In South Africa, there are many entities active in offering business development services (BDS). Some are consultants or incubators, some are financiers or educators, and others straddle several such positions simultaneously. Indeed, the South African legislation around such things as enterprise and supplier development means that there is often fertile ground for such operators to flourish. However, the sector has come under a certain amount of scrutiny from some quarters due to it not always being regulated, the fact that no unifying registration body exists that offers sub-minimum credibility ratings, and that there are few barriers to entry.
Upskilling those who upskill others
In corporate arenas, the idea of continuous learning and development is well known and many firms have whole departments dedicated to continually improving the skills of the internal workforce. But to what extent do business development service providers and ESD professionals upskill themselves on an on-going basis? While we are the very individuals who make it our business to upskill others, do we take the time to invest in our own professional development? Certain sectors and industries require this, but the BDS space is one that is not only unregulated, it is one in which we very seldom sit down in the same room together and actively seek to promote professional development together.
The GIBS Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA) is seeking to change this, with one recent example being a partnership with the French Embassy. This partnership resulted in the recently concluded Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development Programme where various BDS providers received training on best practice entrepreneurship development skills and tools. While this is not the only such programme that we have engaged in, it was yet another example of the benefits of continuous learning within the BDS space.
Assessments of the programme efficacy revealed some interesting findings. One of the largest impacts taking place was in the uptake in the use of tools to assess business viability prior to working with a business. It appeared that many relied on intuition or ‘gut feel’ and did not ground their engagements in robust outputs from tried and tested tools.
While monitoring and evaluation is slowly becoming more prevalent across the landscape, many are not employing the rigour required in this area. A key learning among delegates was in becoming more familiar with theory of change and employing the appropriate principles to measure and track progress accordingly.
This meant that BDS providers left the programme with a far better idea of how to monitor and evaluate their activities transparently, in a manner that can effectively show RoI, and in a way that offers them day-to-day agility in amending interventions where necessary.
Understanding entrepreneurial ecosystems is crucial
Over and above functional tools and daily monitoring or long-term evaluating, arguably the largest take away for the delegate group was in understanding entrepreneurial ecosystems. This term encompasses the relevant aspects of the South African regulatory landscape, the importance of social capital, and the nuanced ways in which differing systemic levels of business activities overlap.
Moreover, with a better understanding of local markets, how different funding models operate, or even the role of culture within an entrepreneurial ecosystem, the outgoing delegate group continued to reiterate how much more empowered they felt in doing their work effectively going forward.
Our economy needs the best of the best
With small business development being front and centre as regards government action, initiatives from civil society, and private sector investment, it is paramount that the various interventions are run and coordinated by BDS providers who are on top of their respective games.
This directly means staying abreast of ways to assist SMMEs that not only ensure the BDS provider can has done their utmost, but also that the SMME beneficiary is offered the finest prospects to thrive. It is probably more important than ever, given the current pandemic, that any SMME interventions are rolled out according to sound principles and researched practices.
The best way to ensure that this is the norm and not the exception is to promote a culture of continuous professional development, not only through formal training, but also through more regular symposiums, open discussions, online forums, and a spirit of maintaining the highest standards in this all-important sector.