About 15 years ago I was at a telecommunications conference in Zambia and talking to some very qualified African economists. We were talking about the long-term growth opportunities for Zambia and one of them shared his opinion that aid-based economic support would be the death of the continent. Of course this received varied, and some very heated reaction – especially as the country was just about to emerge from technical bankruptcy and be declared “fiscally rehabilitated” by the IMF.
But it got me to thinking differently about what the impact of social support and economic aid is on a society, and what mind set of control and dependency it fosters.
South Africa is still trying to navigate the maze of emergence from a biased, repressive past. On the one hand we have an economy that is committed to competing, often punching above its weight, on free-market global stage. On the other hand, we have a clear and fundamental national priority of levelling an uneven socio-economic playing field.
The one element to this maze that I feel is not yet receiving the right quality of attention is entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship has the ability to unlock a different level of empowerment. It creates the opening to shift from the need for others to create opportunity, and instead relies on the resourcefulness of the entrepreneur in exploiting the solid economy that we enjoy in South Africa.
This is key: it does not require third-party intervention in order to determine success. This is what my esteemed colleague in Zambia was getting at. Simply put, it removes dependency.
Empowerment that comes through a company changing its employment strategy, or teaching you skills it wants you to have, or giving you a promotion; is conditional empowerment. Of course this offers short-term value. However in the longer term it deprives you of the true essence of being empowered: self-creation.
Being able to harness true empowerment, requires a vital shift in mind set from “I need to be empowered / uplifted” to “I create my own empowerment / upliftment”.
The mind set of “I can create my future” is at the heart of being an entrepreneur. It is the heart of self-empowerment, and this is in fact TRUE empowerment.
How we unlock this mind set is simple, and not easy. It requires an ultimate letting go, dropping, of the need for another to provide me with opportunity. It requires an incorruptible commitment to creating my own future. This incorruptibility is what sets successful entrepreneurs apart from those that fail. It is an incorruptibility to find a way to succeed; no backdoors, no half-measures, no options of a safety net. It’s the mind set of
“I’m all in, for me, in totality”.
Doesn’t that FEEL empowering?