African Renaissance Festival 15-16 August 2019


Innovation key to making job creators


Nicola Jenvey

Big business, government and labour should conspire to make a difference for entrepreneurship in South Africa, while working with tertiary institutions to establish what skills the country requires, FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana said.

Addressing the African Renaissance conference gala dinner this week, Nxasana echoed the calls of other speakers during the day in saying South African graduates should be job creators rather than job seekers. Innovation was key to creating those job creators with entrepreneurship being the significant contributor to solving the countries problems.

“Innovation is important to disseminating information and universities are key in this arena” he said.

However, while South Africa has a 52-million population, the annual spending on research and development was falling and unless that position was reversed, the country would be left behind in a world driven by innovation.

While millions of rand was spent on research and development, there was limited dialogue between business and tertiary institutions. Questions on what skills were required in business were not being answered- evident when considering the country had 200 000 vacant information technology positions.

Nxasana said business remained untransformed and faced significant challenges including how it supported emerging entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises and thus grew the economy to acceptable levels.

He commended the University of KwaZulu-Natal for plugging the gap for a business school in the province, but believed it was critical for the institution to be more than only an academic one. It had to be an educational facility that worked alongside business to create business people and entrepreneurs who would be able to create employment opportunities. “This is the opportunity for these young people to be the next global corporate,” he said.

However, Nxasana called on government-funding entities like Ithala and the Industrial Development Corporation to play their role in supporting entrepreneurs, specifically young black ones. There had to be support for black industrialists, but not in assisting them to acquire small stakes in existing companies.

“If we work together, we can change the trajectory of entrepreneurship in South Africa However we have to also be embracing the digital era recognising the traditional definition of industrialist includes factories and manufacturers in an era where automation of those elements is more realistic,” he said.

This meant South Africa had to address its poor broadband and approach to the digital age. Nxasana said that countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria were beating South Africa in their approaches. He cited international transport company Uber as an example of the digital age. Established in 2010, the app-based company has become a global phenomenon with a $45 billion market capitalisation that employs 500 000 people.  However, more specifically was that Uber had allowed people with cars the opportunity to work on their own terms, thus showing how the digital age had redefined the way in which society operates and functions.

Nxasana highlighted it was critical to involve young people in finding solutions in the digital age, because they would find their own solutions appropriate to their own problems.  This spoke to changing culture and embracing diversity- both among our own society and from immigrants.

“Israel and the US are successful, innovative societies because they have embraced their immigrants. Smart societies copy how immigrants have succeeded rather than try to drive them out,” he said.