This week I had the opportunity to attend the first ever National SMME Policy Colloquium. It was a historic event initiated by the Honourable Minister Lindiwe Zulu, head of the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD). The purpose of the event was to define the role of the DSBD in the quest to build a vibrant and inclusive economy in South Africa. Hosting the event, the Industrial Development Corporation said that about 50% of GDP and jobs in South Africa are contributed through the SMME sector while the global standard is much higher according to statistics provided by the UN.
Although funding is accessible to entrepreneurs and local start-ups, these businesses rarely grow into established big businesses and those that do survive, struggle to create enough wealth to create more jobs and participate in growing their local economies. During the daily panel discussions and group sessions, the theme of providing support in the form of education, training and mentoring instead of just monetary funding was highlighted. Government and corporate South Africa have the experience and knowledge to lead small business owners on the road to success to ensure that they can create a sustainable lifestyle for their families and also local communities. Minister Zulu made it clear that it affects each of us directly when a SMME fails due to not having the necessary support and resources to grow the business to the next level. Mostly those individuals who lose an income as a result will become dependent on social grants, putting additional pressure on our economy and the taxpayers’ pockets.
The role of state owned enterprises in procurement and supplier development was a hot topic and issues like access to finance, relaxing of regulations and taxation laws as well as simplified financial reporting structures were discussed. At the end of the 3 days it was clear that the corporate thought leaders, government officials and members of participating business chambers and professional associations were all very excited about the role the DSBD will play in economic growth in South Africa. Everyone who attended agreed that Minister Zulu is the perfect individual to lead the process of creating a safe environment for SMME’s to grow in South Africa. The road to creating an ecosystem of mentors, investors, suppliers and collaborators who will all join in empowering more individuals to create wealth and jobs in their local communities will be anything but smooth but at least the vision is clear. It is now up to the DSBD to define the structure and ground rules that we need to follow to achieve the vision of less poverty, more jobs and a strong, competitive economy