I believe it was a year ago (on the 23rd March) that the President announced the first Covid 19 lockdown. It started on the 27th March. In the past 12 months, South Africans have been subject to loss of freedom, income and even loss of lives.
And we are still navigating the impact of the insidious virus. Yet even in the midst of this “ultra- marathon of vigilance”, stories of hope, character and kindness still abound.
I want to reflect on a few lessons we can learn from South African entrepreneurs. Yes, these are generalisations. Yet many in the ecosystem we are aware of and serve in, demonstrate these characteristics.
South African entrepreneurs are resilient. Within this past year, we have seen over 2 million job losses. In addition, the Tourism and Hospitality Industry in particular, has had little or no income for most of the past 12 months.
Yet, in spite of one of the most difficult years in recorded history, many entrepreneurs have managed to navigate the storm. This has been reflected in one of our cohorts that started just as the lockdown was implemented.
Even though the first 5 months or so were virtual, we saw budding entrepreneurs knuckle down, and simply keep going………and grow as well!
South African entrepreneurs are adaptive. Many entrepreneurs found their normal source of income had disappeared. Many adjusted, and found additional sources of income. Was it perfect? Did it meet the criteria for ideal scaling? Hardly. Yet they moved, made decisions, implemented and adapted. We salute you for your responses!
South African entrepreneurs are generous. In a world of “me first” and looking after your own interests at all costs. It has been refreshing to see the generosity of entrepreneurs. Many have stayed open for business, when it may have been easier to close up shop. Their reason for continuing? Those that are dependent on the employment and income coming from these small businesses. And the generosity doesn’t stop there. Other partners in the entrepreneurial eco system have continued to serve and assist, in spite of many reasons to desist. We have many examples to reflect on, but I would like to honour those mentors from Rotary International and other organisations who have “rejigged” their offering to embrace virtual mentoring. Services like these are voluntarily given, and so it is especially notable when the commitment continues, in spite of serious obstacles.
South African entrepreneurs are courageous. “Courage is being scared to death—but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne. Beginning, building, and launching a small business under normal circumstances requires a good amount of courage. Doing so under an environment of VUCA, requires even more so! (VUCA stands for Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). We had two cohorts whose entrepreneurial start coincided with the lockdown. We saw how these men and women displayed ongoing courage for the past 12 months. Their stories are still under formation, but courage is being hewn in everyday decisions. I trust that this quote by Madeleine L’Engle may encourage you…..“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
South African entrepreneurs are dealers in hope. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who quipped that “Leaders have to be dealers in hope”. It is my privilege to have a short bi-weekly radio program on a community station. It is aptly called “Hope is rising”. I regularly share a story or even an interview of a start-up entrepreneur. The impact of their story, their decisions, successes and stumbling blocks, has added much hope to the broad listenership. When people from different communities see and hear “hero’s” from that community, sharing authentic stories of entrepreneurship, it causes hope to arise.
In honour of young entrepreneurs who lead small businesses.