Not all opportunities are created equal and some are able to have a disproportionate impact on a country’s future trajectory. In our own nation who would have believed that sporting events such as winning the world cup rugby combined with Madiba’s wearing of the No. 6 jersey could give such impetus to nation building, followed years later by the national pride that emerged from the successful hosting of the Soccer World Cup. Or in the entrepreneurial world, where Colombia’s transformation from a lost country filled with drug lord’s, murder and violence into a thriving, peaceful country, bursting with innovation and enterprise, was confirmed with the hosting of the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Medellin.
2017 is such a moment for South Africa, as we host the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg from 13th to 16th March. It has become the Olympics of Global Entrepreneurship and it will be coming to Africa in less than two months’ time. The eyes of the global entrepreneurship community will be on South Africa and we can use this as a powerful opportunity to change the perception of our national and continental entrepreneurial potential. If we doubt the impact of these type of events, we can interestingly draw encouragement from the Olympics itself. So what then is the link between the Olympics and entrepreneurship?
The answer is the island of Jamaica and the lesson for the emergence of South Africa’s entrepreneurial potential contained in the sprinting dominance of this small island. This nation’s athletic performance is staggering, as an article in the New York times identifies, “Among the most enigmatic features of Jamaica, an island of only 2.8 million people, is its astonishing supremacy in running. Currently, the world’s fastest man and woman are both Jamaicans. Nineteen of the 26 fastest times ever recorded in 100 meter races were by Jamaicans.” How is this possible. It can’t be a matter of genetics as many Jamaicans ancestors are from West Africa which has few exceptional sprinters. How can a nation smaller than the city of Cape Town so consistently and comprehensively dominate a global sport?
A major reason is that in Jamaica sprinters are identified early and then very intentionally developed in a supportive culture. Only in Jamaica is a high school track and field meeting attended by 30,000 people including the superstars such as Usain Bolt and considered by some margin the premier sporting event in the country. Champs, or the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association Boys and Gils Athletics Championships is evidence of how passionate and intentional this nation is about running talent – and the final results speak for themselves.
This insight into Jamaica’s success encourages the Foundation, because just as with running, if we are consistently able to identify entrepreneurial talent early and intentionally develop it, supported by a culture that drives such aspiration, we will reap great entrepreneurship results. So let’s make sure that GEC 2017 is an entrepreneurial Champs for this country and the catalyst for an enduring dedication and passion for fostering entrepreneurial spirit.
The Foundation will continue its own effort to consistently support such an entrepreneurial culture with our commitment every year to find the most entrepreneurial young individuals we can find across every last corner of the country and to bring them into an intentional system of now some 800 individuals to develop that ability for as long as it takes to bring home those entrepreneurial gold medals. The Foundation’s Allan Gray Fellowship campaign opens on Monday 23rd January.
So let’s take hold of the opportunity provided by GEC 2017 and make 2017 a significant year in our entrepreneurial history. That people would record in due course that it was the year that brought us closer to realising the potential for enterprise to be a force for the common good, to be an engine of responsible growth, driving down the levels of unemployment and inequality in this nation.
What would you like to hear about in 2017 on the Foundation blog – let us know in the comments below or you can respond directly to firstname.lastname@example.org