South African initiative targets entrepreneur culture

31 August 2015

Some of South Africa’s more popular celebrities were at the launch of Step Up 2 a Start Up, a programme that teaches schoolchildren and students about entrepreneurship, to share their experiences of trying to make it on their own in the business world.

Held at Monte Casino, Johannesburg, on 27 August, radio personalities Gareth Cliff and Bob Mabena, actress Boity Thulo and DJ Sbu told their stories to more than 300 businesspeople and government officials on the night.

Cliff, who has his own radio show, CliffCentral, opened the evening by saying Step Up was the largest entrepreneurship programme in Africa, with about 30 000 pupils involved. Besides educating them about entrepreneurship, it gets them to design, make and sell their own goods. Cliff left 5fm in 2014 to start his own podcast show that can be streamed online. A year on and the platform is steadily growing.

DJ Sbu, who describes himself as a social entrepreneur, innovator and creator, spoke about his journey from underprivileged life in Tembisa to popular DJ and businessman. He implied that one of the main characteristics of an entrepreneur was to be a selfless giver.

He learned this trait from PrimeStars managing director, Martin Sweet. Selflessness, said Sweet, was something participants in the Step Up programme learned. “Step Up 2 a Start Up gets learners to empathise with the people for whom they are designing products.”

A person’s DNA, Sweet added, did not guarantee success or failure; rather, old- fashioned guts, determination and hard work did. “Turn your genes into overalls and get working. Entrepreneurship is about possibility and creating jobs. It’s central to solving South Africa’s economic problems.”

The minister of small business development, Lindiwe Zulu, said that though South Africans were feeling the financial pinch that stemmed from our economy, they were still persevering. “South Africans believe in themselves because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. We don’t want to go anywhere so we have to pull together to make this country work.”

She was in Mpumalanga earlier in the day, she said, speaking to rural women from remote villages who were the economic backbone of their communities. Zulu said the women were self-reliant and entrepreneurial. All they wanted was for the country’s laws and government to support them.

National Youth Development Agency chairperson Yershen Pillay was on hand to receive the Step Up 2 a Start Up Award on behalf of his organisation for the work it had done in supporting youth in business. “Entrepreneurship is the engine of an economy,” said Pillay. “Unfortunately, we come from a culture that prizes job seeking instead of job creation.”

Yet despite this, he said, South African youth were becoming a lot more innovative with their ideas, which could lift the country’s economy, particularly when it came to the environment. “The young are looking at pollution not as a challenge but as a business opportunity. It will transform our economy.”

Actress Thulo said her life was changing slowly, veering towards entrepreneurship. “By becoming an entrepreneur I tapped into a creativity I didn’t know I had.”

The author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, gave some sage business advice through a video message made specifically for the event. “Learn to fail faster and when you do, don’t beat yourself up. Design products, make it, sell it,” said the American businessman.