South Africa is a country beset with social problems, from high unemployment rates to a lack of infrastructure and too few effective medical and educational resources. And while most people look to government to solve these problems, the reality is that the state can only do a limited amount.
The answer, according to Victor Mzimela, CEO of Enablis, lies not in government intervention, but in taking advantage of SA's entrepreneurial resources.
This not only applies to generic job creation, but also to what he calls social entrepreneurship: innovative ways to resolve social issues using best-practice business sense.
“South Africa needs to create millions of jobs,” explains Mzimela.
“SMEs are considered to be an effective, and some say the primary means of creating jobs. It is therefore important that we create an environment that is conducive to sustaining and supporting entrepreneurs and their SMEs to provide the jobs we so desperately need.
“The SA government is fully aware that the SME sector is the most effective means of creating jobs and new value in the economy.
"It has created institutions to intervene in this sector with both financial and non-financial instruments, in order to create a viable environment for them to thrive in. But the private sector needs to do its part as well.”
Mzimela explains that entrepreneurs are good at identifying opportunities and turning them into businesses. Many social issues are resolved because someone had an idea they were able to put into practice, and thus changed their environment while creating opportunities for others.
Many others have not been able to thrive because the entrepreneurs in question did not have the support to make it work.
“Entrepreneurs sometimes need support. They may not, for example, have an understanding of some key aspects of business, such as sales and marketing, negotiation skills, or an understanding of basic accounting principles all businesses need to ensure their long-term survival.”
Enablis believes that mentorship is the solution. Mentorship is a personal relationship between two individuals, one experienced and knowledgeable and one that wants to learn.
Both parties stand to gain from this relationship. Enablis, for example, has a relationship with the YPO (Young President Organisation) that provides its members with this type of service, to assist them in learning from seasoned business veterans.
“We also have an international mentorship programme where our members are mentored by international business leaders,” adds Mzimela.
“The result is insight and a passion among our members to make their businesses succeed, and to create change instead of waiting for it to happen.”
These services are designed not simply to provide a boost for entrepreneurs, but to give them the tools, encouragement and insight they need to survive the initial stages of starting a business, whether the goal is profit or social development.
“It’s not at all easy to start a business – the first few years you will be eroding value (making losses),” warns Mzimela.
"However, a well-researched plan and a good product or service, combined with good management skills, is likely to deliver profits and growth. It’s always important to remember you are not alone, and there are experts you can consult for advice and encouragement.”