Towards the end of 2016/17, the Services SETA Accounting Authority resolved to establish a national Entrepreneurship and Cooperative Development Institute to offer new and innovative skills development content, products and services to entrepreneurs, both virtually and physically.
The ECDi Programme of Action was conceptualised during the 2017/18 financial year following comprehensive stakeholder engagement reaching more than 200 individuals from over 100 entities and informed by extensive literature and research gathering evidence of impact, successes and failures. Solutions were mapped against segmented problems facing entrepreneurs and businesses at different levels of capital intensity and stages of their life cycle. Furthermore, solutions were evaluated against critical success factors and criteria, including relevance, scale, impact, access and sustainability.
An Advisory Committee of experts was established under the auspices of the Services SETA Accounting Authority to inform the development and production of the conceptual framework. The adopted 9-point Programme of Action was officially announced at an Inaugural ECDi Conference on 01 March 2018. More than 500 delegates, including entrepreneurial ecosystem stakeholders, policy-makers, researchers, implementers, intermediaries and entrepreneurs, attended the conference.
In 2018, a new division was established within the Services SETA to lead the design, development and testing of the ECDi Programme of Action. The initial plan was to build an institute in Centurion, north of Johannesburg, but these plans were later deferred due to insufficient funding. Similarly, the development plan of the ECDi Programme of Action had to be amended and phased over a longer period of time. This is now at least a three- to five-year process. As such, ECDi content, products and services are not yet readily available. Throughout the development process, stakeholders will be engaged to inform the design and relevance of content, products and services.
It is not the individual components of the Programme of Action that make it ground-breaking but the combination, integration, scale and approach adopted.
The ECDi Programme of Action has two overidding goals: enhancing the entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as empowering entrepreneurs. The ultimate aim of these goals is job creation and revenue growth through promotion, development and acceleration of entrepreneurs, small businesses and cooperatives, and equity and economic inclusivity through transformational imperatives that target black, youth, women and disabled entrepreneurs in townships and rural areas.
The ECDi model is similar to that of SETAs. In fulfilling its mission, SETAs fund and facilitate skills development through the provision of grants awarded according to researched gaps or mismatches between the supply and demand of skills. They do not implement skills development by themselves but rather function as a bridge between the world of work and the world of education.
Many SETAs also have a delegation of authority to quality assure occupational level qualifications through the accreditation of skills development providers and external moderation of learner achievements.
Similarly, therefore, ECDi shall fund and facilitate skills development “support” within and across the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Skills development “support” can be interpreted in so many different ways having minimal impact. Informed by a wealth of research, the ECDi Programme of Action seeks to achieve high-impact and lasting solutions that will then be used as a core and standard example of what constitutes “support” for entrepreneurs.
The ECDi shall also enhance quality and refer supply and demand within and across the entrepreneurial ecosystem through partnerships. The objective is to standardise fundable products and services that offer peer, mentored and applied learning to emerging, small and growing businesses. The intension is to leverage on what already exists and fill supply gaps enhancing relevance, quality and innovation.
Partnerships are an important mechanism through which the Programme of Action will be developed and implemented. The Services SETA concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Small Business Development and its agencies, the Small Enterprise Development Agency and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency, on 05 December 2017. The Department of Higher Education and Training and Services SETA also established an InterSETA Collaborative Partnership to support the development of the ECDi Programme of Action in 2018.
Entrepreneurs need access to three things: access to information, access to markets and access to finance. Skills and competencies form the foundation of all of these. Entrepreneurs need technical, managerial and entrepreneurial skills. Technical skills requirements are determined by the nature of the business. Managerial and entrepreneurial skills are not the same and are needed at different stages of the business life cycle. Entrepreneurial skills, appetite and aptitude are needed right from the outset. Even if these are present, a viable business concept – a product or service that people want to buy – is vital.
The reality is that few people have the innate ability to innovate the next BIG idea. The other reality is that entrepreneurs learn and consume information in different ways. Mostly, they prefer to learn practically and through observation, mentorship and peers. This necessitated finding a balance between formal and informal learning, and providing short-format digital content. Though a significant enabler for employment, academic qualifications alone may not have the same significance and relevance for entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship and cooperative development may not be the panacea to unemployment but with the right “support” products it has the potential to make a real impact of enhancing people’s lives.
The ECDi is all about providing the right “support”.