Looking at the South African economy through tinted glasses


With sky-high unemployment rates and political instability a trampoline would be proud of, could the solution be as simple as changing a pair of glasses?


It’s often been said that optimists see the world through rose-tinted glasses. The idiom refers to their thoughts, opinions and perspectives, the way in which they frame the world. Now, there are valid arguments against optimism, particularly in favour of realism (although it’s worth asking yourself when you last saw a company boss with a negative attitude — a successful company boss, that is…), but it’s not the tint of the glasses that really matters here. No, it’s the impact those metaphorical glasses can have on the real world that matters.


The South African economy is both depressed and depressing


First let’s frame the problem: South African unemployment rates are nothing short of atrocious. The official rate is 26,7% — yes, more than a quarter of our employable population is unemployed. That’s bad. And it’s getting worse. Moreover, economic forecasters say it’s going to continue to do so. In fact Stats SA cites an unemployment rate of 37,5% for those between the ages of 15 and 34. Our unemployment rate is so bad that our heroic Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, declared it a national emergency in September.


What’s more, it’s hard to get a job in South Africa. You’ve most likely heard the joke about how a 21-year-old who finished school at 18 and went to university for three years is expected to have three years’ experience for an entry-level position. However, our unemployment rate is not high because we’re an unproductive country (our Gross Domestic Product saw us ranked 32nd in the world last year, according to the World Bank). Our unemployment rate is high because the bottom line is that, as Carl Burns of Pioneer Nation put it in the September issue of Fast Company, “there aren’t enough jobs to go around.”


Defining the ‘tint’


This is where the tint of those glasses comes into play because, where many see that bottom line as a brick wall, those with an ‘entrepreneurial tint’ to their glasses see it as an opportunity. If you need something unique, a custom physical product that you can’t find anywhere, what do you do? You find people who can do what’s required and you have it made, right? One way or the other, you make it happen. Why should it be any different with jobs? Unemployment is a hugely complex socioeconomic problem with many, many layers to it, but at a base level, perhaps (one of) the solutions is an increased push for entrepreneurs in the SME segment. After all, entrepreneurship at its core is nothing more than someone finding people who can do what’s required, i.e., be their customers, and having it, i.e., a job, made. Entrepreneurs go into business for a variety of reasons but at the end of the day they don’t have a ‘prefabricated’ job provided by someone else — they make it happen.


The paradigm of start-ups


This paradigm has its own pitfalls, because the idea the each and every person can and should start their own business is a faulty one. Although the global economy is evolving and moving towards a much more collaborative environment where small enterprises can flourish, imagine how much more they could flourish if a few people with complementary skill sets in that unemployed 37,5% came together to form a small enterprise rather than each one going it alone.


One of the issues with the current status quo is how society views both employment and entrepreneurship. From the perspective of the older generation, employment in a large corporation is the way to go. From the perspective of the younger generation, entrepreneurship is only viable if one is a raging, multi-million-rand success. Neither of these perspectives are accurate nor, in the real world, even possible for everyone. Bruns talks about “embracing the notion that small is big” and in South Africa this is of the utmost importance because not only is building a small business with just under R1 million annual turnover fairly doable, it’s also enough to satisfy many who are currently stuck earning significantly less.


Global Entrepreneurship Month and what it means for us


November is Global Entrepreneurship Month and it’s the perfect opportunity and swap out those glasses for ones that frame problems as opportunities and are open to seeing collaborative chances for entrepreneurship and we may soon be dealing with significantly less unemployment. We have just the blueprint to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs. https://agamebusiness.com/the-book/


So go out and look for those opportunities, work hard to capitalise on them and, most importantly, make it happen.