ADVICE: Nurture an entrepreneurial culture to unlock SA’s potential


Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) takes on an added urgency this year as almost every economy in the world reels from the impact of the global pandemic. As South Africa tries to nurture the green shoots in its economy, encouraging an entrepreneurial culture is non-negotiable, says Retail Capital CEO Karl Westvig.

The global event has set out this year to trigger innovation for the greater good. The organisers write: “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact, GEW 2020 is a call to action for all societies to be resilient and come together in leveraging the power of new ideas and innovation for the benefit of all.”

Westvig says there is no luxury to take a wait and see approach, and that encouraging innovation is key to seeing a vibrant small and medium enterprise (SME) sector so that the country can start chipping away at the alarmingly high unemployment rate.

“The recently released jobless stats show the official unemployment rate sitting at 30.8% while the broader definition of unemployment that includes discouraged job-seekers is at 43.1%. The national development plan laid it out in black and white that SMEs are the lifeblood of the country and vital to tackling unemployment, but the fact that more than four in 10 South Africans are jobless means we cannot afford to write up grand documents and see no tangible action.

“Everyone with the means should be supporting local entrepreneurs, it’s the only way we can rebuild the economy and make the pie bigger. There is a lot we can all do, beyond making finance available and affordable. GEW 2020 is a great opportunity to refocus our efforts and build awareness around the need to support entrepreneurs,” says Westvig.

He says that while it is true that the pandemic suffocated many industries and that there were casualties in the SME sector, he said that many businesses were able to not only survive, but thrive.

“SMEs that used the opportunity to invest in new products, diversify their offerings and change their operating model have done more than survive the lockdown. By thinking and acting entrepreneurially, they have built resilience into their businesses. Quite literally, they have future-proofed their companies,” says Westvig.

Westvig adds that there are a few key ingredients that entrepreneurs need in order to survive and thrive during, and in the aftermath of, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pay on time

“Some large enterprises, and in some instances entire supply chains, are notoriously stacked against the SME owner. By turning off the taps, so to speak, many entrepreneurs have had to call it a day before their businesses have a chance to reach their potential. Pay on time,” says Westvig.


If you fail to invest in the array of digital innovations you will be left behind, or worse, disrupted and made irrelevant, says Westvig.

“There are many aspects to a digitised business: cloud-based automation of processes such as payroll and accounts, digital marketing and social media, mobile booking apps and, of course, eCommerce,” says Westvig.”

Be loyal to your values, not the status quo.

“In tough times our values drive our decisions and give our staff a single rallying point. This doesn’t mean always do things the way you have always done them – always be open to new processes and approaches, but be guided by your values,” says Westvig.

Buy local

Westvig says that by supporting local SMEs and supply chains, entrepreneurs are in effect growing their own pie. “The more we stimulate our own micro-economies, the more we are creating an environment for SMEs to flourish in South Africa.”

Match talent with the task

“We all know how it goes: day-to-day business takes over and before we know it, the most talented people in our businesses are overwhelmed with workload and new projects before finishing existing ones. The result is a dilution of the value they can create. Don’t stifle creativity and energy – match the right staff to the right functions.”

Focus the lens

“In order to be truly competitive, pick a few, clear objectives and put all hands on deck. The fewer distractions the easier it is for a team to pull in the same direction and achieve results,” says Westvig.

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

“When George Bernard Shaw said those words he was not talking about a global pandemic, but they are as relevant today as then. Often we cannot control the hands we are dealt, but we have to play them smartly. Always look out for moments to innovate and spot the gaps,” Westvig says.

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