#6 Summer 2016

Bridging the access gap

Durban Metro: Unequal Scenes

©Durban Metro: Unequal Scenes

South Africa is widely acknowledged to be one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a massive imbalance in the economy and therefore a disparity between our citizens in terms of access to education, healthcare, housing and safety. At an economic level, this manifests in a two-tier system in terms of access (and lack thereof) to capital and knowledge infrastructure. In the absence of intervention, this divide is only set to broaden in an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

As business leaders and leaders in our fields of excellence, we are duty-bound to seek out ways to correct these imbalances. Access to financial acumen and the skills required to grow small to medium microenterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa are critical.

Particularly important in our view is implementing a sustainable yet comprehensive employee value proposition – as finding, developing, nurturing and retaining talent is a key component in nurturing the engine room of SMMEs – their people – in the knowledge-based economy. By creating the capacity for our people to better themselves and their families, by protecting them with medical care, life assurance, retirement savings and the capacity to improve their families’ fortunes within the next generation through education and nurturing skills and knowledge formation.

These provisions have a multiplier effect. Take the example of the first graduate from a family – an example we can all relate to. Through hard work and some good luck, a young woman is able to secure a bursary to attend university from a hardened rural background. She excels and thrives and is rewarded with a fulfilling career that allows her to support her family at home and nurture future generations of the extended family. There are so many demands on this young graduate which a similar graduate from a more privileged background does not face! In the South African context, this is often colloquially known as ‘black tax’, as the broad majority of young first-time graduates who need to support families at home are (unsurprisingly) black Africans. Imagine a world where, as employers, we can support our rising star and support her family, so that, in time, the family as a whole is uplifted and can collectively support our knowledge economy? A beautiful thought, but at the same time we need to commit to the today (in terms of enhancing our support for her).

Furthermore, we need to give wings to these young people so that they are not the job-taker today, but rather become a generation of job-creators, or entrepreneurs, who have financial support (whether that means finance, insurance, advice or access to markets) in order to develop their own businesses and thereby resolve the scourge of unemployment and its nasty sibling – poverty.

Thinking from the mind-set of an employee should not be hard to do. We must ask ourselves what we need today to build our career. To protect our family. To provide for the future and its unknowns.

In the here and now, we require simplicity in transfer of financial knowledge and solutions which, at their core, help our employees (and ourselves) succeed. These tools must not simply fit within the framework with National Treasury and the National Development Plan aim to create.

To quote a doyen of marketing research, Peter Drucker, “Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.” This innovation can be the critical link in partnering with government and civil society in resolving the knowledge economy question. By focusing on innovation which supports our future entrepreneurs – the first generation of our knowledge workers – we can create employment which will seriously alter the future of our continent.

John Taylor is an investment marketing actuary at Liberty Corporate with extensive experience in investment consulting and product development on retirement funding investments. His previous expertise ranges from pension fund valuations to asset consulting.

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