Forging Partnerships: GIBS EDA, Debswana and the NeuroLeadership Institute

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When an entrepreneur signs a long-term contract with a large company, it often feels like winning the jackpot. Being part of a corporate supply chain offers stability for SMEs, as it provides continuous access to market opportunities, a guaranteed off-taker and a sustained income. Their cash flow and ability to plan ahead is further strengthened by recent efforts among organised business to pay suppliers within 30 days.

However, the real first prize is becoming part of an impactful enterprise and supplier development programme, where the SME not only receives financial support but is actively nurtured, mentored and given the business support and training it needs in order to grow.

The Covid-19 crisis demonstrated just how valuable this type of partnership can be, as economically hard-hit suppliers received debt relief and other financial and non-financial support from their corporate supply chain partners to help them survive and adapt. In return, the small businesses – which are typically more agile, innovative and less risk averse than their large counterparts – could be playing a vital role in the pandemic recovery of these supply chains.

SMEs have long been identified as the dynamos that power formal and informal economies; driving growth and securing livelihoods through job creation. This was reflected in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 state of the nation address, where he admitted that government could not create the desperately needed jobs but that the private sector, particularly SMEs, would have to step in. Yet for this to happen, the entrepreneurial ecosystem needs to be dramatically improved, for example through less regulatory red tape, more government support, easier access to finance and better entrepreneurial education. Worryingly, the quality of South Africa’s environment for entrepreneurship is rated sixth lowest in the world, on par with Sudan and Iran, according to the 2021/22 National Entrepreneurship Context Index.[1] In Botswana, His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi expressed that Entrepreneurship and Value Chain Development will unlock opportunities for new, high – growth companies in the private sector focusing on minerals, tourism, agriculture, and education, among others. Additionally, the President boldly highlighted that the people of Botswana must embrace a radical shift in mindset and become more proactive, agile, creative and confident in order to achieve the envisaged successful entrepreneurial and value chain development.

Unleashing entrepreneurial potential

To unleash the transformative potential of Southern Africa’s entrepreneurs and supply chains, the GIBS Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA) is forging a partnership with Debswana, the world’s largest diamond producer by volume, and the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI), which is a pioneer in bringing neuroscience into business leadership coaching. The partnership intends to transform the participants of the Botswana-based mining company’s Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development Programme (EEDP) into high-performing intra- and entrepreneurs, while acting as a growth catalyst for the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem. ‘We want our suppliers to be able to network and collaborate across our border into the African continent and into the world,’ says Tefo Modise Setlhare, Debswana’s EEDP leader.

GIBS EDA provides the international exposure, networking opportunities and training for the 50 entrepreneurs and employees involved in the programme – a mixed group that ranges from members of Debswana’s supply chain and procurement teams to suppliers employing between two and 200 people, with turnovers from BWP300,000 to BWP100 million. The goods and services they supply are equally diverse, featuring amongst many others a lubricant producer, an insurance firm, a company specialising in ICT networks and cybersecurity, another one servicing refrigeration equipment and yet another one providing blast hole drilling services.

The partnership began with GIBS EDA rolling out an initiative to capacitate Debswana’s senior leadership team, before co-designing the current supplier development intervention, according to Miranda Hosking, GIBS Managing Executive for Social Education. The training involves teaching business development skills, entrepreneurial skills, leadership skills, entrepreneurship mindset and content, as well as mentorship and coaching sessions.

Unlocking inherent skills

Some of these sessions probe deep into the brain of the participants, using neuroscience to enhance and drive their performance. ‘It’s evident that these entrepreneurs already possess a lot of the inherent skills they need to be successful,’ says Robert Pearse, NLI Business Head. ‘Sometimes it’s just about unlocking the positive thinking around solutions that they inherently know in order to move forward within the confines of the context.’

He explains that incisive, solutions-orientated questions enable participants to overcome an impasse and learn how to shift gear. ‘Our focus is intentionally on the softer skills, which to a large extent are more difficult to embed than technical expertise and skill sets,’ says Pearse. ‘We look at improving networking capabilities to collaborate effectively with partners to either explore additional revenue streams or grow exposure to other sectors. We also look at decision-making skills and how these improve the way individuals make both people- and business-related decisions.’

Another key soft skill is mindset, which plays a crucial role in people’s propensity and ability to grow, learn and improve with the rapid pace of change.

Transformation as a purpose

Ideally, empowering entrepreneurs should be a symbiotic relationship, where the SME makes a positive difference to the supply chain as well as the broader economy and society. But in South Africa many corporates miss this opportunity as they still regard enterprise and supplier development primarily as a means to boost their BBBEE credentials.

According to Tefo Setlhare, Botswana requires companies to comply with citizen empowerment policies and national entrepreneurship policy, yet he stresses that Debswana’s programme is not compliance-driven, but purpose-driven by the desire to genuinely transform and diversify the economy, and create shared value. ‘Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship development has to become part of the new normal, not as a separate project, but as part of our company DNA,’ he says. The aggregated value of the entrepreneurship development intervention will contribute towards two broad initiatives of Debswana and arguably, the nation of Botswana. These initiatives are a business transformation & innovation programme focused on building an agile, entrepreneurial, digitalised and partnerships driven Debswana of the future, as well as a Citizen Economic Empowerment Programme (CEEP) for stimulating the right fundamentals and environmental factors for successful citizen entrepreneurs.

Ultimately the partnership with GIBS EDA and NLI aims to create commercially performing suppliers as well as to stimulate entrepreneurship in higher education and leave behind a blueprint for enterprise development that is relevant for Africa and beyond. That way more entrepreneurs might feel they have hit the jackpot.

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