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The View From Afar

Western media, specifically the British press, are notorious for attitudes that are (at best) patronising when directed at Africa. But is there still truth to this perception? Is South Africa really regarded as backward by the UK’s great newspapers?

Entrepreneur

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Businessmen on the map

In early June I got a call from Richard Lapper, the recently appointed Johannesburg correspondent for the Financial Times. Lapper, a British citizen, said he’d heard about my book Ways of Staying – specifically, he told me, he’d heard that the book dealt with the question of middle-class South African emigration, a subject he was interested in learning more about.

We arranged a meeting for the following afternoon, and I opened the discussion by correcting Lapper’s misconception. “As the book’s title suggests,” I said, “it’s more about how people stay than why they leave.” This then led into a broad discussion on leftist politics, societal inequalities and the responsibilities of the privileged. Eventually, as we were calling for the bill, Lapper told me that he’d come to South Africa from Brazil, where for many years he was the FT’s Latin American editor.

“I published a piece a few weeks ago called ‘Zuma should learn from Lula’,” he said. “You may want to read it.”

I did exactly that as soon as I got home. Happily, the piece was anything but the sort of one-dimensional, ill-conceived hatchet job that many of us have come to expect from foreign journalists writing about South Africa.

In 2002, began Lapper, shortly before Lula da Silva became president of Brazil, the country’s elite were in a panic. A common refrain was: “[Lula] is going to win the election…so the crisis is going to get much bigger and soon.” Obviously, Lapper’s hook was that the same was being said of Zuma in the months before the South African elections of April 2009. What moral lessons, if any, can be drawn from these two examples? Given the clear differences in outlook between Lapper and Jenkins, there’s an inclination to argue that what we’re dealing with here is balancing extremes – a simple case of losing on the swings and winning on the roundabouts. But unfortunately, as suggested above, Lapper is more than an “extreme”. The FT correspondent is an exception.

Western media’s default stance on Africa – and within the purview of Western media, South Africa is hardly ever assessed independently of the continent – remains as predictable as ever: we’re dark, dangerous, intractable, backward. A cursory glance at most of the world’s mainstream news networks, newspapers and news websites is enough to confirm this enduring fact. Still, if further proof is needed, one can always interrogate the perceptions of those journalists who write about African countries without ever having actually visited them. Take Louise Taylor, for instance, “north-east football correspondent” for the UK’s Guardian, the same leftist-intellectual institution that publishes Jenkins.

In early July, Taylor wrote a “sportsblog” for her newspaper under the header “Why going to South Africa for the World Cup terrifies me”. Her article, which attracted 740 online comments, many of them from irate South Africans, opened with a quote from a travel brochure on the country’s physical beauty. In paragraph three, Taylor hit her theme: “I’ve never been but would love to take a typical Cape Town/Garden Route-type holiday. What I would definitely balk at, though, is touring as a fan at next year’s World Cup – an event, with the final 12 months away, we are counting down to. Indeed, having done a bit of research on the subject, I know I’d be absolutely terrified…”

Why, you ask? Well, South Africa’s murder, rape and robbery stats are easily available to anyone with an Internet browser, and quite rightly Taylor cites them all. She also cites the apparent lack of safe public transport and the fact that the world’s biggest security firm, G4S, has declined to work at the 2010 tournament. Likewise, fair enough. But then she continues with a strange piece of attribution, borrowed from a co-journalist named Gabriele Marcotti, who, unlike her, had been to South Africa – for the Confederations Cup, in fact – and so clearly knew what he was talking about. “Marcotti wrote of some long, unpleasant drives in the dark after covering matches. Commenting on the lack of dual carriageways and lit highways in certain areas, he described negotiating one road heading towards Jo’burg as ‘like snorkelling in a sewer filled with squid ink’. Shortly afterwards came the sad news that a German journalist had been killed in a car accident while driving to a Confederations Cup match.”

What we are presumably to take from this is that there are no road accidents or unlit roads in Germany, right? But wait, there’s more. Taylor’s pièce de résistance is reserved for the end, where she shares her belief that if World Cup 2010 really had to go to Africa, Egypt would have been the ideal choice. Her logic? No crime, of course. And also this: “Surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup.” The best response came from a punter in the comments section, who said that maybe we should host 2010 in Babylon, because hey, they built excellent gardens.

Yet Lula, a man from an underprivileged background who was once a trade union leader and founder of a major leftwing party, went on to steer Brazil towards a period of relative economic prosperity. He did this, Lapper observed, while focusing on the plight of the poor and steadily expanding his country’s social welfare network. Lapper concluded: “In Brazil Mr Lula da Silva was able to use his ‘man of the people’ image to contain expectations of overnight change, and persuade supporters to stick with him for the long haul. It is a trick that Mr Zuma could repeat.”

Notwithstanding the protests and strikes that would grip South Africa some two months later, it was an important and incisive article, notable as much for the pragmatic perspective it offered its influential readership as it was for its undeniable rarity. Because who could forget what had only seven weeks before been published in the Guardian, that proud bastion of British liberalist thought?

Written by popular columnist Simon Jenkins, the now-infamous piece began thus: “As I basked in the epic view of Table Mountain, with the sun sinking gently across the world’s most gloriously sited city, I could not resist the old Afrikaner cliché that this was God’s own country. ‘Yes,’ replied a friend wearily, ‘and He is about to give us a criminal and a rapist as president. Big deal.’ Those dealing with South Africa must probably get used to Jacob Zuma’s style of government, morally contaminated, administratively chaotic and corrupt.” Zuma, of course, wasted no time in suing the Guardian for defamation. The South African president won his case on 30 July – when an acceptable settlement was reached in the United Kingdom High Court of Justice Queen’s bench division.

To be fair, while Taylor and Jenkins are symbolic of a dominant and deep-seated Western media bias, a handful of the foreign correspondents based full-time in South Africa seem well aware of the Eurocentric prejudices they work within, and some make every effort to inject subtlety and nuance into their reports. Like his predecessor at the FT Alec Russell, Lapper seems to understand that large investment decisions may well hinge on what he writes, and so not only must he be accurate and balanced on the economic issues, but as importantly, he must strive to reflect the wider socio-political context as well.

The same could once be said of Chris McGreal, the former southern African correspondent for the Guardian, even if it couldn’t always be said of his colleagues in London. And David Smith, McGreal’s replacement, so far seems intent on making amends for the Guardian’s recent embarrassments – his few pieces on South Africa have shown an uncanny understanding of our inherent contradictions, particularly those illogical cracks that are now starting to show in the president himself.

“On Wednesday [22 July],” wrote Smith in late July, “as youths fought running battles with police in Siyathemba township (near Johannesburg), jobless people marched and looted shops in Durban, and residents of Pilisi Farm informal settlement barricaded a highway with burning tyres and stoned passing cars, Zuma was at the Union Buildings with Sir Richard Branson. It was not, in fairness, a publicity stunt for the tireless entrepreneur’s Virgin Atlantic, but rather the joint announcement of a disease control centre for South Africa.

“At the press conference, however, Zuma refused to answer questions about the service delivery protests.” The task of foreign correspondents, of course, is not to paint rosy pictures; yet neither is it to inform by sensationalism and degradation and the peddling of harmful myths. If Zuma is indeed to get through his challenges and emerge as a Lula, at least we have two correspondents who are equal to the telling.

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Business Landscape

We Need To Unite For A Better Entrepreneurial Future!

Here are my key entrepreneurial tips from The Passport Showcase.

Godfrey Madanhire

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entrepreneurship

In our modern world, where nationalists walk the street and xenophobic beliefs are on the rise, as a Zimbabwean serial entrepreneur and motivational speaker, I’ve identified that we need to bridge this division and unite us all through celebrating our diversity.

We need to come together not because it’s the right thing to do, but because united, we can work towards a profitable future.  However, before this can happen, we need to change the global mindset. That’s why I transformed my book The Passport into a showcase in which performers from across the continent took part and showed off their talents.

While preparing for the show I noted some important lessons that I learnt along the way. Here are my key entrepreneurial tips from The Passport Showcase.

Success can’t happen in a vacuum!

Setting up The Passport Showcase took a lot of collaboration. As an entrepreneur and a believer in a united Africa, I’ve learned you can’t operate a successful business if you’re not willing to work and deliver services to everyone. It’s for this reason I invited fashion designers, artists, and dancers, to come together and educate us about the dangers of xenophobic beliefs through their art forms.

We need to be able to blend skills and overcome our preconceived notions, in business and the arts, so that we can achieve great things.

Related: As An Entrepreneur, Be A Motivational Leader To Your Staff

Education is the key to every problem

It’s a part of starting any business; educating the public about your company and quickly converting them into consumers. Arguably the same was true of the showcase, creating a truly unique experience to inform the public about celebrating diversity.

Helping individuals understand that acceptance is key for a better future is critical for business expansion. If any of us want to expand our businesses, we need to be able to engage with different markets – who won’t chase away the unknown.

Be different

Identifying a new opportunity is one of the fundamental building blocks for a new business. Finding unique solutions is a truth that echoes across corporate industries and the arts. But change can cause concern and adverse reactions.

On our continent, ideas that disrupt the norm are needed to catapult our brothers and sisters to a brighter future. But this can only be achieved when we celebrate our diversities and collaborate.

Related: 8 Books Every Manager Should Read To Become A Better Leader

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Business Landscape

9 Ways To Elevate Your Small Business To The Next Level

The South African economy is strongly supported by the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit, which encourages a culture of growth and development in communities.

FedEx

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With the unemployment rate currently at 27.71%, people of all ages and backgrounds are looking for an opportunity to work.

Although many entrepreneurs have enjoyed great success on their small business journeys, choosing to start your own business comes with many risks. One of these risks is the financial burden it can bring. While there are various challenges faced by small businesses, it is possible to overcome these and jumpstart your business with these useful tips from FedEx Express, the world’s largest express transportation company.

1. Connect with customers

As a small business owner, it is important to know who your customers are, where they spend their time, what they are looking for and how your business can meet their needs. Times have changed and waiting for customers to come to you is no longer a feasible business strategy. In today’s evolving business environment, entrepreneurs need to be approaching their customers and building strong relationships with them to form a lasting impression. If your small business cannot grow its customer base, it cannot grow profits.

2. Network

Attending networking events will allow you to find professionals and other small business owners who offer services your business may require. Many small business owners get this critical aspect of starting a new business wrong by networking purely to gain customers, not realising that networking with other business can assist you in acquiring the services you need to continue the growth of your business. Small businesses have a lot to gain through networking at the right time and at relevant events.

Related: Licensed To Thrill: Meeting The Global Demand For Merchandised Products

3. Use social media

There are a number of social media networks and social networking platforms that can drastically grow your business, however, it is important to understand your customers and identify the channels they prefer to communicate on. By implementing a comprehensive social media strategy, you can ensure social media works as a driver of new business that positively promotes your service offerings.

4. Build customer loyalty

Building customer loyalty begins with great customer service. Great customer service starts with a positive customer experience and first impressions are vital in this regard. If a customer has an enjoyable experience when using your services, it is likely they will return and use your services on an ongoing basis. By ensuring your business has a user friendly website and informative brand collateral, new business prospects will increase and those who have experienced quality customer service from your business are likely to refer you to friends and colleagues.

5. Ask for help

All small businesses face challenges, particularly in the early operational stage. This is why asking for help from your peers/mentor who may be more experienced than you is critical. Tapping into the mind of someone with more experience and a broader knowledge base will ensure you learn and acquire the skills needed to make a success of your business. The FedEx Small Business portal offers business owners useful advice that will assist you on your small business journey. Visit www.smallbusiness.fedex.com for tips and success stories that will inspire and help you to grow your small business.

6. Hire the right people

Each person that forms part of your business needs to share the same vision with you that will drive growth. Your workforce will be responsible for the success of your business therefore, ensuring your staff remains motivated is important. When hiring a new employee, implement a check list that includes traits that you feel are imperative to the culture of your business.

Asking out-of-the-box questions in the interview will also assist you in determining if the potential employee is a suitable candidate to fill the open position.

7. Manage cash flow well

Many small businesses close due to cash flow problems. Managing money spent versus money earned is critical as it provides you with a clear indication of whether your business is running at a loss or whether you are excelling. If your small business is losing money, you can implement a strategy to iron out the issues that are contributing to this and identify ways that will ensure your business generates profits.

Related: How Online Embroidery Shop Trish Burr Found Business Success With Support From FedEx Express

8. Work to build success

Work to make a success out of your business with your employees by being involved in the everyday activities that are critical to your businesses success. Being involved will ensure employee morale remains high while allowing you to identify areas that need improvement.

9. Find inspiration

There will always be someone who has been in your current position, even if it is a different business to yours. Learning how they made a success of their business during hard times will provide you with the knowledge you need to succeed as a business owner. Starting your own business is a learning experience made easier by speaking to others who inspire you.

A business can safeguard its success if it continues to innovate. For example, e-commerce has changed the way the world conducts business, and the rise in technology has made it easier to interact with customers quickly and across borders. With economies becoming more interconnected, companies large and small are now able to access markets that were previously unattainable. E-commerce will assist small businesses in establishing their territory in the market and as a result, guarantee growth and longevity,” concludes Higley.

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Business Landscape

How Algorithmic Forecasting Can Improve Business Efficiency In Challenging Economic Times

Harnessing the power of predictive analytics, in-memory computing, and artificial intelligence to forecast risks will help entrepreneurs stay ahead.

Carryn Tennent

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Algorithmic Forecasting

The ability for businesses to accurately predict risk and develop insights has traditionally involved manual drudgery, spreadsheets, and been confined mainly to the finance department.

With the advent of new technologies such as predictive analytics, in-memory computing, and artificial intelligence (AI), smart Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) are harnessing their power to automate the process, free up human capacity, and get deeper, more accurate insights.

The success of any business, from small start-up to large enterprise, depends on how accurately they can predict future performance, as well as recognise and respond to warning signals.

Deloitte recently launched a report titled Forecasting in a digital world, the sixth in its Crunch Time series for CFOs, which delves into the advantages of algorithmic forecasting and why it will change and challenge the way businesses look at and consume data.

There is a shift away from having people gather, compile and manipulate data, to handing over the menial work to the machines – which employ data-fuelled, predictive algorithms to sift through historical data and use statistical models to describe what is likely to happen in the future.

It is a process that relies on warehouses of historical company and market data, statistical algorithms chosen by experienced data scientists, and modern computing capabilities that make collecting, storing, and analysing data fast and affordable.

Algorithmic forecasting is a well-oiled machine, with more than 80 percent of the work happening automatically. Every piece of financial data a decision maker could want is available on their device and all they need to do is ask—literally.

How it change the workforce

While it seems like the machines are taking over, humans are not left entirely out of the process. The success of algorithmic forecasting depends on collaboration with the machines and among people from different teams, including finance, data analytics, and business.

The business finance talent model should evolve to keep up with changes in how work gets done and that will likely require a different mix of people than what organisations have in place today.

However, once they hit their stride, these teams can move across the range of forecasting needs, embedding capabilities in the business and driving integration. These teams are integral to establishing an algorithmic solution that can work for the business, bring insights to life within the organisation, and support continued business ownership of the outcomes.

Related: Workflow And Business Efficiency – 5 Strategies You Ignore At Your Peril

How it changes the workplace

The new teams required for algorithmic forecasting to succeed and the pulling of human resources from other departments will need the workplace to evolve into a more collaborative space, banishing outdated silos.

Forecasting is not limited to finance but all functions, from marketing to supply chain to human resources – basically all functions that need to predict the future to drive important decisions.

While CFOs may not lead function-specific forecasting, they should help shape these forecasting initiatives since finance will inevitably use the outputs they generate.

A shared forecasting infrastructure — even a physical Centre of Excellence (CoE)—can help improve collaboration and coordination while providing efficiencies in data storage, tool configuration, and knowledge sharing.

The beauty of algorithmic forecasting is that once the work is done to solve one specific problem, the same process and capability can be extended and applied in other areas.

Algorithmic forecasting doesn’t create anything out of thin air and it doesn’t deliver 100% precision. However, it is an effective way for getting more value from planning, budgeting, and forecasting efforts.

A commitment to algorithmic forecasting is both cultural and statistical. Making it happen involves people working with technology – neither is enough on its own. Every company will make its own unique journey from its current approach to planning and forecasting to an improved approach.

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