Although the communities of practice (CoP) tasked to develop various focus areas of entrepreneurship development at public universities are doing a sterling job, it is necessary to occasionally view their work critically to spot gaps and identify areas needing attention. This is what Dr Norah Clarke, Director of Entrepreneurship at Universities South Africa (USAf), told CoP leaders in Cape Town on 10 March.

The meeting was convened to reflect on the achievements of EDHE’s objectives of cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset in students and in academia, in the quest to develop entrepreneurial universities in South Africa. The gathering also aimed to assess what has not been effective in steering the entrepreneurship programme, all round.

Dr Clarke said she is often blown away by the visibility that entrepreneurship enjoy in relevant spaces across institutions. The meeting of 10 March was necessary, nonetheless, to set the tone for 2023, especially in the face of EDHE’s Phase two ending in December. She said they needed to look at entrepreneurship trends informing their work in the next five to ten years, and trends that could help in redesigning future CoPs. She therefore said she relied fully on the leadership of these groups to share feedback to the EDHE team, especially on blind spots.

Mindset shift required in leadership

The EDHE Director reminded the CoP leaders (above) that their role was national as opposed to being limited to their institutions. It was therefore important for them to remember, in all they do, that they are the programme ambassadors, nationally and, by extension, of USAf and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). This called for a mindset shift when engaging in their roles as that impacts students and the South African economy.

“Your role is not about you, your achievements, your institution, or to compete with others. It is about learning, listening, collaborating, supporting, celebrating each other, commitment and accountability.”

Dr Clarke said leadership was about making a difference, however complex that role might be – hence her emphasis on the importance of maintaining a supportive as opposed to a competitive attitude. According to Clarke, EDHE’s success to date could be attributed to various role players striving to build a community.

Redesigning the communities of practice

She further said considering that entrepreneurship CoPs had been operating on a trial-and-error basis from inception, this was an opportunity to redesign them in a manner that positioned them for growth.

Born out of a need to organise entrepreneurship enthusiasts, the CoP leaders also spoke in unison that their work had, until this point, been influential — albeit with limited resources. Both chairpersons and their deputies said they wished to see themselves influencing entrepreneurship policy development at universities, among future improvements. They wished to see no institution being left behind on any milestone being realised in mobilising additional international partnerships and learning and emulating successful methodologies from them. The leaders also spoke of a need for more impact-driven entrepreneurship activities, and to curate updates on new developments, trends and research. 

They conceded that it would take committing to their pledges to make entrepreneurship look trendy and attractive. It would also require setting clear objectives, building synergies across universities, creating more awareness and fostering a supportive environment. They would also need to continue sharing best practices, encouraging and inspiring one another.

The CoP heads also cited the importance of working with industry partners alongside other academics. This called for a stop to working in silos and getting more people involved in making entrepreneurship accessible and inclusive, regardless of academic level. They expressed hope that this would grant them more recognition from institutions, thus advancing entrepreneurship development even further.

Chairpersons of EDHE’s communities of practice and their deputies

  • EDHE Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship

Ms Nadia Waggie (left), Head of Sustainability and Impact (Careers) at the University of Cape Town’s Careers Service, is this CoP’s Chairperson. She is deputised by Ms Karen Snyman (right), Student Life and Projects Manager at Nelson Mandela University. 

  • EDHE Community of Practice for Entrepreneurship in Teaching and Learning

Dr Thea van der Westhuizen (left), Senior Lecturer and Academic Leader of Management and Entrepreneurship Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is this Group’s  Chairperson. Her Deputy Chair is Professor Matshediso Mohapeloa (right), Senior Lecturer at Rhodes University.

  • EDHE Community of Practice for Entrepreneurial Universities

Professor Eugene Cloete (left), ex officio Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies; Professor in Water Studies at Stellenbosch University and Chief Executive Officer of Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC), is the Chairperson. Professor Eunice Seekoe (right), Chief Executive Officer and Principal of Kubu Science and Technology Institute, is the  Deputy Chairperson.

  • EDHE Community of Practice for Entrepreneurship Research

EDHE’s work is as good as its CoPs’ contributions, says Director

Dr Natanya Meyer (left), Associate Professor within the Department of Business Management at the University of Johannesburg, is the Chairperson of this group. Dr Faith Makhosazana Vezi-Magigaba (right), Head of Department: Business Management and Lecturer at the University of Zululand, is the Deputy Chairperson.

  • EDHE Community of Practice for Studentpreneurs

Mr Chad Lucas (left, below), Economic Activation Officer at Sol Plaatje University, is the Chairperson. The Deputy Chair position is currently vacant. 

  • Learning in Practice Community of Practice 

Professor Roelien Brink (middle), Deputy Head of Stakeholder Engagement in the Department of Applied Information Systems at the University of Johannesburg, is the Chairperson, and Dr Annie Moletsane, Director of the Cooperative Education Department at the Vaal University of Technology, is her Deputy.

  • EDHE Community of Practice for Economic Activation Offices

Ms Jayde Barends (left), Senior Tech Transfer Officer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, is the Chairperson, deputised by Professor Pierre Joubert, Head of the School of Economics and Management Sciences at Sol Plaatje University.

Dr Clarke (left) outlined respect, presence and accountability as values that should guide these communities of practice.

“How we engage one another should exhibit these values, especially as leaders. Our responsibility is to create an environment that accommodates everyone and to be mindful of who we represent. It is the same behaviour we should expect from our CoP members.”

She urged these leaders to be constantly up front with the EDHE team and promote and advocate for the work done and achieved in the programme. Dr Clarke stressed that EDHE’s work is as good and effective as the contributions of its CoPs.

“We can either see our role as a task or lists of activities to achieve, or an opportunity to mobilise people towards achieving great things,” she said.

For her, that meant being intentional with the desire to build a community and relationships – hence her call to lead with positivity and to recognise people.

“As we grow, let us ensure not to lose that personal touch,” she concluded.

Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.