• The South African SA team that took part in the first Enactus competition to be held on African soil last year. Picture: SUPPLIED

  • Barloworld has embraced the work of Enactus, a nonprofit organisation that works with students globally to support their entrepreneurial projects. Picture: SUPPLIED

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THERE is no debate that entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of any economy. Often they are the disruptive force that creates the shifting sands that economies need to function better.

In SA, national policies are supportive of entrepreneurship and big business is increasingly focused on incubating smart ideas. These are what will create the business breakthroughs that we need to shift growth upwards of the projected 2%.

But is it enough and is the support more than just words? Does it translate into action? Are we really nurturing entrepreneurs, the smart risk-takers and the groundbreakers who could be the driving force of our economy?

The truth is that while the policy environment is positive, the actual support is not always forthcoming. Without that support, we face a difficult future — and big business can and should do more to create and, where possible, curate a context in which entrepreneurship can thrive.

An inspiring space in which this is happening, but could be amplified tenfold, is through Enactus, a nonprofit organisation that works with university students globally to showcase, incentivise and support their entrepreneurial projects conceptualised to transform and improve the lives of local communities sustainably.

Through regional, national and international rounds held every year, Enactus offers a forum through which competing students are able to showcase their work and explain their outreach efforts, and are then judged by a panel of experts.

The top teams globally are invited to the prestigious final round — the Enactus World Cup — which took place on African soil last year for the first time.

Against tough competition, the University of Zululand, with a project focused on turning struggling small businesses into sustainable ventures, made it through to the closely contested semifinal round of the World Cup event last year.

The winner was the UK, represented by the University of Southampton. Its team presented projects focused on attending to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with a special focus on empowerment of entrepreneurs, sanitation, water security and education in Kenya.

Barloworld, with other forward-thinking corporate sponsors, works closely with Enactus in recognising the talent alive in our youth both as sponsors and on the judging panel, regionally and nationally.

While it was inspiring to see the support for the competition last year, it still felt as though — given the pressure to push entrepreneurship to another level in SA — there should have been wider support.

Every day in the business environment, I witness the transformative power of innovation and problem-solving. It’s at the core of what we need to do at Barloworld to stay ahead of our competitors.

That’s why we and companies including KPMG, Unilever, Walmart, Ford, Absa and Coca-Cola actively look for talent at events such as Enactus so we can recruit people who think entrepreneurially.

Already, Enactus — and the incredible ideas that emerge through the competition, which aims to support nonprofit projects across the world — has had an effect on more than 2-million people.

ENACTUS in SA should be a hotly contested space for business sponsorship to attract the smartest, brightest minds. It is a shopping aisle for high-end talent.

It’s the reason we — and some other corporates — see value in the initiative; and as much as it serves us not to call on more business to get involved as we have the pick of the crop, the talent and opportunity is too important for the collective good and economy to keep secret. It is critical that all companies in SA take up the challenge and support this incredible initiative.

Support needs to be wider than a single event and rather part of a web of corporate activity aimed at growing entrepreneurship. Businesses’ response must acknowledge and help manage the challenges that create unnecessary and insurmountable barriers to entry into the world of innovation.

Two big spaces to make a difference and unlock entrepreneurialism are youth and supplier development.

Youth unemployment has been increasing since 2008. A Statistics SA youth labour market report released in June last year showed that even more young people have given up looking for work. Of the 19.7-million working-age youth (15 to 34 years), 9.8-million were not economically active, 6.2-million were employed and 3.6-million were unemployed, the report said. Business needs to create structures to absorb these youth into internship programmes; offer supportive bursaries; maximise on the youth wage subsidy; and work with the youth to develop technology that is relevant to them, as they are the future market.

Supplier development is another important tool in terms of which existing entrepreneurs are supported by companies that use their services. In addition, these small businesses can be trained to work better for your business, supported in areas in which they have an acumen gap by accessing experts in bigger businesses.

SOMETIMES it’s simply access to bigger markets, networks and a favourable payment cycle that helps with cash flow that allows smaller business to thrive and continue to innovate and move quickly where big business cannot.

We and many other South African businesses try to do this. But as a sector, we need to showcase our best practices and also our failures for the benefit of all other business so we can become adept at supporting entrepreneurship.

For the past five years, Barloworld Siyakhula, our enterprise development business, has been delivering on a vision to grow sustainable enterprises by investing and partnering with fledgling entrepreneurs in SA. Siyakhula helps us contribute to society and support innovation and small business. It’s a small step in a journey towards what we envisage could be a better country. But we cannot do it alone.

For SA to reap the real benefits of entrepreneurship, we need to stop paying lip service to the policy and offer what is really required — support!

• Mngomezulu is the Barloworld group executive for human resources, strategy and sustainability