Six ways for businesses to become pillars of the community

Many businesses make a point of giving, from sponsoring sports gear to donating goods to a nearby charity. By helping out in this way, the thinking goes, the business fosters goodwill and loyalty in the community.

But charitable giving is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways in which businesses can contribute towards the welfare of the communities and cement their position as good corporate citizens. Gugu Mjadu, executive general manager: marketing at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), lists six ways in which businesses are sure to become pillars of their community.

Make your business profitable

In a certain sense, it sounds like the polar opposite of being community minded or charitable. But being profitable is the single biggest contribution that a business can make to the community in which it is based. It means that the service it provides is sustainable, and that community members will be able to rely on it being there next year and the year after.

Being profitable means that the jobs provided by the business to members of the community are stable, dependable and long-term.

In contrast, the respect earned by the big-tipping type of business owner who prioritizes buying flashy cars over business sustainability is as superficial and short-lived as the business itself.

Train your staff

All over the world, small and medium businesses are responsible for a huge amount of work-place training, simply because they cannot afford to appoint fully trained workers like big corporations can. They appoint youngsters with the understanding that the salary will not be great to start off with, but there will be lots of training. And in a small-business setting the worker is often in close proximity to the owner, who can constantly give expert feedback and on-the-job training.

In South Africa, where state-provided basic education and vocational training is to a large extent struggling, the role of the small business in keeping vocational skills alive has become absolutely critical. The few workers who are well trained and educated tend to work for bigger companies, while small businesses tend to employ untrained youngsters from their community in return for on-the-job training.

Yet the idea of training sits uncomfortably with many small business owners, who fear that all their investment in the on-the-job training of a youngster will be lost when they are poached by bigger businesses as soon as they are proficient.

It is bound to happen at some stage to every small business, but the fear is overrated. Research shows that one of the best ways to instill loyalty in workers is by providing skills development. The few who do leave for better-paying jobs are indeed the business owner’s contribution to the industry skills pool, which, although it may not be immediately apparent, benefits every business in the long term.

Be visible to the community

A business owner’s presence in the community provides another crucial contribution to the development of South Africa, which urgently needs role models to show the youth that self-employment or entrepreneurship is a valid and worthy alternative to working for someone else.

Business owners do not have to be flashy or glamorous in order to make an impression on the youth. A solid presence as a role model can be established by low-key involvement such as giving talks at schools or serving on the board of a local community project. And here charitable giving can play its most important role. When business owners sponsor the kit of a local soccer team, for example, the value they provide as role models is worth much more than the price of the donation.

Mentor young entrepreneurs

Apart from the general role modeling that business owners can do in their communities, they can also focus on imparting skills and knowledge to up and coming young business owners in their industry.

Even though they are strictly speaking competitors, the bond developed by mentorship is beneficial to both businesses. Experienced business owners can refer overflow work to the young entrepreneurs they mentor, and can strengthen their capacity by forming joint ventures with them.

Experienced business owners can also join, or set up, formal mentorship programmes. BUSINESS/PARTNERS, for example, has a pool of more than 300 business owners in its mentorship programme. Many of the participants are retired business owners who want to contribute to South Africa’s economic development by sharing their extensive experience with the younger generation of business owners.

Be vocal about issues that hurt your business

Workers have well established structures and methods to make a noise and exert pressure when they feel their rights are being threatened. Students are again finding their voice to raise awareness about their plight. But the voice of the business owner is largely silent, even in the face of serious damage inflicted by unnecessary red tape. Big business, when they do speak up, often do not face the same challenges as small businesses.

An important part of the problem is that business owners are too busy to spend much time participating and setting up local business associations. But it also has to do with a lack of a culture of activism. Join your local chamber or business association, even if it is dominated by big business, and even if you contribute just an hour or two per month. In their numbers, the voice of small business can become powerful.


You don’t have to change the world like Google, or shake up industries like Elon Musk. Incremental and localized innovation is hugely beneficial to the community. Every time a business introduces something as simple as SMS notifications to its clients, or a new method copied from overseas, life becomes a little more convenient, products and services a little better or cheaper, and the business itself a little stronger.

Western Cape on track to become the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Africa

Globally known for its serene natural beauty and cultural diversity, the Western Cape is on track to becoming more than just a tourist destination. The region, renowned for its robust entrepreneurial activity, is fast establishing itself as Africa’s ‘Silicon Valley’, a region in California which is home to some of the world’s largest technology companies, as well as many entrepreneurial ventures.

This is according to Stuart Forrest, owner of Triggerfish Animation and 2012 winner of the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, who says that the easy accessibility of technology and lower costs for business startups encourages more individuals within the space to undertake entrepreneurial ventures.

He says that the consistent growth of small tech-focused businesses in Cape Town and the accessibility of educational institutions continue to create fertile ground for entrepreneurial activity within the region.

Kobus Engelbrecht, spokesperson and co-sponsor of the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, is of the same opinion. “Due to the city’s entrepreneurial culture, Cape Town has seen an influx of IT and tech startups. By attracting the best entrepreneurs, technical brains and foreign direct investment, Cape Town is quickly becoming a local ‘Silicon Valley’.”

Forrest says that because of the industry growth the provincial government and the City of Cape Town have invested over R150m in Cape Town’s broadband infrastructure project. While delivering his provincial budget speech MEC Alan Winde said the project would also receive approximately R500m over the 2013 medium-term expenditure framework.

Engelbrecht says that other influential players such as Vinny Lingham and Justin Stanford – both local tech entrepreneurs – have recognised the Cape’s great potential for fostering entrepreneurship in the IT and technology space. In 2009, the two entrepreneurs launched Silicon Cape, a local high-tech innovation hub based on the international concept of Silicon Valley and aimed at attracting top technical talent and entrepreneurs to the Western Cape, ultimately creating an environment for local IT and tech companies to compete with similar hubs around the world.

“Initiatives such as this will generate seeds for a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cape Town and positively contribute towards economic growth and development within South Africa.” says Forrest.

He adds that from a skills perspective, the formation of a local version of Silicon Valley will also succeed in keeping some of our brightest tech entrepreneurs in the country. “You only have to look at people such as Elon Musk who left the country for Silicon Valley and duly co-founded a globally influential service such as PayPal.”

Forrest confirms that growth companies in the IT and telecoms industries have proven to generate significant positive cash flow and profitable reinvestment opportunities for its retained earnings. “High growth companies are also responsible for innovation, which is necessary for the development of any country, but in order for the industry to truly be successful we require investment.

“One of the major obstacles hindering the growth of the IT and telecoms industry within the Western Cape is the absence of risk capital. Investors in South Africa are very risk averse. To date, we have been a resource driven country with a history of investing in fixed assets and manufacturing businesses.

“The success and growth of Silicon Valley in the United States has proven that investors need to sometimes take a calculated risk and step out of their comfort zone in order to create a globally-influential technology hub,” concludes Forrest.