Professor Colin Thakur, Director: NEMISA, Durban University of Technology and Mr Hennie Botes, CEO and inventor, Moladi Construction Technology, were the keynote speakers discussing entrepreneurship during disruptive times at the recent EDHE Lekgotla 2022, which took place at Nelson Mandela University and online, under the theme #movetomarket.

Professor Thakur (right) began by sharing that “Professor Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf), taught me to shine light on other people. He said ‘When you shine light on other people, the light reflects back on you and it makes you glow and grow’. It is something I live by and I am delighted to be able to showcase some innovative people in this session who personify context and imagination.”

He believes it is crucial to be up-to-date with the global trends of rapid technological growth which is fundamentally changing the way we live: “4IR has paid my cost to company at my university for the last 12 years. I’m proudly off the financial books of the university and I think when you talk about entrepreneurship that should be your goal. The aim is not to talk about it but do it and be the change that you want to see,” he said.

“I have 15 people who work for me at the university, paid by the university by my projects. I have 21 Masters and PhD students, all of whom don’t get funding. I have a rule with them. You will do a project with me that is applied technology. You will get your Masters or your PhD and you will leave here rich. They learn to better themselves and they learn to market themselves.”

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution, 4IR, or Industry 4.0, conceptualises rapid change to technology, industries, and societal patterns and processes in the 21st century due to increasing interconnectivity and smart automation. The term has been used widely in scientific literature, and in 2015 was popularised by Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman. Schwab asserts that the changes seen are more than just improvements to efficiency but express a significant shift in industrial capitalism.”

Professor Thakur then explained how to leverage 4IR technology:

  • Use your naivete
  • Use your wonderment
  • Undertake your post graduate studies; do your Masters or PhD on a topic with an eye on your innovation
  • For a while, talk to everybody but the expert in the field. This is the person you consult at the end.

He cautioned against people dropping their studies to pursue their business ideas unless they were already a dollar millionaire such as people like Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (Meta).

Professor Thakur said that CoViD-19 had decentralised people while distributing opportunity. It had transformed the logistic supply and created demand in suburbs.

He also believes that data is new oil – in a time of VUCA (volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity), that helps solve problems.

“We can predict if an event will occur by analysing what people post before the event through social media,” he explained.

He emphasised the need to uncover frugal solutions to global problems.

“During the looting last year, one of my colleagues came up with a drone technology that we created using a 3D printer; something that would once have cost us R300 000, cost us R12 000. It can also be used for managing disasters such as floods and deadly fires.”

He gave a case study of an innovative transport system designed by students which has captured the global imagination making history at the same time.

It was a simple idea that led to the creation of Where’sMyTransport. Two students at the University of Cape Town (UCT), pursuing their honours in information systems, were tired of waiting for the university shuttle. They embarked upon solving the problem of unreliable transport, and inaccessible transport data. Along the way, the vision changed from a simple app to alert riders of delays or schedules, to a comprehensive, integrated platform that makes public transport data on all modes available for cities, operators, and developers alike.

In May, this year, WhereIsMyTransport achieved its milestone mapping of 50 cities in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Europe and Asia, becoming the first company in the world to offer high-quality mobility and location data in all of these markets. The company started mapping public transport in South Africa in 2016 before expanding globally to become the central source of data for high-growth, emerging markets.

WhereIsMyTransport has improved the visibility of mobility networks and emerging economies through its Transit Data, Point of Interest Data, and Real-Time Alerts. Accelerated by client successes with Google Maps, World Bank, GIZ and TUMI, as well as strategic investment from Google, Samsung Ventures, Toyota Tsusho and others, its global team of 130 people has produced over 1.1M km of public transport network data and millions of other data points.

Over the past five years, the company has tailored its data management platform to emerging markets, expanded its offering, and scaled its data production operation—its first 25 cities totalled a population of around 50 million people, its second 25 over 150 million. The milestone 50th city is Bandung, Indonesia, joining Mexico City, Bangkok, Dhaka, Dar es Salaam, and dozens more in the company’s global data coverage.

“You can integrate innovation with education – be the change you want to see,” Professor Thakur believes..

A second “frugal” success story he highlighted was that of Sizwe Nzima, who travels by bicycle to collect chronic medication on behalf of residents in Khayelitsha. The idea for his business Iyeza Express started in 2013 when he was collecting medication for his grandparents and it mushroomed from there. He started with pen and paper and a bicycle but has gone onto develop an app.

Nzima keeps a detailed record of patients and their medication needs while employing couriers from the community who collect prepackaged parcels from clinics. In order to handle medication, Nzima had to acquire a pharmaceutical licence. As a result, he now owns his own pharmacy.

Nzima has won cash prizes from the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development, as well as the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards which enabled him to develop the business and was named Forbes Entrepreneur of the Year.

“Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution” – Bill Hybels

House in a mould

The second keynote speaker was a Mr Hennie Botes (left), CEO and founder of the Moladi Construction Systems who says that his mantra is “solve a problem and sell the solution”.

The challenge he said he faced was that unemployment in this country stands at 12.5 million with a housing backlog of 3.7 million. Was there any way to resolve this and get South Africa working?

“In Africa, we need four million new houses a year and it isn’t only a problem on this continent. Affordable housing and employment are global problems. R250 000 is spent by the National Department of Human settlement to give away a R100 000 house. I was determined to find a solution.”

A keen inventor, entrepreneur and born philanthropist, Botes is the designer of a multi award-winning affordable housing technology for which he has won numerous accolades including Science and Technology’s Man of the Year in 2009 by Men’s Health Magazine with his building process having won the Design for Development award of the South African Bureau of Standards Design Institute in 1997. It is now available in 27 countries.

Not only has he developed a sustainable low-cost housing solution but he has developed, through this solution, the means to up-skill and economically empower members of impoverished communities.

Botes says he took a leaf from Henry Ford, funder of the Ford Motor Company and chief developer of the assembly line technique of mass production. As in motor vehicle production, he applies the principle of a ‘production line’ to the construction of homes, where efficient, cost-effective production is achieved by simplifying the process of assembly through industrialisation, modularisations, standardisation and continuous flow processes.

The Moladi building system, which incorporates green technology and sustainability, also addresses six key challenges that hinder the successful implementation of low-cost housing projects in Africa:

  • Insufficient funds
  • Shortage of skilled labourers
  • Work flow control
  • Time constraints
  • Wastage

This building system involves the use of a unique removable, reusable, recyclable and lightweight plastic formwork mould which is filled with an aerated SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) approved mortar to form the wall structure of a house in just one day.

The process involves the assembly of a temporary plastic formwork mould the size of the designed house with all the electrical services, plumbing, and steel reinforcing located within the wall structure which is then filled with a specially formulated mortar mix to form all the walls simultaneously.

Said Botes: “When we first started, people would say things like Moladi structures wouldn’t last. Now we have some that have been around for 30 years. From the very start, we were focused on solving the problem of affordable housing.”

Todate, Moladi boasts a record of 3 million houses constructed, creating 634,030 jobs that generated an average income, per month, of R4, 460 for individual community workers who got skilled in constructing these houses along the way. The business has generated a R34 billion revenue stream.

Botes explained that by 2030, United Nations-Habitat estimates that three billion people – about 40% of the world’s population – will need access to adequate housing. This translates into a demand for 96 000 new affordable and assessable housing units every day.

In Africa, four million units per year are needed to cover low cost housing needs and this has to be used to stimulate job creation and the circular economy. Hunger, poverty and unemployment can be addressed through housing delivery. Manufacturing, he believes, is the base of an economy.

Housing as an income generator

“Our education measures all people with mathematics and science. Many people are not good in these subjects but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. I look at the quote by Albert Einstein which says ‘Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by the ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ We need to stop looking at entrepreneurship at the top of the pyramid and look at it at the base.

“The real issue is that we have a silo mentality. We need to look at how many government institutions can stand together. We have to skill those people who are unemployed and use the backlog of housing as a solution. We are a technology provider not a contractor or developer. This is our cooperative model which we use to upskill the community. Money needs to flow to them and not outsiders. This could create a R34 billion revenue stream for government.”

His last message to delegates: “We have to teach children from the time they are at school that the best way they can equip themselves is to employ themselves and create something in life that will create employment for you. We have created a new model that has made previous models obsolete.

His advice to entrepreneurs: “Never let someone who has done nothing tell you how to do anything.”

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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