Governments worldwide are stepping up and playing a crucial role in enabling innovation in their parts of the world. Our leaders can and should do as much as possible to help small businesses, start ups and innovators succeed. These entrepreneurs are the life blood of our future economy.
South Africa has historically had the worlds eyes upon us for political strife and in turn fearing investment, yet underneath the shadows of the political challenges, is actually a country that was home to a variety of global leaders who built world class companies. Tesla, Space X, Paypal, Spar, Investec Bank,= Liberty Life, Sasol, BHP Billiton, Monster Energy, Pam Golding, De Beers, Atlantis, One & Only, Nandos are just some of the giant names spread across the globe.
Trevor Noah, Black Coffee, and Charlise Theron are also names synonymous with global icon status and whilst many people around the world won’t necessarily associate South Africa with innovation or successful leaders, South Africa has a hidden innovation ecosystem very different to the rest of the world.
Where 1st world countries are innovating in AI, blockchain, robotics, autonomous transport and many more, South Africa finds its people innovating against basic needs. Electricity outages, access to funding, water quality, lack of infrastructure, crime and education have led to world class innovations in these spaces.
South Africa today has one of the best private insurance, private medical and private banking systems in the world. Mining innovation was born in South Africa and continues to grow and we were the first to produce a Coal to Liquids petrochemical plant. The world’s first heart transplant took place in Cape Town and economic solar power, computerised ticketing, speed gun sports technology, automatic pool cleaning, pratley putty, retinal cryosurgery, Q20 oil, aviation heads up display helmets, laser guided missiles and the Rooivelk helicopter are some technologies which were born in South Africa.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to meet Niall Carroll and Andrew Jackson who were best known for founding Royal Bafokeng Holdings, (another innovative community investment initiative) and it was in South Africa that we began the journey of building a global business with deep roots in South Africa. Today we have businesses in Ireland, London, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Norway and South Africa that are either run or managed by South African born leaders and innovators.
Perhaps if our government changed the operating model to “if it is privately owned and controlled, it works”, and threw billions of rands into the business ecosystem to encourage more entrepreneurs to build global brands, the world might end up watching and noticing South Africa for a different reason. One that the mighty Nelson Mandela would be proud of today!