In its 8th year since its inception, the EDHE programme started out with the 2-day annual EDHE Kick-off event focusing on the Economic Activation Offices (EAO) Workshop in partnership with Standard Bank. The EAO workshop was held from the 27th to the 28th of February at the Premier Hotel OR Tambo in Johannesburg.

The main objective of the EDHE EAOs, which were founded in 2021, is to operate as focal points that link organisations and activities related to entrepreneurship and encourage entrepreneurial endeavours within educational establishments. The aim of this second EAO workshop was to facilitate a group discussion about plans and projects that will advance these offices and the universities they are associated with towards greater economic impact.

The workshop commenced with a warm official welcome to all the delegates and university representatives from Mr Mahlubi Chief Mabizela (Right), Director: Operations and Sector Support, Universities South Africa (USAf). The representatives of the EAOs from various universities comprised of two cohorts, cohort 1 made up of the 10 pilot universities whose EAOs were established in 2021, namely; Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Sol Plaatje University, Durban University of Technology, Walter Sisulu University, University of Johannesburg, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Venda, University of Limpopo, Nelson Mandela University and the University of Cape Town.

Sharing the welcome address, Mr Mahlubi Chief Mabizela, Director: Operations and Sector Support, Universities South Africa (USAf)

The newly introduced EAOs, cohort 2 consisted of universities that responded to the call to establish EOAs in 2023 namely; the Central University, University of Pretoria, University of Mpumalanga, University of South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Fort Hare, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Zulu land, North-West University, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Stellenbosch University, Mangosuthu University of Technology, University of the Western Cape, Vaal University of Technology and Rhodes University.

With 25 EAOs currently on board, Ms Zana Boshoff (right), Project Manager: EDHE at Universities South Africa (USAf)shared that the 3rd phase of the EDHE programme will prioritise EAOs as one of its focal points in 2024. Citing a study on the unemployment rate Ms Boshoff shared statistics pointing out the great extent to which the graduate unemployment rate has increased over the past 10 years from 5.5% in Q1 of 2013 to 10.6% in Q1 of 2023; she noted these statistics as a reminder as to why EDHE exists.

“The EDHE programme has been positioned to address the prevalence of graduate unemployment and to grow additional income streams for universities.” She said.

Ms Zana Boshoff, Project Manager: EDHE at Universities South Africa (USAf)

Emphasising the importance and need for Economic Activation Offices within universities, Ms Boshoff added that through the EDHE programme a comprehensive approach has been taken towards advancing the economic participation of students and graduates with universities that are gradually being positioned as entrepreneurial universities. “EAOs are the central nervous system connecting the university entrepreneurship ecosystem.” She added.

Ms. Sarah-Anne Nixon, Manager – Education Sector at Standard Bank South Africa

Ms. Sarah-Anne Nixon (left), Manager – Education Sector at Standard Bank South Africa thanked EDHE for the invitation and expressed her gratitude on finally meeting the EAO representative that she has not had an opportunity to meet since it’s inception. She acknowledged the importance of the work done by EAOs at their academic institutions, “It’s always fantastic to hear about the work that you do.” She said.

Ms. Sarah-Anne Nixon shared that their mandate as the education sector team within Standard Bank is to understand the pain points and needs of education institutions and what keeps them up at night and how standard bank can come in and assist.

“Through the years what we’ve tried to do is to understand where we fit in and how we can help and also understand the broader perspective in context, I think we can all agree that our entrepreneurs are the backbone of this country and it is the work that they do that can help to stimulate economic growth and also help to face societal challenges.”

She added that having read the report on the work done by Cohort 1 EAOs and the impact that can be made by entrepreneurs she looking forward to see what the new Cohort will do. Ms. Sarah-Anne Nixon also expressed that as the Education Sector team at Standard Bank they are constantly working with entrepreneurs and the university space and therefore understand the challenges universities and entrepreneurs face and hence the decision to partner up with EDHE and USAf and that they are looking forward to continuing their partnership with EDHE in inspiring entrepreneurs across the board.

“It was so fantastic to be part of the EDHE awards last year and just seeing the impact that a couple of students was able to receive, it was mind-blowing and a constant reminder of the work that we do and why we do it.”

Ms. Sarah-Anne Nixon thanked EDHE for having Standard Bank as a partner in supporting and encouraging entrepreneurial university graduates and also expressed her gratitude for being one of the delegates as she is looking forward to sharing ideas and collaborating on possible solutions for the next 12 months.

As part of their introduction to delegates and other EAO representatives from the various institutions, cohort 2 states their reasons for undertaking this initiative as inculcating entrepreneurial activities within universities having identified pockets of entrepreneurs within the university to breaking silos in order to work towards the same goal as an institution among others. This was followed by the “Connect and Build” breakaway session where each cohort participated on a number of activities.

Speaking under the theme of the breakaway session facilitated with cohort 1, Ms. Jayde Barends (left), national Chairperson of the national EDHE Community of Practice for EAOs and Senior Technology Transfer Officer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology stressed the significance of determining the university’s current state as well as it’s mistakes and opportunities for progress. She added that it is important to constantly revisit the framework the EAO serves and to subsequently develop and action the chosen strategy.

Reflecting on their experience as pilot EAOs, Ms Karen Snyman, Chairperson of the national EDHE Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship Coordinators and Specialist, Student Entrepreneurship, at Nelson Mandela University reflected on the challenges that face EAOs from the institutions as they are allocated in different faculties or centres, namely; entrepreneurship centres, incubators, career services, student governance and development. “Being the pilot children of the programme puts us in a better position to support cohort 2.” She added.

Ms. Jayde Barends, national Chairperson of the national EDHE Community of Practice for EAOs
Ms Nadia Waggie, former national Chairperson of the Student Entrepreneurship Community of Practice

Ms Nadia Waggie, former national Chairperson of the Student Entrepreneurship Community of Practice and the Head: Sustainability & Impact (Careers) at the University of Cape Town stressed the importance of supporting students and encouraging information sharing across faculties and departments including the Research and Information Office. “The focus is working together in an environment that seems forever changing and in need of transformation; and to embrace the learning curve throughout the journey.”

Mr Chad Lucas, Chairperson of the national Studentpreneurs Community of Practice and Economic Activation Officer (EAO) at Sol Plaatje University expressed the privilege of the EAO in SPU to be hired on a full-time basis and given room to advance the Office as they see fit, with the support of the university and collaboration with other offices. They play a central role within most entrepreneurship related activities in teaching, learning, research, training and developing the enterprises. The support from top management and the VC has enabled them to develop a centre that seeks to achieve their strategic objectives and intentions, he said.

While there is notable progress on the establishment and advancement of EAOs, some Universities continue to face challenges due to the lack of full support and buy-in. Ms Xolisa Moerane, a Programme Coordinator shared that at the Faculty of Management Sciences at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) the role of the EAO is not well defined; hence its existence remains ambiguous as the focus is more on the Centre for Entrepreneurship. She added that it remains difficult to spread the work to different campuses as the support from top management is conditional. She expressed that the outlook is finding out how other participants are building the ecosystems in their institutions despite the current difficulties.
Ms Nadia Waggie proposed making use of the communications department to create visibility and break against the erasure from the top management as a possible solution.

Highlighting the importance of infusing and ensuring a synergy between entrepreneurship, teaching and learning, Ms Shumani Nembudani, the Senior Manager: UCEfERI at the University of Venda encouraged TUT to push hard against the pullback from top management until they grant their full support. In support of these sentiments Dr Anyway Mikioni (below), the Entrepreneurial Programmes Coordinator at the University of Venda also stressed that EAOs should be trying to find a way around the lack of communication or undermining of the EAO position and contribution by top management. “It is important to find colleagues to collaborate with and advance the mandate of the office.” Mikioni added.

Dr Mikioni also shared that at UNIVEN the strategy their EAO employed to tackle this challenge was holding what they termed ‘Entrepreneurship Awareness Day’, he shared that they were able to reach more than 300 students on their first Entrepreneurship Awareness Day.

“There is a continuous goal to have an Entrepreneurship Awareness Day every month that is facilitated by the EAO; the focus is to grant the office the recognition it deserves in terms of its influence and contribution towards the overall strategy.” He added.

Dr Anyway Mikioni, Entrepreneurial Programmes Coordinator at the University of Venda

Mr Sabelo Malindisa, the Business Development and Economic Activation Officer at Walter Sisulu University shared that at the previous year’s EAO workshop, there was a recurring theme regarding the necessity of teamwork, backing other units’ endeavours, and maintaining an adaptable and proactive office. “There is a need to update the university committee with progress and development pertaining to the centre and there is also a need to keep the office visible to other centres and departments.” He stated. Mr Malindisa added that they have also employed some strategies aimed at getting full support and this was done through establishing an advisory board that comprises of both DVCs reporting to the VC with full knowledge and support.

Ms Mususumeli Nwaila, the Business Development Manager Officer in the Technology Transfer office at the University of Limpopo

Ms Mususumeli Nwaila, the Business Development Manager Officer in the Technology Transfer office at the University of Limpopo, shared on their journey to launching a digital hub within the university. The University of Limpopo is now aiming to be an entrepreneurial university through encouraging students to be job creators rather than job seekers, she added. Ms Nwaila (left) further expressed that the role of the digital hub is to curb the level of unemployment through teaching students about entrepreneurship with the assistance of other faculties. Also sharing strategies that can be employed to obtain buy-in, Ms Nwaila shared that their EAO has met with the Dean to gain approval so they can design an entrepreneurship course that will be taught across faculties. “The strategy to employ is to gain approval from one person and pilot the programme so it can be easier to engage other deans so that they can link the digital hub and academia.” She said.

The Durban University of Technology representatives agreed with the group’s sentiments about institutional collaboration and advancing the Centre for Entrepreneurship in within the University and also stated that there is still a need to advance the EAO as far as incubating students, supporting and capacitating other faculties and facilitating the workshops, teaching entrepreneurship, sharing practical tools in incubation, conducting research, referral of students to relevant bodies as this strengthens the ecosystem.

Despite the challenges encountered along their journey, Economic Activation Offices (EAOs) are undeniably making strides in fostering an enabling ecosystem for studentpreneurs. The recent EDHE workshop, in partnership with Standard Bank, highlighted the dedication and collaboration among universities in advancing entrepreneurship within educational institutions.

Mamodiehi Gwala is a contract writer for EDHE
Khutso Moleko is EDHE: Media and Marketing Officer at Universities South Africa

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