Bonang Mohale

Updated on 25 June 2019

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What is the role of the private sector in helping to drive entrepreneurship/small businesses and create jobs? With this in mind how does the partnership with WeWork help with your goal of advancing social and economic change in South Africa?

Large businesses must buy products and services from as many SMEs as possible. In fact, it is in the interests of big businesses to be obsessed with the creation of markets and not just the creation of jobs. That is why it’s important for large South African businesses to take the Youth Employment Fund seriously. The SA SME fund mandate was to raise R1.4 billion to invest particularly in black SMEs as that’s where the inequality is prevalent.

In relation to advancing our social and economic change goal in South Africa, our partnership with WeWork will ensure that office spaces will be made available to entrepreneurs and SMEs. The WeWork and SiSebenza business model is to create an ecosystem where SMEs stimulate economic activities amongst each other and get much needed mentorship, counselling and actual business support from larger members too.

With your book, ‘Lift as You Rise’, provides insight into leadership – what guidance do you have for SA’s future business leaders?

My book has many examples that talk to SMEs and entrepreneurship in particular. The title itself is an Africa adage that simply says you don’t have to wait until you are the CEO before you can extend a hand and lift others as you rise. There is nothing more useful than the act of extending one’s hand down to lift up another. Nature is a wonderful metaphor for business because nature does nothing for itself. Everything nature does is for others, rivers don’t drink their own water, trees don’t eat their own fruits, the sun does not need the warmth that it radiates, and flowers don’t give off their fragrance because they want to smell nice.

The lesson therefore is that the higher we rise the more we should lift others because to whom much is given, much more is expected. Businesses cannot continue to be an island prospering in a sea of poverty, the best among us should lead with the heart of a servant because a servant’s leadership is not a leader with many servants.

Your book also focuses a lot on the importance of empowering others. How should African entrepreneurs reconcile their ambition with having a community-minded approach?

The two are two sides of the same coin. A good business is the one that meets an unmet need, an existing need better, cheaper or much more efficiently. All businesses start small and in providing a new or better service well, they are helping themselves and the community in which they operate by creating jobs. Therefore, the community becomes sustainable and resilient.
And finally, as a business veteran, what piece of advice do you offer to every entrepreneur who asks for your counsel?

1. Just start. If you think you have a good idea, the trick is to start.
2. Pace yourself as the first 6 – 9 months you might need to go without a salary.
3. As you start earning money, pay yourself a consistent salary that the business can afford but at the same time save for a rainy day.
4. You must plan to grow into a big business at some stage. SMEs are not designed to be forever small; they should also look at being competitors of established multinationals.

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