In the dynamic landscape of entrepreneurship, initiatives like the Economic Activation Offices (EAOs) are pivotal in nurturing the next generation of innovators and changemakers. Recently, during a two-day workshop in partnership with Standard Bank, representatives from Cohort 1, made up of the 10 pilot universities whose EAOs were established in 2021, and Cohort 2, made up of 15 newly introduced EAOs established in 2023. These groups forming part of the EDHE programme came together from the 27th to the 28th of February at the Premier Hotel OR Tambo in Johannesburg to share experiences, insights, and strategies aimed at enhancing the role of EAOs within their respective universities.

Economic Activation Offices (EAOs), Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 representatives

While cohort 1 shared their progress and challenges in their ‘Connect and Build’ breakaway session, cohort 2 was inducted on the objective and role of EAOs. Sharing the purpose and objectives of the EAO Ms Zana Boshoff, Project Manager, Entrepreneurship at Universities South Africa (USAf) described EAO leaders and its people as changemakers, ecosystem builders, connectors, enablers, excellent communicators and people who put the greater good over personal benefit. She added that the purpose of EAOs is to capacitate universities by strengthening the internal entrepreneurship development ecosystem in each university.
Cohort 2 was afforded an opportunity to outline their expectations of the workshop and these were summarised as follows;

  • to gain insights on how to start an EAO and where to start;
  • to learn strategies of how to make it effective on campus;
  • strategies to gain buy-in;
  • how to breakdown silos and get stakeholders onboard;
  • how to source funding;
  • how budgets must be spent and
  • best practices and guidelines on branding.

Cohort 2 was also given the opportunity to reflect on and rate the current level of effectiveness for implementing entrepreneurship development on their campus and also develop a 2-minute elevator pitch to share with delegates and their fellow EAO representatives from other institutions.

Sharing some of the learnings in their institution’s journey of establishing an EAO with cohort 2 and also answering some of the questions posed by cohort 2, Mr Sabelo Malindisa (right), Business Development in the WSU Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator and Economic Activation Officer at Walter Sisulu University, shared that his involvement as a coordinator for the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity contributed to the successful establishment of their EAO and that when they responded to the expression of interest and were announced as one of the universities selected for the EAO pilot, the announcement was well received by the university’s managers and DVCs. He added that communication and collaboration were the driving force behind getting buy-in.

Mr Sabelo Malindisa, Business Development in the WSU Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator and Economic Activation Officer at Walter Sisulu

Mr Malindisa also shared that their constant interaction with faculty coordinators played a pivotal role in getting buy-in. He added that another thing that contributed positively to the establishment of their EAO is that it is placed right at the centre for entrepreneurship which is their rapid incubator and any speer-headed entrepreneurial activities go through the centre for entrepreneurship.

Mr Edward Selebi, Lecturer at the Mangosuthu University of Technology, also stressed the importance of getting buy-in and shared the importance of setting KPIs as they increase entrepreneurship understanding in the university and in making entrepreneurship interdisciplinary. A number of the EAOs that have been able to access funding achieved this through lobbying for funding from organisations that share common goals in terms of assisting the youth, among them are the NYDA and the Department of Higher Education. Mr Selebi added that with regards to sourcing funds for their EAO, they lobby for funding. “Mr Selebi added that the funds lobbied are utilised to support students and other programmes they are collaborating with.

Ms Karen Snyman (right), Specialist for Student Entrepreneurship in the Student Governance & Development, at Nelson Mandela University advised on collaboration and leveraging existing resources, “We started by setting up the Madibaz Youth Entrepreneurship Lab and used it as an EAO that is already branded; we started bottom up looking at how we as the lab can service students better and enable them to be entrepreneurial.” She added that it is important to establish partnerships with industry, alumni, universities, TVET colleges and local businesses to create a comprehensive entrepreneurial ecosystem and also stated that this should be an ongoing activity.

Ms Karen Snyman, Specialist for Student Entrepreneurship in the Student Governance & Development, at Nelson Mandela University

Sharing the same sentiments on collaboration and leveraging existing resources Mr Chad Lucas, Economic Activation Officer (EAO) at Sol Plaatje University, also stressed the importance of engaging various stakeholders, “Engage stakeholders such as local, provincial and national international and also play an active role in the community and the ecosystem.”

Mr Michael Dunn, Ecosystem Manager for Business Banking at Standard Bank South Africa

Speaking on Standard Bank’s adaptation to the ecosystem approach, Mr Michael Dunn (left), Ecosystem Manager for Business Banking at Standard Bank South Africa discussed the ever-changing business climate and problems that businesses face; he shared that Standard Bank has altered their strategy by adopting an ecosystems approach. He stated that after sitting down with their customers and attempting to understand their pain points, they recognised that their consumers required a partner and trusted advisor and not a bank, to overcome the challenges they face within the ecosystem. Mr Dunn went on to say that the ecosystem model will promote financial development, increase market share, and ensure sustainability.

Citing an encounter, he had with a customer who wanted to pursue a new venture, he shared that engaging in that meaningful conversation with the customer from an Ecosystems manager perspective enabled the customer to successfully pivot and turn his core construction business into a secondary source of income as the new venture which is where most of his income was coming from turned out to be more successful. Another example was that of a client whose business almost went under because of a supplier that could not deliver on time and through sitting down with the supplier to try to understand the issue because they didn’t want to take the business away from their customer.

“I am glad to say we were able to save our customer’s business and the business is currently successfully thriving and it is purely because we sat down and had a meaningful conversation.”

Mr Michael Dunn’s statements also demonstrate the importance of stakeholder engagement in guaranteeing success and overcoming numerous challenges faced by entrepreneurs.

The support and partnership of organisations like Standard Bank further highlight the importance of collective efforts in empowering studentpreneurs. As Ms. Sarah-Anne Nixon, Manager – Education Sector at Standard Bank South Africa emphasised, entrepreneurs are the backbone of the country’s economic growth.

Overall, while challenges persist, the commitment and dedication of universities, supported by organisations like Standard Bank, signal a promising future for student entrepreneurship in South Africa. With continued collaboration and innovation, EAOs are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.

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

EDHE Kick-Off 2024 Articles