“Entrepreneurship born of necessity”

iGMO members impressed by South African entrepreneurial talent

From 11 to 16 November, 40 iGMO members headed to South Africa for their annual inspiration field trip. Their aim was to take a step back from their own companies for a while and acquire some food for thought, both from academic lectures at our partner institution Stellenbosch University, and from visits to local entrepreneurs in the townships. “Here, entrepreneurship is born of necessity, but at the same time it expresses something incredibly hopeful.”

iGMO study trip South Africa 2019

“The whole world in a single country.” This is how Professor Hans Crijns describes South Africa, which he visited this year together with members of the Impulse Centre ‘Growth Management for Medium-sized Enterprises’ – iGMO for short. “It is a place where you find not only nature, but also mankind in all its diversity: different races and cultures live side by side. And this has demonstrable upsides. South Africa – and by extension the African continent – is in no way ‘lost’. Entrepreneurship is born of necessity, but at the same time it expresses something incredibly hopeful. Africa can benefit from the law of the stimulative arrears, while Western Europe is apparently groaning under the law of the handicap of a head start. The impact that local entrepreneurs can have there with a relatively small input is remarkable. This stands somewhat in contrast to our scale-ups, which sometimes adopt an overly-hesitant approach until the perfect investor appears on the radar. It is something I'll definitely be talking about in my entrepreneurship lessons.”

 “The impact that local entrepreneurs can have there with a relatively small input is remarkable” Hans Crijns, Professor of Entrepreneurship

“Start-ups with a high-value purpose”

“Over the past 13 years, I have learnt that the iGMO's inspiration field trips offer a high-quality combination of academic input, testimonies from on the ground and exchange between fellow entrepreneurs”, says Frank Verschuere, Managing Director of LS Bedding. “Personally, I enjoy seeing ideas confirmed and testing out plans, but also hearing stories and adventures from both South African and Belgian entrepreneurs. As Western entrepreneurs, we have much to learn from our African counterparts. Africa is far more innovative and entrepreneurial than we imagine. Many start-ups have a high-value purpose: how can they improve the daily lives of their fellow human beings? Often this still relates to a basic need, such as electricity supply. But on the other hand, digital transformation can enable them to make a quantum leap. For example, mobile banking is considerably more advanced because they have never known the intermediary phase of a bank.
What had the strongest impression on me was the man from a township who mobilises young people to get together and form a football team. But the players also have to take English lessons and are given food. He would be able to earn ten times more in the private sector, but he has chosen to change something in his own environment. This is humbling. And it seems to me that us Westerners could sometimes use a lesson or two in humility.”

“Digital transformation can enable them to make a quantum leap” Frank Verschuere, Managing Director of LS Bedding

“Importance of empowerment”

“In the past I visited Africa regularly, and I've worked in the townships, so I was curious to see how things have evolved in recent years”, explains Daan De Wever, CEO of Destiny. “Personally, I have my reservations about the racial quotas that have since been introduced: while companies are awarded points based on diversity, what about competence as a criteria for recruitment? Entrepreneurship is closely interwoven with context. In the townships, it is a means of survival. People are naturally more positive than we are in the West, though in the townships the greatest challenge remains instilling local residents with a positive self-image. Only then will South Africa be able to tap into its true potential. Indeed, for me the importance of empowerment is the key take-away for my own company. How can you create a playing field for your staff in which they can participate fully in considering how Destiny can grow?”

 “Racial quotas are all well and good. But what about competencies?” Daan De Wever, CEO of Destiny

This trip was made possible by our partner institution Stellenbosch University, which took care of the academic arrangements and the overall organisation. We would also like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to the Belgian Embassy, led by Didier Vanderhasselt, for the high-quality networking opportunities. 

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