodes currently has two payment options: either full fees paid by June or a monthly debit order system. If payment is received late then interest is levied. It was highlighted that this interest is not held in reserves but is utilised to offset the university’s other expenditure. The decision on whether the interest on late payments be removed was not reached in the three hours that the Senate had to deliberate. It was an important revenue stream and the Senate appealed to the students to allow more time for them to reach a satisfactory decision.

Demand 4

The Senate agreed to consult with the sector on how costs for African students could be addressed optimally.

Demand 5

The response to the final demand was received with resounding support as Dr. Mabizela pledged that he would not financially-exclude students of good academic standing. He mentioned that he had previously stood surety for deserving students and would do so in future.

I respected Dr. Mabizela and his team, not only for responding to the students’ demands timeously but doing so in the cold and rain yesterday evening!

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The majority of students were satisfied with the responses they received from the Senate but there was a mixed response when an appeal was made for the resumption of the academic programme today in order to catch up the time lost due to protests – as exams are scheduled to start next week Monday.

Some students were also sceptical of the financial measures that were proposed and questioned why the Senate didn’t cut its own salaries or do away with residential Sub Wardens and, hence, paying them R2 000 a month. It became clear that you can’t please everyone all the time.

There is a crisis in education in South Africa and in higher education in particular. If the inclusive and solutions-orientated manner in which the students and Senate addressed the crisis is any indication, could it be that Rhodes is a place where leaders cannot afford not to learn?


2015 ANDE Annual Conference – understanding how small, growing businesses help to reduce poverty

2015 ANDE Annual Conference – understanding how small, growing businesses help to reduce poverty

image008Earlier this month the Foundation attended the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) Annual Conference.  There were over 200 participants from 47 countries representing the global ecosystem that seeks to support small and growing businesses (SGBs).

The conference saw the likes of USAID and IFC, corporate heavyweights such as the Citibank and Mastercard Foundations, academic institutions and well-known nonprofits, such as Endeavor and Acumen, being joined by a small army of organisations that are working at the coal face to support emerging entrepreneurs.  All of the participants share the belief that SGBs, enterprises that have strong potential for growth, can change our world. This ambition to grow is key to the definition.

Support for SGBs is based on the understanding that they will create jobs and foster long-term economic growth. This explains the defining principle behind the work of ANDE – that in the long run SGBs can help lift developing countries out of poverty.

The conference started with an overview, particularly the level of financial resources that are currently invested in the sector.  It was surprising to discover that over the last five years, while $1.3 trillion has been invested in global private equity, only $10bn has been invested in the SGB sector – demonstrating significant under-investment in SGBs. But as we were to discover later, things are not so cut-and-dried.

There were some recurring themes during the three days of the conference.

Theme 1: Talent

The initial introduction concerning the lack of financial capital was better understood as a consequence of a lack of human capital.  There is an undeniable link between the financial capital invested and the level of human capital able to absorb that finance. A growing recognition emerged that despite the lack of financial capital deployed, in reality the binding constraint is actually human capital.

Theme 2: Mentoring

We simply have to find more creative ways of transferring knowledge as a key response to the existing “talent gap”.  Youth Business International, for example, was clear that of all their interventions to support emerging entrepreneurs, the one that had the most impact was mentoring.

Theme 3: No silver bullets

Every second talk or discussion ended up dismissing the notion that there can be a single easy solution to the complexities of this sector.  The closest we came was the suggestion that instead of a sliver bullet we should try silver buckshot – where a number of different low cost interventions are tried concurrently, to see which has the most traction.

A main focus of ANDE is on research conducted around entrepreneurship.  Included in the numerous sessions was feedback on three particularly interesting research initiatives:

1. The Global Accelerator Learning Initiative evaluates the effectiveness of accelerators globally and has tracked over 3 000 ventures in 38 different participating programmes so far. Initial findings have shown some interesting patterns relating to gender.  The first being that roughly half the ventures have female participation, which is higher than would have been expected generally.  Sadly, this positive outcome is undermined by the reality that despite ventures having generally higher revenues when associated with female participation, this does not translate into higher valuations for the same ventures.


2. Endeavor Insights provided an update on their mapping of city ecosystems.  After starting with New York and Cairo, they now have a list of 14 cities that will be mapped in the near future.  Sadly this list does not include either Johannesburg or Cape Town. One intriguing finding from the New York mapping was that the strongest predictor of success for companies, was where the company founder was mentored by a top performing entrepreneur. This led to a company being three times more likely to be a top performer – another example of the importance of mentorship.

3. The final interesting research reported on was Acumen’s exploration into lean data.  Part of this opportunity is made possible by the remarkable and sustained growth of smart phones. There are currently 72m smartphones in Africa and this number will grow to 525m by 2020.  The opportunities this opens up for low cost data collection are truly extraordinary.  A good example of this is the startup Premise which indexes and analyses millions of observations captured daily by a global network of contributors who are paid to record local information on their cell phone.  Premise’s 25 000 contributors are now in nearly 200 towns and cities, urban and rural, spanning 32 countries. This allows them to provide a range of data and insights like mapping financial access in emerging markets to ensuring the sustainable funding of healthcare systems.

After the conference, one could not help but reflect that it is a new and exciting world into which entrepreneurs are entering. Yet as much as things change, so they remain the same. For as new opportunities, finance and technology open up so the underlying need for talent remains unchanged.

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