There are three immediate opportunities to deliver growth in South Africa, but it requires us to acknowledge that rebel type thinking is constructive and that rebel type actions may just provide the solutions we are looking for, writes BSC Applied CEO Andreas Cambitsis.
South Africa is not asking the right questions about what’s required to positively influence its economic and social trajectory. For too long now, the debate has centered on what steps government should be taking to bed down pronounced levels of policy certainty – and while this clearly matters – isn’t what will singularly unlock a path to growth. Growth is instead, a collective responsibility and a collective result of new decisions and actions that challenge, improve and where appropriate disregard the status quo. What we’re not doing is asking the questions about where we disregard the status quo.
If we are to park the policy question, it begs a discussion about what other solutions we should be putting on the table. Taking back the locus of control is rather about how policy enables decisions instead of limiting the thinking behind them. The emphasis must shift towards a collective effort to understand our environment, to where we use science to solve for our challenges and as a result, to where we embrace what amounts to a new “rebel path” that enables our future.
Without a doubt this means that we need to start making decisions that challenge accepted norms and drive real behaviours that deliver. But the question remains, rebel path in what areas? There are three immediate opportunities to deliver growth in South Africa, but it requires us to acknowledge that rebel type thinking is constructive and that rebel type actions may just provide the solutions we are looking for.
- The rebel path to unlocking access to low cost and ubiquitous energy by investing in solar energy:
It remains a real tragedy that we are not one of the world’s top producers of solar power given the very favourable climatic conditions. A rebel decision to no longer invest massive amounts of capital in building traditional fossil powered plants and instead scientifically planning out how the same capital can be invested to effectively empower households to put up roof top solar power that feeds the grid has not been given the focus it deserves.
The rebels in all of us as South Africans, would need to bravely disregard how municipalities earn revenue off electricity and rather focus our effort on calculating the offset value of investment in solar against the value of free capital this creates, as well as what this measurably means in terms of municipal and public gain as a result. It is an undoubtedly rebel decision. But in acknowledging this, should we not be embracing the alternatives it can provide? Can it not create a new roadmap to innovation that generates jobs, leapfrogs our energy security risks and creates sustainable investment opportunities? The numbers would likely stack up both in capital savings as well as the secondary economic and social growth it generates and what this means for the fiscus in the longer term; not to mention the positive environmental impact.
- The rebel path to leapfrog technical readiness and competitiveness:
According to a recent report produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, South Africa is ranked 42nd in its global technical readiness. Not exactly a great argument for investment, but if we’re honest also brings with it no rebel thinking and results. Contrary to this, South Africa is also ranked in the top 10 markets globally in terms of mobile penetration. Surely there is a measurable and defined solution on how we use high levels of mobile penetration to leapfrog how we embrace technology in our economy and society and promote ease of doing business?
So, while we can acknowledge that to a large degree our current telco landscape positions us for growth, it does raise some rebel questions about how we move faster to deliver 5G access, how we finally sort out spectrum access, and lastly how we innovate to create a landscape that promotes investment and low latency internet coverage at scale. What is important here is that it ultimately benefits small business growth and development through access to data, but at the same time does not disintermediate local companies who currently provide these products and services.
The rebels in us should seek to be doing both. In a future where we are accessing cheaper satellite networks that reduce data costs, we should be looking to invest the savings in more innovative end use products and services that beneficiate data and promote our competitiveness as an investment destination. The planning for this starts now. Brave, perhaps … but entirely necessary if we are to gear ourselves for a business and skills landscape that doesn’t exist yet.
- The rebel path to technology lead learning models that deliver the skills we will need well into the future:
The implication of both rebel paths is the dire need to move the needle on education and the reality that we are not moving fast enough. This creates the need for a rebel path in education itself.
There are only so many physical schools we can build, but none of these will deliver the effective speed we need to meet the future demands of competitive skills from our society. We must embrace the rebel path that places technology lead learning methods and content at the centre, along with the appreciation that it is key to the exponential growth we need. There are many fragmented corporate social responsibility efforts to drive this in South Africa, but there is very little alignment that focuses this at the sharp end of the blade and delivers the aligned impact and scale it actually needs.
Added to this, is the time and learning at a management level that will be required to deliver a new generation of senior management that is more comfortable with technology and its role in business.
If South Africa is to emerge from its current growth “slump”, then it needs to begin to embrace what the rebel path to success looks likes. South Africans are inherently can-do rebels by nature. Indeed, our inherent non-conformist nature and culture makes our society more amenable to pursuing the rebel path in making these things happen. Key to this is the political will to change approach and to spark an engaged evolution towards real progress and competitiveness. It is time to embrace the rebel path to growth and shared success.