Economic experts have said that to form a solid stable economy there is the need to engage in entrepreneurial activities, especially among developing nations. Topics along this line have formed the basis of discussion for political leaders, investors and analysts in their quest towards finding a lasting solution to youth unemployment and other similar challenges threatening the stability of the nation’s economy.
There is no doubting the utmost importance of these activities which have been identified as a viable engagement tool for youths and women who form the bulk of untapped human resource in Africa. It is on this note that Lindi Gillespie, the Chief Executive Officer, Atlas Africa in an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, shed some light on some of the loopholes in Africa’s business space that prevent foreign investment while sharing from her wealth of experience as a multi-talented entrepreneur, some approaches which can help groom women entrepreneurs. Excerpt:
In a few sentences, please describe the person of LINDI GILLESPIE.
Ms Gillespie is a South African entrepreneur, a multi-talented business person with experience covering a diverse range of fields and extending over a period of two decades. She grew up in Port Elizabeth and finished her Bachelor of Economics degree at the University of Cape Town. She also holds a Marketing Management diploma from the University of Cape Town Business School. Ms Gillespie has a natural flair for communication. Her scope includes networking and connecting people and companies, not only in Southern Africa but also globally.
Presently in Africa, there is a recent trend which seems to support the importance of entrepreneurship and business ownership rather than total dependence on government jobs. As an expert in business and investments would you say the main solution to the challenges faced by the continent will be solved by the exploration of new businesses?
I will say that entrepreneurship is incredibly important to the economic growth of countries and businesses. Entrepreneurship encourages foreign investment which is imperative. I also believe the Government plays a vital role in enabling entrepreneurial activities. This is because the Government decides on taxes and where the public money is spent.
According to a 2010 report by ABSA Small Business South Africa, small business failure rates are as high as 63% in the first two years of trading. What in your opinion is the cause of this alarming figure and how do you think the tide can be changed?
Most startups fail. It is a natural phenomenon for small businesses to struggle in the first two years. What is important, however, is how they weather the storm in their business. These small businesses might have failed because of improper planning or inadequate finances-there are many reasons why businesses including big ones fail so by following strict business plans and considering the consequences of risks to be taken I believe small businesses will stand a better chance.
Some investors within and outside Africa are skeptical when it comes to committing their resources to a business person of African heritage. Why do you think this is so and in what ways can Africans change the narrative in order to attract foreign investments?
In my opinion, this is so because Africans have little or no background in modern business. For most, it is a first-generation circumstance. In those cases political and financial investment are natural. This should not be a source of discouragement as there is new elite in Africa who are showing encouraging characteristics such as Dangote in Nigeria; Masiyiwa in Zimbabwe, and many other top businessmen and women across the continent who through their businesses have attracted one form of foreign investment or the other. These people have understood the tricks of doing great business in Africa and should serve as a guide for others who want to do good business such that more and more investors will be confident having partnerships with Africans.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered during the cause of bridging the gap between business people and possible investors?
It really depends and one cannot generalize. One of the major challenges has to do with the issue of corruption in government which brings about undue bureaucracies; making decision making very slow. Political interference is common as well.
What will be your advice to young women who wish to start up a business that will attract investments?
Take the leap and follow your dreams no matter what the circumstances are. Study as much as possible as knowledge is power. Look into all the options of financial support as the government has support programmes for entrepreneurs and foreign funding.
Be positive and spend time with influential, successful people as they will support your ideas. A successful entrepreneur needs to spend time with successful people who have reached success as they will inspire you through knowledge, to supporting your vision and stimulate your thinking.
How does Atlas Africa reach out to business people who actually need to expand their businesses through networking but have never heard of Atlas Africa?
We are working to do an expansion and update our website to International standards to make for easy flow of information. We are also growing our network of contacts within and outside the country. With this, we will be more visible to the public.
As a woman in the top executive position, what is your take on the issue of marginalization against women across regions?
In Africa, this is a particularly serious problem. In Southern Africa, these are mainly patrilineal male-dominated lineages. Women are marginalized and treated as minors in the culture. This has to be curbed because it greatly affects and cuts short the potentials of women in the society when in fact women have a lot to offer.
As a business expert, there are low moments from time to time. How do you encourage yourself on those days when it seems like things are not just right?
That is every business persons experience without exception. What distinguishes a successful business person from failures is a simple determination to carry on.
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