As I’m writing this, I’ve a bottle of Prosecco Doc Luxury opened and multitasking as a writer and an impassioned drinker of Italian sparkling wine with my flute champagne glass. And due to COVID-19 (well, to some extent), I’m at home in my bed going through how I’ve documented 2020 across my social media platforms and my somewhat illegible printed journal. It’s been a year that has qualified in many books as forgettable and unforgettable, and in its wholesome character has been one that has summoned courage and resilience.
This year started with the embrace of calling me out of familiar environments, and into new territories that knew my capabilities and added capacity along the way. When I left the firm that I was with in late February, I was sure of a few things which included a moderator engagement in Kigali, Rwanda as well as a deserved vacation to a few emirates in the United Arab of Emirates – the trajectory of my career and life was from this point onwards was what I could not have mapped out happening in a space of a few months.
After taking about three months to wallow in the reality that showcased itself through the violence of a pandemic, these months were filled with the relentless job applications acceptances and rejections (that returned with over or under qualified response, or non-culture fit), refining the messaging and positioning of my personal brand, upskilling and consulting businesses and startups in business innovation and strategy. Garnering the momentum in these months, through the work of consulting and continuous effort in Vuyolwethu As A Service was an opportunity to work in the wait, as well as prepare for what the months of stupendous grace that August and the months that followed would present.
It’s often joked about that in 2020, you should at least come out with one skill and I suppose I took that joke a little too seriously. I’ve always been one to outsource the work of skills that I don’t have, which includes the building of this particular website, but through Innovtel, I had a bit too much time on my hands and tons of insomnia to challenge myself to build a website. Through this engagement came an opportunity to work with Lufthansa by being a keynote speaker at their inaugural Impact Week for South Africa and produce a guide of the talk available exclusively to my newsletter community; and a few weeks later, InnovTel (Pty) Ltd was born. Innovtel is an impact design studio that facilitates impact innovation and shared value through Marketing and MIL (monitoring, impact and learning and development). To date, we’ve worked with companies like the University of Cape Town and the Mastercard Foundation, and ShEquity and Bright Insights Global to mention a few, spanning our work across three continents and operating as a five figure business. I stubbornly had to let go of the idea of becoming an entrepreneur by 30, and honour the space in which I was and am being placed in at present.
The experience of shedding through loss of family and friendships, habitual lifestyles and an old self, commanded the fierce submission of the a new way of doing and being. Personally, one of the ways in which I did was through sitting and being at home instead of on a plane and sleeping in a newly made white sheet-fitted hotel room. It felt as if I had lost a sense of mobility and the perceived value that I had attached to it. At home, I had to buy a desk and set aside a space to operate as if I was in a hotel suite or an office, and it’s become a continued way of operating in awareness.
Words and paragraphs are not enough to encapsulate the year of the pivot that was, and the learnings and losses that it carried with it to benefit or throw us completely off. What new ways of being and doing have you had to adopt and adapt to?
I had a brief chat with Viresh Harduth who is the Vice President of Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East about the vision and mission for Sage for small businesses across the region, and how your business can ready itself for the digital transformation and risk beyond COVID-19
1. Viresh, as Vice President of Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East, what exactly does your role entail and how does it, and Sage support small businesses?
My job is to lead sales and renewals, channel development and customer engagement for our start-up and small business solutions portfolio. In practical terms, that means building awareness of our solutions in the marketplace, working with our business partners to help customers meet their business goals, and providing education and information to the market.
Sage’s vision in small business is to help our customers thrive by automating accounting and compliance and by coaching them to success. The way we do this is by reducing administration for our customers, helping customers to comply with tax regulations, and enabling businesses and their accountants to collaborate better.
2. In the established distinction of an SME and a Start-up, do Sage products apply to both? And at what stage should a business consider bringing in the skillset of accountancy and financing in their business, digitized or human capital?
Our goal at Sage is to build relationships with customers for life, so our Sage Business Cloud encompasses offerings for small businesses and start-ups through to sizeable medium businesses. Our solutions, designed for smaller businesses, are tailored to their specific needs, so they can subscribe and get up-and-running at an affordable cost.
Clients can start with a simple solution that makes it easy to invoice customers and track expenses, then move up the ladder to online and accounting solutions with richer functionality for budgeting, forecasting, multi-currency management, inventory tracking, employee self-service, debtors management and more.
Formal businesses – that is, limited companies – will need an accountant to prepare their annual financial statements. They will usually start by outsourcing to an accounting practice. Generally, it is only when the business grows into a larger and more complex operation that they will consider a permanent accountant. We are seeing accountants in practice become real advisors to small business clients, helping them with strategic advice around optimising costs and finding growth opportunities.
3. Before your current role, you were the Director of Optimisation and Operations at Sage International and I’d like to think that you, more than anyone else recognises the importance of embedding business optimization tools to contribute to your business’ success. How does and can Sage do this for small to medium businesses?
Our business solutions help our clients to optimise their business in two ways. Firstly, we streamline and automate many tasks for them, from financial recordkeeping, invoicing to filing tax submissions, saving them hours of human time each month. That time can then be directed to sales, strategy, billable work or other activities that add value. Automating red-tape and paperwork is a significant cost-saver.
Secondly, we understand that making the most of business opportunities must be balanced with managing cash flow and keeping costs under control. Companies need a clear, real-time view of how the business is performing to achieve that goal. Our solutions empower them with the business performance information they need to make good financial choices that translate into higher revenues and profits.
Making an investment in your business’ digital transformation is an investment that takes more than one purchase and optimising one process, it is an evolving strategy that takes time, skills and the right technology.
4. As small businesses are moving from being digitally resistant to the aspirational observers and challengers, and ultimately digital natives, what would be your advice to founders of things to consider as they map out their digital strategy?
Digital technology doesn’t need to be as complex as some small businesses outside the tech industry might imagine. A good place to start is by identifying areas where manual processes are slowing you down, costing you money, restricting your flexibility or hampering your customer experience. From there, you can look for cloud-based solutions that address your pain points through automation. Many of these tools can be trialed for a month or two for free.
To sum up: digital technology is at its most powerful when you’re starting with the goal of solving a business problem. As a small business owner, you might have limited budget and time to rapidly incorporate new technologies and skills into your business, so look for the quick wins. And remember that the cloud can adapt as your business changes and grows, remaining a valuable business tool that evolves with you.
5. Your message to founders as they are coming out of Global Entrepreneurship Month, and into a 2021 that will definitely still require us to do business differently?.
At Sage, we know the pandemic has compounded the effects of the recession, and that many small businesses are struggling just to pay the rent and keep the lights on. Their grit and resilience are inspiring, as is the role they are playing in maintaining jobs and economic activity throughout this time. But if you are running a small business, you’ll know that platitudes are not going to be enough.
There are no quick fixes for the damage that the pandemic may have dealt to your cash reserves and your cash flow. Nonetheless, there are also opportunities to get closer to your customers and find new purpose in a crisis. Stay focused on your vision, watch your cashflow, and look out for how customer behaviour is changing. Aiming for small wins makes you flexible, adaptable, and able to make faster decisions.
It’s the year that no futurist or economist could have predicted, one inhabited by a virus that would (and still) impact livelihoods, businesses, economies and our way of living. The negative socio-economic rippling effect of COVID-19 has been felt across all vectors, and in a similar light, has inspired entrepreneurial and innovative activity that’s yielded products and partnerships that have impacted and pivoted the world as we know it. On the 14th of October, I announced such a partnership, a SAGE Partnership to benefit small businesses across South Africa.
In the midst of the pandemic, and after weeks of anxiously contemplating whether to take the plunge and spending a week of building a facilitated learning platform, I launched www.innovtel.org which houses courses, e-books and InnovTel and Teach webinars on impact innovation. Birthed through our first partnership with a global leading aviation company in providing advisory and mentorship on impact innovation, InnovTel (Pty) Ltd (an impact design studio that facilitates impact innovation and shared value through design, advisory and project management) was registered a company was born.
You’re probably thinking, what a crazy time to launch! Me too, at first. I also thought, what a relevant time to engage on impact and tools that can innovatively impact the way in which we practice and understand impact. A necessary opportunity to map out what impact means for your business, and what tools to use when listening to the potential impact and growth that can be achieved.
Recently, through InnovTel and Teach, which is one of the products of www.innovtel.org , we engaged with an entrepreneur on how she is building her multi-million venture, and one of the core principles of this impact was finances. She simply said to build your business as though you are building a legacy baby and it was her accountant who gave her this sage advice.
Being a small business owner, I knew that I could waste no time in tracking the finances of my business, and in my relationship with data and intelligence, Excel was my chosen tool of choice for my business, coupled with my relationship with my banker in understanding the trajectory that I wanted to take my business in. However, I knew I needed more to optimise my operations, and my partnership with SAGE could not have been more timeous, especially since I didn’t have an accountant on my business speed dial.
SAGE, a multinational enterprise software company, and I, will be engaging in #SAGEAdvice harnessing insights and expertise, and sharing how #SageForSmallBiz tools and capabilities for SMEs can optimize business operations through digitization. Over the next few months, we’ll be unpacking what this exactly means, and how things like automated processes, getting the right tools for your business finances, choosing the right business program partners, what impact is and how getting these process right and much more can contribute to the growth and success of your business.
For now, here’s a little gift from SAGE, an e-book guide with 10 tips to transform your productivity and how changing something as simple and important as your accounting admin can have a huge impact on your business.
In February, I had honoured the invitation of moderating the Investor Forum at the annual Timeless Women’s Conference in Kigali, Rwanda which is one of the leading women empowerment conferences in Africa, and truly a Pan-African experience. Garnished with high-level speakers such as former First Ladies, Members of Parliament, Executives and Impact -driven Entrepreneurs, it was a convening that invited an opportunity to measure and see how Africans and those in the diaspora can do so in engaging discussions, and through that, create shared value.
Traveling to Rwanda for the first time, it certainly lived up to the expectation of it being one of the technology capitals of Africa. The moment I landed at Kigali International Airport, I was met with the warmest of service at the counters and my visa processed on arrival without any hassles. Before I knew it, it was time to get on stage at the two-day event, and moderate the investor forum which highlighted about Investing in Africa through themes including and not limited to Policy and Regulation, FDI and DFI, SMMEs, Digitization and Inclusive Capital Deployment. If anything to come out of the session, it’s that capital and innovation can’t solely be reliant on the private sector, government has to not only be visible in and during elections, but throughout the year, and so its work.
“Intra-Africa trade has been historically low. Intra-African exports were 16.6%
of total exports in 2017, compared with 68% in Europe and 59% in Asia,
pointing to untapped potential.” – World Economic Forum
“According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), under the African
Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), intra-African trade is likely to
increase by 52.3% by 2020.”– United Nations
Taking the above statistics into considerations, the engaged conference and traveling to one of Africa’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Hotspots and one of the five fastest-growing economies on the continent, inspired me to analyse and share the concept of CSV through the diaspore lens, and through the channel of lessons learnt through my few days in Rwanda.
An academic concept coined by Harvard Business School Professors Michael Porter and Mark R. Kramer and was introduced in 2011 in the Harvard Business Review article ‘Creating Shared Value.’, this concepts looks at the core of wealth creation through shared value. CSV asks the question of how do you capitalise the very capitalism to trade, scale and share in profits and social impact by not trading off the one for the other?
CSV has been proposed to be achieved in THREE ways, and that is by Reconceiving products and markets, Redefining productivity in the value chain and Enabling local cluster development. Let’s take a look at how we can enable. Nurture and catalyse the principle of CSV and dive into examples and proposals of such an effort:
- Reconceiving Products and Markets
The first of the three keys of CSV in unlocked in creating new products and services or markets that will serve the socio-economic needs identified. This is the opportunity for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to activate value through the channel of new product innovation, and/or integrate them in products and markets that already exist.
Market-creating innovation (innovation that doesn’t rely on post infrastructure society and the financial markets it’ll create) that will help close the infrastructure financing gap in the range of US$68-US$108 billion. We need to propel further access into education for this opportunity and retain young people as per Whitney Houston (I believe the children are our future) – we need to let them lead the way. We need to center the youth in these dialogues, we encourage that.
Examples of such innovations are crowdfunding platforms as open innovation tools for co-creation, startups changing the course of African innovation and a COVID-19 investor matchup tool for startups (piloting). These examples continue to call upon the power of collaboration, creating new products (new or incremental) and a desire for a new market.
- Redefining Productivity in the Value Chain
Creating new products is great, but how do we ensure that efficiency is created, monitored and evaluated on par with the excellence that the product is created with? The value chain in Africa disrupted by one of few mechanisms, that of which includes the role of government in actualising the full potential of its nations. Looking at channels to access, use and manage resources, energy, suppliers, logistics innovatively and to full potential, and more productively is a unique opportunity as it is a challenge. African leadership is more than unfortunately regarded for the moral decay in leadership. Africa needs to become deliberate about the type of leadership that the continent requires to continue to open the runway for investment. Transformational leaders who are thinking generationally.
The difference in policy and regulations is that sometimes the policy frameworks doesn’t gel as well as with the outcome of the policy. We need to ensure that the AfCFTA and its compliance will bear the fruit that the projections of impact are highlighting. Government must lead prioritize in creating an enabling environment where better policies and regulations can be established for not only the multinationals but the SMMEs – creating Startup Acts and executing AfCFTA (now delayed due to COVID-19).
- Enabling Local Network and Development
Over the course of the years, we’ve witnessed and some participated in the FDI and particularly the investment in education, youth and technology as we’ve seen with Andela, Africa Netpreneur Prize (with Alibaba and Jack Ma), the expansion of Facebook Developer Circles across African cities and Mark Zuckerburg’s visit to Nigeria – this trend is one of clear opportunity that has potential to alleviate many social ills of our society. Improving the local operating environment through skills development and development training will invite coding academies like GirlCode, startup competitions like Seedstars World, incubating organisations like Foundervine and government-led innovations like Kigali Innovation City and its collaborators to pave the way. This is nothing new for Africa, and the through the interconnectedness and shared passion across the diaspora, CSV can be leveraged for its economic benefits to serve.
Ready to Create and Impact Value?
When we refer to the industrial revolutions and mention the empires that changed the course of history, that of the African Renaissance is often eclipsed. In his book Tech Adjacent, engages on the pioneering continent that Africa was and still is when it comes to technology, research and development and innovation. This leads us to the statistics provided earlier on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and the need to develop mechanisms that something like 4IR can bring to radicalize economic value and growth.
So what will it take to tap into this value and create it? The secret sauce is Africa is in the continent’s true diversity, resources, youth, (cross sector) collaboration, intra-African trade, community and innovation.
Investing in Africa and the diaspora is a paradigmatic moment for the continent and is inviting various stakeholders including DFIs and independent investors from across the globe. AFCTA is the heart of investment confidence at present in interstate trade and development talks. Partnerships and collaboration are prime in executing the policy frameworks and projects, and conferences like these hotbeds for creating such opportunities.
Although the science of CSV is that it pays for itself and is Daviding the Goliath of capitalism, capital resource allocation is the root of why the scales are not balanced, and how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has come to pass. Also, in areas and communities where capital and its resources are needed for economic activity, a priority needs to place beyond championing the gift of food parcels. Africa and the diaspora can, are and will maximise the profit of nations and their organisations and continue to connect the thread and networks to inclusively innovate and develop for economic and development purposes.