Unemployment will reduce drastically if empowerment is seen as a business and commercial opportunity. However, the group think and approach needs to change. This is according to Khonology CEO Michael Roberts.
Empowerment programs can be sustainable, but only if business leaders treat enablement as a profit-making and strategic exercise. This is a fresh solution to job creation in South Africa, it will actually add value to the bottom line, rather than empowerment being perceived as a regulatory hurdle that doesn’t benefit the business.
Roberts believes that if business leaders invested the same amount of resources into creating commercial job creation opportunities as they do in creating new products, South Africa wouldn’t have an unemployment problem.
“Technology, big data and digital transformation have all created an enormous opportunity for Africa to be the technology enabler for the globe, much like India grabbed the business process outsource opportunity that presented itself 15 years ago,” he explains.
One needs to change the attitude towards empowerment, it is supposed to support inclusive growth and benefit the majority of people. It needs to be done with a clear commercial lens and not a rent seeking exercise.
Roberts says the purpose and design of BEE was about sustainable empowerment that benefits the previously disadvantaged communities and not the select few. “BEE has mostly been perceived as a requirement through law to do business in SA – rather than a responsibility or a business opportunity.”
“CEOs need to understand that this model is unsustainable and does not address the actual problem, giving people – the consumer – a real opportunity to participate in the economy,” he adds.
Business leaders need to address real business problems through enablement and they need to commercialise these initiatives in the same way they would commercialise a new product – with ROI and a fair value attributed to each stakeholder in the value chain.
“Mr CEO, are your BEE projects benefiting South Africa and are they commercially viable or just a liability,” he asks. “We need a new narrative and dialogue about changing mindsets to embrace the opportunity to create jobs that benefit the economy as a whole.”
Inclusive growth is both a framework and a mindset that lends itself to creating a fair opportunity for everyone to participate in the economy. Inclusive growth is not a charity or a free ride for certain segments of society, but rather a commercial, profit seeking undertaking that is scalable, sustainable and targeted in particular at the youth.
All the processes that an innovator or entrepreneur goes through – from the idea formulation, to consulting with experts, understanding the market, financials and ultimately building a business case – should be applied to creating an environment that offers a fair opportunity for people to participate in the economy.
The SA consumer market needs to increase in size in order for companies to sell more products and services. Growth is not sustainable without market size growth and currently, this has stagnated.
“What’s the point of building any business in South Africa if your market size is depleting, there is escalating crime due to poverty (from lack of jobs) and your margins are under constant attack because of an incompetent government that is desperately finding new ways to tax you,” he concludes.