Transformation in South African business is a prominent topic of discussion amongst today’s industry leaders. It is undeniable – since 1994, progress has been slower than expected. According to Lebogang Tsele from SME South Africa, black business ownership in the tourism sector – one of the most transformed sectors in the South African economy, is at 20%, with management control at 50%. In the creative industry, which includes marketing and advertising however, the figures are significantly lower. According to Loeries’ judge and FCB Johannesburg creative director Suhana Gordhan, “transformation in this industry is slow and it needs to happen in a bigger way for women of colour and for people of colour in the industry.” Not only is the creative industry predominantly white owned and managed, but also male dominated. A number of transformation initiatives are focused on bringing about positive change in this arena.
The Need to Develop Black Entrepreneurs
An incubator project launched in January 2016 by The Creative Counsel is set to boost black ownership in the brand communication industry. The project has opened applications for black start-ups in media, marketing, digital, mobile and activations. These start-ups will be incubated until they are fully functional. Creative Counsel CEO’s Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved delivered this poignant statement to SME South Africa’s Refilwe Kgosiemang: “We believe successful black-owned businesses are the true measure of transformation. For as long as the advertising industry continues to find sophisticated methods of fronting and recycling the few black managers in the industry, economic transformation will not be achieved. At TCC, we hope to confront and hopefully, eradicate this practice and foster true empowerment in the industry.”
Alongside the launch of this incubator project is the launch of a new Transformation Council by the IAB SA, “with the sole aim of bringing about sustainable change and education in the digital publisher, media and marketing industry.” These initiatives are a key driver of change, but true transformation at the most basic level will require nothing less than a paradigm shift in the minds of both industry leaders and aspiring creative entrepreneurs.
The drive towards meeting transformation targets needs to transcend the ‘tick-boxing approach’ of employing black business people in leadership positions within white-owned creative companies. Too often, black integration into the industry has become a means by which to obtain higher BEE codes, but the exclusionary attitude has remained the same. The pace and shape of the industry is still being determined by members of the white middle class. Such has been the status quo of the South African market since its inception. The tick-box approach does not lead to the longevity and sustainability that the creative industry needs in order to transform. What needs to be encouraged and developed is black entrepreneurship.
Successful Entrepreneurship to be Nurtured at School Level
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa recently called for entrepreneurship to be included in the curriculums of South African schools. Ramaphosa pointed to success stories such has Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba as an archetype of prosperous, local black entrepreneurship. “There is much more we can do, entrepreneurship must be part of the school curriculum … So that young people must from an early age be encouraged to be problem solvers,” said Ramaphosa to City Press. If implemented, this solution could be a big part of what is needed to encourage not only growth in black business but also young entrepreneurship. Fundamental change requires a new, thriving generation of black youth who are passionate about building businesses from the ground-up and contributing positively towards the South African economy This is particularly true of the local creative industry that is ripe for disruption of the social kind. The benefits of black entrepreneurship in this sector are multifarious.
Black Creative Start-Ups Have Hiring Potential
According to Entrepreneur magazine, the average start-up can employ around 12 people. These small and micro businesses are a major source of employment across the country. In order for black entrepreneurship to thrive in South Africa, aspiring business people need champions – leaders to look up to and emulate. Black entrepreneurs have unique opportunities to not only provide more employment for fellow black creatives, but to act as mentors for future leaders.
Black Entrepreneurship and the Creative Economy
Currently the creative economy contributes about R95 billion to the country’s GDP and it has the potential to become an even greater contributor than ever before, with the prospect of a greater number of black entrepreneurs coming to the fore. With young people under 35 making up the majority of the South African population, black entrepreneurship in the creative sector has the potential to thrive by promoting careers in this industry. Entrepreneurs need to play their part in promoting this sector at school and tertiary education level through collaborative projects and skills development programs that create opportunities for young people to enter the industry.
Black entrepreneurship has the potential to become the greatest contributor to faster transformation within the South African creative economy. But without buy-in from the country’s largest role players and agencies, that growth potential will be stunted. It requires a collective effort – a concerted and uncompromising drive towards change.
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