Entrepreneurs are key to addressing South Africa’s desperate jobs crisis.
South Africans must embrace the entrepreneurial culture because the old days of jobs waiting for them after graduation are long gone.
The country’s economic future depends instead on the quality of its entrepreneurs, in whose hands most future jobs – and income generation – will lie.
To this end, Engen has been the title sponsor of its Pitch & Polish initiative for the past six years, a programme that has already helped approximately 10 000 South Africans realise their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Many of these people have been running small businesses for years, with no idea of how to grow them further. Others have great ideas but lack the confidence and the business savvy necessary to present them to the banks or possible investors and persuade someone to back them financially.
This is where Pitch & Polish steps in, running nine workshops across the country annually to teach them what they need to know. We go out into communities to invite aspirant and existing entrepreneurs to brush up on scarce skills, including the ability to conceptualise their business plans, in terms of finance, marketing, products, services and compliance.
Annually, between 1 500 and 2 000 people from across South Africa attend the workshops, which are run in the style of a competition. After the announcement of the regional finalists, those judged the best five go on to compete in the semi-finals in Johannesburg.
Although Engen awards life-changing prizes only to the entrepreneurs placed in the top three each year, thousands of other participants also benefit from the expert presentations.
It’s an amazing learning experience for everyone who attends, and their many success stories are proof they move on with a new mindset, a new vision for their businesses, and the advice necessary to help turn their plans into reality.
What we ultimately want is to see our participants leave us better able to articulately present their business models, with the kind of confidence that will encourage potential funders to believe in them, and they do. The transformations are amazing to see, and really heartwarming.
While Engen’s Pitch & Polish is an initiative in the company’s BEE Enterprise Development portfolio, our involvement is no political marketing ploy, but rather the company’s contribution to making a difference to the communities where it does its business.
Poverty and unemployment are rife in South Africa. With unemployment at 37%, the government cannot provide much needed employment solutions alone. Corporates must step up and do the right thing, and for us, that is working to see these small businesses grow and become sustainable to they can generate income and create much-needed jobs.
While Engen isn’t naïve about how the company also benefits in this “ecosystem of progress”, it is the stories of businesses that started with two staff members and now employ 300 that really drive the company’s continued involvement.
We focus not only on training during our workshops, but also provide participants with materials and networks that they can use once they leave us. They also get the kind of exposure they’d never normally get, and we’ve even seen some of the Engen Pitch & Polish beneficiaries invited to international events as a result.
While it is impossible to quantify the impact of Pitch & Polish in rands and cents, it’s this feedback from participants who return to report their businesses have grown threefold that really tells the story of Engen’s investment work with the entrepreneurs.
Upping the stakes for this year’s competition was the calibre of the national facilitator, leading world expert on pitching for business Justin Cohen. He has coached people who have never pitched before to win some of the toughest multi-million dollar deals. Entrepreneurs hire him when they have to secure massive venture capital funding, and blue chip companies pay him handsomely to share secrets that have doubled their sales.
Delegates walked away with tremendous value, not only to help them see things from a completely different perspective, but also in the networking contacts and skills they developed during this year’s events.
Ultimately, Pitch & Polish is Engen’s contribution to help alleviate poverty and create much-needed jobs in a South Africa where it’s essential for people to find purpose in their lives, or risk their becoming angry and ending up contributing to rising crime statistics.
If we can do that, then we are able to assist communities to function properly. If we don’t, then our increasing poverty statistics will tell the story of how we failed to rise to the challenge.
The finals of Engen Pitch & Polish 2017 took place on 30 November in Johannesburg.
Unathi Njokweni-Magida is Head of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement at Engen, engen.co.za.
This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.