One of my favourite philosophers – Jiddu Krishnamurti – once said “To understand is to transform what is”.
So, what do we as entrepreneurs need to do to understand and rise above our challenges to develop innovative products and services?
I believe, South Africa is a country that is well positioned to lead in harnessing an innovative business ecosystem. What leads me to think this?
A recent trip to China, Tianjin – World Economic Forum (WEF) Conference of New Champions, which had a focus on global Innovation and Technology – clarified where this country fits in in the greater global context.
The conference illustrated how some of the world’s greatest inventions and technological advancements are improving the state of the world today.
Something I found interesting and very relevant to our country, was the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014 report.
It is a benchmark for insights on global innovation. Switzerland, the UK and Sweden were the top three leading countries.
South Africa ranks at 53 out of 143 surveyed countries, with Mauritius and the Seychelles taking the lead in Sub-Saharan Africa ranking at 40 and 51 respectively.
This, in my opinion, means that we are not doing that badly. But, how do we move from this to doing great?
How do we move to become leaders of innovation? How do we ensure that some of these innovations come out of South Africa’s dusty roads and townships?
Just like trying to build a house that will weather the elements, we need a solid foundation that will stand its ground globally amongst its peers.
Traditionally, township entrepreneurs and small business owners are faced with a hierarchy of challenges. They have to function under thinly resourced environments with a huge education, skills and capacity deficit.
These entrepreneurs also need access to basic business information, affordable business infrastructure and enabling networks that will help to establish markets beyond their communities.
The township entrepreneur’s inability to have a stable digital presence hinders their progress to being future industrialists of South Africa.
I believe the solid foundation we are looking for is to be found in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) at school level.
Earlier this year, WEF published a report that ranks the quality of South Africa’s Science and Maths students last out of 148 countries.
Stem education helps young people develop a broad mix of essential skills required to build South Africa’s economy.
It also helps them to think out-of-the-box and this will facilitate more innovative thinking.
Without the basics in place, we as a country, will continue to mention Elon Musk and Mark Shuttleworth as the only top of mind African innovators of our time.
More young African engineers and innovators such as Siyabulela Xuza need to come out of our remote rural townships and fly our flag globally.
- Matise Modise is the national executive of the South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum.