Change the world

Family Business Unit

30/07/2013

It was a historic day for South African universities who came together from across South Africa to Benoni to launch a national university body to develop the country’s universities as entrepreneurship and innovation centres.  This is a significant initiative to reduce poverty through stimulating our universities as hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship.  Two colleagues from the Department of Business Management at the NMMU, Prof Elmarie Venter and Prof Shelley Farrington, represented the university at this workshop.

As entrepreneurship gains currency in political and economic circles because of its potential to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits, South Africa's higher education institutions embrace and promote this agenda as a key activity for job creation in the country. Higher education institutions came together on Mandela Day (18th July) for a landmark one-day event launching The Forum for Entrepreneurship Development Centres (FEDCI).  Almost all of South Africa’s public universities were in attendance, as well as a number of private higher education institutions.

FEDCI was established with support from the Department of Higher Education, the Human Resources Development Council (in the Office of the Deputy President) and the Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI) alongside the private sector. The symbolic Hand Holding for Madiba represented, for academic institutions, the opportunity to 'hold hands' to advance the alleviation of poverty and economic growth for social justice, both causes close to Madiba's heart. The partners have been working for over a year to bring this body and activities into fruition.

South Africa struggles with high levels of unemployment, in particular youth unemployment,  low levels of economic growth and low levels of total early stage entrepreneurial activity (known as TEA index) tracked globally and reported in Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM, 2012).  Institutions of higher learning today acknowledged the key role that universities have in the country in being catalysts for entrepreneurship. Universities can serve as engines for entrepreneurial development as they are ideally located to unlock the creativity and innovation of nations that deal with the challenges of the 21st century.  "What is required is the development of a strong and rich entrepreneurial ecosystem at universities", said Professor Shahida Cassim, newly elected Deputy CEO of FEDCI and one of the founders.

Evidence suggests that entrepreneurial education can have a positive impact on entrepreneurship rates and economic growth. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) data for South Africa suggests that there is room for improvement in entrepreneurial education and activity (education is defined as an essential framework condition in the GEM model), and as a result is part of the reason that South Africa’s TEA rankings are well below half compared to other African peers in the annual review. This is clearly a major concern for the development of economic activity in the country, and developing a coordinated higher education system to address the needs of different types of entrepreneur, age groups and different contexts are a key imperative stated today by the university sector.

FEDCI has been formulated with the express purpose of serving as a platform for collaboration and for strategizing on entrepreneurial issues in institutions of higher education. It will serve as a forum or network of committed 'champions' of entrepreneurship at every university nation-wide delivering them a platform to share initiatives and define best practices in teaching, research and community development activities.  Dr Thami Mazwai was appointed as the first CEO of FEDCI.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Taddy Blecher, Chair of the HRDC Enabling Entrepreneurship Technical Task Team, said that the launch of FEDCI was a significant milestone in the promotion of entrepreneurship, and in the development and support of job creators as opposed to job seekers. He said that higher education institutions have the potential to significantly impact the employment levels in the country as well as the success rate of small businesses, but that they need to work together, something that the launch of FEDCI will make more achievable.

Professor Shahida Cassim then presented the results of a short survey of entrepreneurship activities from 17 public universities and 4 private institutions, demonstrating that there was indeed a number of activities that champions were initiating at their institutions despite the somewhat 'unfavourable institutional climate' they found themselves in.

Dr Engela Van Staden (Chief Director: University Academic Planning and Management Support in the Department of Higher Education and Training) then challenged those present to come up with creative solutions to some of the obstacles that are experienced by entrepreneurship centres at the institutions. She also encouraged those present to "think big" about which initiatives, activities and research should be driven to build a culture of entrepreneurship at higher education institutions.

Director of Enterprise Development at the DTI , Mzi Memani, celebrated the good news of this joint collaboration which is directly in line with the DTI’s programmes for entrepreneurial development and the support of the small business sector across South Africa.

In closing, Dr Taddy Blecher, expressed his excitement about the FEDCI initiative. He stated that now, “no one university is alone in this national mission”, in pushing the agenda of entrepreneurship at higher education institutions. He implored all of the academics present to share their knowledge freely and have a bias for action despite the challenges.

                               Participants at the FEDCI Launch