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Econet boss wants more support for youth enterprises



Rose Moremoholo

MASERU – TELECOMMUNICATIONS mogul and founder of Econet (Pty) Ltd, Strive Masiyiwa, says African banks are not designed to assist a young person with an idea.

Speaking at the Eighth Annual Conference of the Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) in Maseru last Friday, Masiyiwa said banks are even less designed to receive a woman with an idea.

Masiyiwa’s Econet is a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries.

He also business interests in the renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality sectors.

He said Africa is “not short of entrepreneurs, it is one of the continents that is blessed with having entrepreneurs”.

“If it weren’t so, we would have riots. Our young people are entrepreneurs, my mother was an entrepreneur, those people in the markets are entrepreneurs,” Masiyiwa said.

“Our challenge is not entrepreneurship. Our challenge is capacity building of our entrepreneurs.”

Giving them the resources and skills that turn entrepreneurs into bigger enterprises is what we need, he said.

Masiyiwa said young people are full of ideas but do not have access to capital, adding that banks are reluctant to invest in an idea even if it looks good.

Masiyiwa said “where improvement is needed is on how to fund young entrepreneurs, how to give them the skill of institutional building, mentoring them in taking an idea and building an enterprise, teaching them how to hire the right people, learning financial skills, preparation of accounts”.

“It is not about encouraging people to become entrepreneurs, we have a lot of entrepreneurs,” Masiyiwa said.

Masiyiwa said governments do not give jobs but entrepreneurs do, so “our young people need to know that the future is in their hands and they need to build up on that.

“Bank systems should change, banks need to think of collateral in a different way. Cattle should be collateral,” he said.

Masiyiwa said he took notice of climate change and ventured into renewable energy.

He said in today’s business world more than any time, businesses need to be actively involved in the community.

Masiyiwa said Kofi Annan, a former secretary general of the United Nations, was part of the project called AGRA to help smallholder farmers.

They travelled to Mali to meet smallholder farmers who told them about climate change and how it was affecting their crops.

Masiyiwa said 70 percent of food we eat is from women farmers, smallholder farmers.

“How do we help those to improve the level of productivity, finding better markets for their products? That’s where I started.”

It was from this challenge that Masiyiwa found a business opportunity in renewable energy.

“In finding solutions, there is a business opportunity that we can be proactive in. Just as President Obama’s Chief of Staff said, ‘there is always a good crisis”.

Masiyiwa said corruption is the most destructive challenge Africa is facing in the post colonial years.

“It sucks and destroys the very fabric of our nations. Our fathers fought to end colonial domination and you must take up the fight to end corruption the same way,” he said.

“It does not only happen in governments, it happens in businesses.”

He said an accountant is the first line of defence because they are able to say something is wrong after seeing the numbers.

“Every time we condone corruption there is a child not going to school, a clinic not built, medicine not provided. We cannot make progress unless we end corruption,” Masiyiwa said.

“Everyone has a skill to enable a living. Not everyone goes to university and we have to make sure that those who don’t go have the necessary skills to make a living,” he said.

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