Beyond giving and teaching to better business for african growth: rotary knowledge in action

Dries Velthuizen

On 25 and 26 September 2019 Rotarians from District 9400,  together with the Institute for African Renaissance Studies of the School for Graduate Studies at Unisa and The Township Project from Canada presented the second annual symposium on “Building Better Businesses: Entrepreneurship for the African Renaissance”. About 350 (mostly start-up) entrepreneurs attended the event, presented at the Unisa main campus in Pretoria. Rotarian Dr Stella Anyangwe, District Governor Nominee, directed the two-day symposium, organised by a Rotary District 9400 organising committee under the leadership of ADG Riana Pretorius. Prof Esther Kibuka from the Institute for African Renaissance Studies, Prof Hanna Nel from the University of Johannesburg provided the academic background. The motivational speaker Sepiwe Moyo inspired all by sharing his life journey as an entrepreneur, together with several other entrepreneurs sharing their success stories. Practitioners from Sage, Standard Bank, and MacRobert Attorneys shared vital technical knowledge with the attendees.  Rotarians from several clubs served as speakers, moderators, table facilitators and administrators to make the event a success. DG Maurice Stander of Rotary District 9400, Rotarian Martha Deacon from the Rotary E-Club of District 9400 also representing the donors, the Township Project from Canada,  attended the event, hosted by Prof Dries Velthuizen from Unisa, also a Rotarian from the E-club.

The event turned out to be a source of inspiration for the many entrepreneurs attending. As the event progressed, many people who have never met each other before used the opportunity to interact and find common ground for growing their small businesses. What caught the eye was the leading involvement of the many Rotarians participating and the wealth of knowledge that is embedded in the minds of Rotarians from all occupations. This event was about knowledge into action, with Rotarians not only leading from the front, but also embroiling themselves with the courageous entrepreneurs of South African townships. The activities demonstrated that the Rotarians from District 9400 are busy moving beyond charity to be a leading civil society actor, capable of making real change in the real world. Connecting people and sharing their business knowledge is without doubt a very effective instrument of change for Rotary, an instrument that Rotarians will apply increasingly to innovate and grow African societies.  Handing over blankets, wheelchairs, medication and building latrines or classrooms will always be very important from an emergency relief perspective (‘provide the fish’), as well as literacy and other educational activities (‘teaching how to fish’). However, for Rotarians to break out of their comfort zones to connect with people, sharing and applying the knowledge capabilities together with the people who needs it, remains that extra distance on the journey of socio-economic growth in Africa. Especially, as was discovered during the symposium, a wealth of knowledge of how to do business starting with the most meagre assets, is embedded in our township communities. If that knowledge is gathered, together with knowledge of successful entrepreneurs from society at large, the enterprises in our townships can grow in terms of manufacturing, even to the point of exporting to countries outside Africa. Growing better businesses is at the heart of the revival and growth of Africa, expedited the attainment of a peaceful and prosperous Africa.  – Dries Velthuizen