How to tell a good story so the world listens

The South African Competitiveness Forum Report tracks input from many stakeholders countrywide on South Africa’s position in the world. Already several goals set out in the original discussions on boosting the nation’s brand globally have been reached, the latest forum hears.

A number of objectives set out during the inaugural South African Competitiveness Forum, held in 2013, have been achieved in a step towards giving the country a competitive edge on the global stage.

This was revealed during a seminar to discuss perceptions of South Africa held by international investors. It was organised by Brand South Africa and the Wits Business School and took place on the Johannesburg campus on Wednesday, 2 April. Among those who attended were Brand South Africa chief executive Miller Matola; Brand South Africa research manager Dr Petrus de Kock; Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) group chief executive Siphiwe Ngwenya; Dr Shima Nokaneng, also from the agency; and Tsholo Mogotsi from the city of Johannesburg’s department of economic development.

Brand South Africa used the seminar as a stage to release the South African Competitiveness Forum Report, which details the discussions and the ultimate outcomes of the forum, as well as the regional consultations that were held. “Today’s seminar is part of our discharging our mandate as Brand South Africa, and this mandate revolves around two areas: firstly to build the country’s reputation or brand with a view to improving the competitiveness of the country, and secondly to get South Africans to buy into South Africa, to build civic pride, get all citizens to be ambassadors of this country, and to ensure this is a competitive country not only on the continent but globally,” said Matola.

The World Economic Forum defines competitiveness as “the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country”. A competitive economy is one that is likely to grow faster over time, it adds.

Matola said it was in this light that on 5 November 2013, the organisation hosted the first in a series of competitiveness forums at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg with the aim of providing a strategic platform through which to consult and work with the government, business and civil society to identify the competitive and reputational strengths and challenges facing South Africa. Partners and stakeholders who attended that gathering included Trade and Investment South Africa, the Department of Trade and Industry, Productivity SA, universities and businesses. “It was a multi-stakeholder forum which was attended by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.”

The way forward

Matola said six objectives were set down at that forum, namely:

  • Set up a task team to monitor implementation of agreed projects;
  • Set up a one-stop shop to drive, consolidate and position South Africa as an attractive destination for investment and business;
  • Consolidate country messaging to enable better coherence and a unified voice to position South Africa on the international stage;
  • Intensify and fast-track roll-out of energy infrastructure so that delivery can meet demand for future growth as outlined in the National Development Plan;
  • Leverage institutional capacity, skills and knowledge to drive competitiveness; and,
  • Strengthen and amplify current initiatives to deliver quality education.

“We have been able to make some advances in terms of some of the outcomes. For example, a forum working group has been established and a one-stop shop for international investors. We have also come up with a session report which we are releasing today,” said Matola.

One goal that was receiving attention was soliciting input for a competitiveness index appropriate for South Africa. Matola said that at present, the indices Brand South Africa used to assess competitiveness were “external” ones. These included the World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness Index and International Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Yearbook.

“We do believe that there is a need for us to also develop an index that focuses on those critical areas of competence and attributes that are important for us as a country, whether they could be based on our progress towards achieving the goals of our National Development Plan.”

A coherent story

Achieving global competiveness also required sending out messages about South Africa that were “common, consistent and coherent”. “This requires that we all work together to produce this kind of content – us working with business, with [the] government, with civil society to make sure that there is a consistent message about what this country stands for, where this country comes from and where this country is going.”

During that initial forum, breakaway working sessions were set up to discuss five themes: foreign direct investment competitiveness; education, skills and labour; infrastructure; manufacturing and related services; and government and leadership.

Consultations were also held in 2013 with business, the government and civil society in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Valuable insights regarding matters of regional importance were shared with the Brand South Africa teams during these discussions, said Matola.

Presenting the report, De Kock said there was “lots of input” from stakeholders at the regional consultations. Based on analysis of inputs received, high level themes were noted. “At the top is ‘reputation implications of education’ which was noted as a challenge to the nation brand. We are quite aware of issues in certain education spaces so there was quite a strong call on that in terms of how we deal with this from a reputational point of view,” he said.

Strength of city-regions

There was also a call for the nation brand to focus more on city brands and their value add to the nation brand. “If you look at the structure of global GDP [gross domestic product] at this point in time, about 70% of global GDP is produced in between 600 and 700 city-regions or metropolitan regions in the global economy, which is significant.”

This meant that as a nation brand organisation, Brand South Africa should be more effectively equipped to tell the story of the building blocks of the brand. Hence, part of the outcome for the organisation was to have a better relationship with organisations such as the GGDA and metro structures so that it would be able to “relate that story better on the capabilities of the country”.

Labour challenges and the role of good governance were also key areas of discussion in the regional consultations, according to De Kock.

“Stakeholders also brought to the fore the issue that business community stakeholders should be equipped as nation brand messengers. This is a very interesting thing that came through. Business stakeholders often say to us that when they engage with international business during their travels they want to tell stories about South Africa but they don’t have the information.”

As a communications organisation, De Kock said Brand South Africa needed to have a “better connection” with business and the government to help shape the stories about the country that had to be shared.

Another competitiveness forum would be held later this year, he added.