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By 12 September 2018 | Categories: interviews

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In part 2 of our interview with Anish Shivdasani, the founder of Giraffe, which enables medium-skilled jobseekers to access job opportunities via their mobile phones and helps businesses recruit staff, we consider how South Africa can realise its potential. (you can read Part 1 here)

It would be a truism to say that the answer to South Africa’s high unemployment would be to create new businesses. It’s easy to say, somewhat more complicated to do. But does that mean South Africa is doomed to languish in recession indefinitely? Judging from an down to earth, but ultimately optimistic interview with Shivdasani, not at all.

However, there are real challenges that do need to be taken into account. It is not just the unique business landscape that entrepreneurs, and new business owners need to be aware of, but the country’s economic landscape as well.

Two worlds

“If you think about South Africa, it is actually two economies - there is rich South Africa which is urban, white, corporate, and then there is poor South Africa which is township dwelling, quite often rural, black, uneducated and too often living in abject poverty. What people fail to realise is that these are two geographically, physically and structurally separate entities with very little capital flowing in between the two. For me that is one of the nuances of South Africa,” he noted.

Rather than bemoan the plight of the country, which can certainly be ascribed to apartheid’s legacy, there is still hope for the South African to realise its potential. To do so, however, Shivdasani stressed that these two disparate worlds need to be brought together.

“Only by affecting the flow of capital between rich South Africa and poor South Africa, not in a grant or socialist way but rather where there is trade, and a  value relationship, happening between the two, are you going to start to grow the township economies, create a middle class, generate a real consumer society which can then generate long term growth,” he asserted.

He pointed out until that happens we are in a stalemate situation, a fact that is sadly born out by the dismal negative growth results released earlier this month. What then is the way out of this stalemate?   

The first of these is for government to make it easier for small and medium enterprises to start up, hire and fire people, and make the labour markets more flexible. This would create the space for new businesses to begin, fail, learn and ultimately succeed. It would also begin to address the state of affairs, in which there is a concentration of wealth in corporations.

Analogue skills for a digital economy

Secondly, education remains key, particularly upskilling students with the skills they need for the world today. He points out that there is little point teaching curriculums based on an analogue education system, when they need to be ready to handle living in a digital economy. Thus, digital literacy is essential, and large opportunity that exists as well to bring more young people up to date.

There is some hope on that front, with some corporates accepting their social responsibility and bringing digital literacy into the townships. Dell EMC’s Solar Learning Lab is a prime example of this.

Massive opportunity ahead

Thirdly, Shivdasani asserts that South Africans should be using technology and information to play to global markets rather than a small national one.

“We need to leverage cloud-based solutions, the good technological infrastructure in South Africa and the fact that we are an English speaking company in the same time zone as the UK, to take advantage of the massive opportunity to create export/information based businesses,” he enthused.

These could include software as a service, even digital agencies that service the UK, that bill in pounds and leverage having a rand-based cost base. That, he noted, is a massive opportunity that is not being fully explored.

Reason to hope

Additionally, with cloud solutions like Microsoft Azure, new businesses can be up and running quickly, begin transacting and use social media to bring in customers. Additionally, South Africans should be heartened by the fact that large corporates are pouring a great deal of investment into the country’s technological capacity - a prime example of this is the Azure datacentres that Microsoft is opening in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

In short, the challenges may seem formidable, but they may be compensated for by the fact that the opportunities are endless. Indeed, if there has one thing South Africa, and South Africans have proven, it is that they are formidably resilient. When the dust settles on the global and national turmoil, that resilience may just prove to be the country’s best reason to hope for prosperity, and its most precious asset.

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