BUSINESS

Small businesses can build a brighter future for SA

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ACCESS to finance, mentoring and development remains the biggest obstacle to starting and maintaining a small business. Collaboration across public and private sectors is a potential solution to problems entrepreneurs face in getting finance and using it effectively This approach also makes corporate investors feel more confident about supporting small business development.

With co-operation across sectors, I believe we could do the following effectively:

  • Promote the economic participation of previously disadvantaged communities and groups, including the youth and women.
  • Provide high-quality research-based training, coaching and mentorship for emerging entrepreneurs.
  • Generate and publish reports, papers, manuals and new media advocacy and training tools, including video documentaries and use social networking media platforms.
  • Provide opportunities for the cross-pollination of information and knowledge dissemination. This includes convening forums where small business owners can engage key role players in the empowerment landscape such as development finance institutions.
  • Support key role players in the empowerment landscape (for example, development finance institutions) with research and strategic direction as well as platforms to engage stakeholders and achieve greater impact, which includes community engagement. Part of Barclays Africa's continuous commitment to growth is a new development initiative that partners with clients, economic development agencies, non-governmental organisations and governments to spend R1.4 billion in a three-year, shared growth initiative.

This includes funding for education and skills for small business owners. Barclays Africa will raise an additional R1.3bn by the end of this year to fund the development of small, micro and medium enterprises. These broad-based, innovative growth initiatives will involve the corporate sector playing a more hands-on role in the skills development of entrepreneurs. It will minimise private sector investment risk and ensure support for small business owners is more structured and beneficial. The collaborative approach makes corporate investors feel more confident about supporting small business development. Importantly, the entrepreneurial seed needs to be planted as early as possible in South Africa's children and nurtured by schools, the private sector and the government to ensure young entrepreneurs are given the necessary support to blossom into successful small business owners.

Our Ready to Work training initiative offers online and face-to-face skills development and operates in eight countries. More than 79 000 people were reached across Africa last year and the aim is to create a pathway to reach 250 000 young people by the end of this year. While there are several challenges facing all categories of entrepreneurs, classroom-based small business teaching could create a much-needed catalyst to encourage and uplift communities. There are many ways in which schools can develop such programmes - one simple solution could be for teachers to invite successful entrepreneurs to speak to pupils about how they started their businesses. We believe the development of young entrepreneurs is vital to the growth of our economy, and this guidance could minimise socio-economic risks by steering children away from criminal behaviour. I

n South Africa, we have aspirational youth and we need to use that spirit to uplift communities with grass-roots programmes. Our Enterprise Development Centres provide useful resources for entrepreneurs looking for information about how to start a business and for established small business owners who may require expansion capital and advice on how to make more money. With regard to the debate about whether the focus should fall on low- or high-skilled development, I believe the situation in developing countries differs from that of developed countries and this must Small businesses can build a brighter future for be considered because small-scale businesses provide much-needed services for previously disadvantaged communities. Over the years, entrepreneurs might have felt that they had not benefited from government initiatives, but we cannot blame governments as they alone cannot develop this sector. Strategic and co-ordinated investment in entrepreneurship programmes is required, which is why we are bringing various sectors together to support one another and provide a more comprehensive solution for entrepreneurs.

Developed economies such as the US are at the forefront of raising the necessary finance and support for entrepreneurs. Although we cannot simply copy and paste their solutions in South Africa, we can follow their lead by offering aspiring entrepreneurs a more cohesive set of solutions that will make a real difference. We believe the success of South Africa's nascent small business sector is not just good for the economy and communities, but, most importantly, entrepreneurs have the potential to create jobs. With our growing population, we must not underestimate the importance of giving people across income brackets the opportunity to support themselves and their families. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: "The future depends on what you do today" Today we are investing in the people with the ability to make South Africa's future brighter. Whiteford is Absa regional coverage head of corporate and investment banking.

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