Media Release

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Implications of Covid-19 on infrastructure finance in Africa

USB News

Implications of Covid-19 on infrastructure finance in Africa

photo of train track subway
(Source: anna-m. w.)

  • November 24
  • Tags Media release, Covid-19, Development finance

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There is a significant infrastructure finance gap in Africa that is likely to widen due to the Covid-19 pandemic unless countries consider alternative financing techniques, says Dr Ashenafi Fanta, senior lecturer in Development Finance at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB.

“Infrastructure provides useful economic benefits and we need infrastructural development to achieve economic transformation in Africa. Many African countries are now looking at transforming their economies to reduce poverty and to create jobs.

Infrastructure provides useful economic benefits and we need infrastructural development to achieve economic transformation in Africa.

“We have three major economic sectors, namely the agricultural sector, the service sector, and the industrial sector. When countries develop, the usual path would be a shift from the agricultural sector to the service and industrial sector,” he says.

If we want to grow the industrial sector in Africa, we need to invest in the energy sector, transport infrastructure, ICT infrastructure and other critical infrastructural sectors.

“Structural transformation is very critical and infrastructure provides essential input into structural transformation. If we want to grow the industrial sector in Africa, we need to invest in the energy sector, transport infrastructure, ICT infrastructure and other critical infrastructural sectors.”

Dr Fanta says economic transformation also entails increasing labour productivity in all three sectors and achieving labour productivity can be done through infrastructural development, which is critical for economic transformation and economic recovery in Africa.

Impact of the pandemic on the global economy

Economic growth across global regions has decreased. “Many African countries have been experiencing fast economic growth so for these countries experiencing a decrease of 2, 8% is a big loss. There had been positive developments in poverty reduction across the globe but with the contraction of outputs, it’s going to reverse.

Investment in infrastructure can help in job creation and in boosting private sector activities.

“The health and economic consequences of the pandemic are likely to be worse in countries with widespread informality. This is a big concern for us in Africa because we have a large segment of the economy in the informal sector. The blow is the hardest in countries that rely on global trade, tourism, commodity export, and external financing. Investment in infrastructure can help in job creation and in boosting private sector activities,” he says.

State of infrastructure in Africa

Dr Fanta says the availability of infrastructural services and access of the population to infrastructure services in Africa is very low. Looking at the state of infrastructure for each sector reveals a gloomy picture:

  • In the energy infrastructure sector, a combined power generation capacity of 44 countries of Sub-Sahara Africa with a population of about 800 million is 92,27 GW (in 2012) less than that of Spain with a population of about 45 million, which is 105,27 GW. More than 640 million Africans have no access to energy, giving an electricity access rate of just over 40% for African countries – the world’s lowest.
  • In the transport sector, only 208 kilometres of roads in Africa are available per 1000 square kilometres of land area, compared to the world average of 944 kilometres per 1000 square kilometres.
  • In the water infrastructure sector, only 61% of Africans had access to clean water and 31% to adequate sanitation (in 2010).
  • The ICT sector, which is very critical for economic transformation, only has 19 million broadband internet subscribers in the entire sub-Sahara Africa region – about 6% of the total number of telephone subscribers.

“The financing deficit in Africa is also very large and according to a report by the Africa Development Bank from 2018, Africa’s total infrastructure needs amount to $130-170 billion a year, with a financing gap in the range of $68-108 billion,” says Dr Fanta.

Public finance is the primary source of funding infrastructural development in Africa. “However, there is increased pressure on public finances due to the bigger health expenditure following Covid-19 responses; governments had to make welfare payments to vulnerable households, and there was a loss of tax revenue as governments had to provide help to businesses that are struggling to stand on their own feet during the pandemic.

“Covid-19 had an impact on both the revenue and expenditure side of public finance and money that governments were going to put forward for investment in infrastructure will no longer be available,” he says.

Alternative sources of funding

Dr Fanta says borrowing money is not the answer. “Governments have already reached their borrowing limits. There had been a concern by international financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that many African governments are facing a debt crisis. As a result of Covid-19, many countries had to borrow a massive amount of resources from international as well as local markets and this has pushed the public debt beyond what governments can handle.

Many countries had to borrow a massive amount of resources from international as well as local markets and this has pushed the public debt beyond what governments can handle.

“The IMF already identified about 17 African countries that are in high debt risk. This is a concern because any further accumulation of debt will be detrimental to the countries,” he warns

Dr Fanta suggests the following alternative funding mechanisms to provide funding to infrastructural development that will be useful for economic transformation as well as economic recovery:

  • Infrastructural bonds: This is a debt but they will be linked to specific infrastructural projects and not added to public debt. These bonds are designed to attract funding specifically to a particular infrastructure, for instance in the energy or transportation sector without placing further pressure on public finances.
  • Development impact bonds: These are bonds where private sector entities contribute funding to kick start an infrastructural activity or investment. They will agree to generate return only if a particular development goal is met. If a development goal is met then donors will pay out the private sector entities the principal plus return or principal plus
  • Commodity-backed loans: Private sector entities are invited into infrastructural investments programmes with expectations that in the event the infrastructural asset fails to generate a return, then the commodities can be used in settling.
  • Tapping into pension funds: These funds in Africa are not well-developed except in a few countries including South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. Pension funds are very cautious in investing in infrastructure. There are initiatives in Nigeria where credit guarantees are made available to entice pension funds to invest in infrastructural facilities.

 

***

USB is a triple-accredited business school and offers a cluster of internationally accredited Development Finance programmes – PGDip, MPhil and PhD – to implement sustainable solutions to develop Africa where it matters. All programmes are offered via its immersive, flexible Blended Learning format from 2021.

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Dr Lee-Anne Steenkamp USB

First woman at USB to obtain sought-after research rating

USB News

First woman at USB to obtain sought-after research rating

Dr Lee-Anne Steenkamp USB

  • November 19
  • Tags Our news, Research, women

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Dr Lee-Ann Steenkamp obtains coveted NRF rating after rigorous process

Dr Lee-Ann Steenkamp, head of the University of Stellenbosch Business School’s (USB) Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Planning, was the first female academic of the business school to acquire the National Research Foundation (NRF) rating. The NRF is an independent government agency and the rating system is a useful tool for benchmarking the quality of South African researchers against the best in the world.

“It’s really an honour to join the ranks of other rated researchers.”

“I am very proud, but at the same time incredibly humbled, to be the first female academic at USB to receive an NRF rating. It’s really an honour to join the ranks of other rated researchers, especially the precious few (men and women) at the Economic and Management Sciences Faculty of Stellenbosch University,” says Steenkamp.

Prof Mark Smith, USB Director, added: “I am delighted that Dr Steenkamp has obtained this prestigious status. It is a sign of the quality of her research and the impact she has. Furthermore it demonstrates the fruits of the investment the School has made in building our research capacity over recent years. Like all pioneers, Lee-Ann is the first but will not be the last – she has paved the way for other women to follow.”

The process explained
The NRF rating is an onerous and very competitive process to go through, but ultimately it gives recognition to those researchers who constantly produce high-quality research outputs. The application process itself takes about a year, as the university has many internal deadlines to do various quality checks and help guide you. There are different rating categories which are allocated by an independent panel of local and international scholars. This is based on your research output of the previous six years, which includes papers in peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, and masters and doctoral students supervised.

Says Lee-Ann: “At the time I submitted my application, I was 36 years old and was therefore considered young enough to obtain a Y-ranking for promising young researchers under 40 who have held the doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application.”

She says after the application it takes about another year to get the NRF’s formal feedback. “This process is repeated every six years to maintain or improve one’s ranking. It’s one thing to get the initial ranking, it’s quite another to keep it!”

“This rating means a great deal, as it is a stamp of approval that I’m on the right track with my research.”

The ranking system is independent and objective. “There is no special treatment based on personal demographics (for example, gender) – the panel only evaluates the quality and quantity of your research output. Being a researcher requires a tremendous amount of patience and endurance, which are not personality traits that come naturally to me. So this rating means a great deal, as it is a stamp of approval that I’m on the right track with my research and that many years of hard work is starting to bear fruit,” she says.

Staying motivated
Steenkamp says the support she received from the Early Career Academic Development (ECAD) programme of Stellenbosch University was a real game-changer from which she benefitted enormously.

“Having this accountability partner keeps me motivated and focused, and inspires me to reach even higher.”

“When you join the programme as a mentee, you are partnered with an experienced academic who mentors you on your journey to become an established scholar. I’m very grateful that Prof Stan du Plessis agreed to be my mentor (although I have no idea how he manages to fit our regular meetings into his schedule).

“It makes a big difference to have someone to bounce ideas with and who understands the rigours and demands of research. Having this accountability partner keeps me motivated and focused, and inspires me to reach even higher,” she says.

Prof Leslie Swartz, academic coordinator of the ECAD programme, expressed the programme’s delight and admiration at Steenkamp’s achievement.  According to Swartz, the aim of the ECAD programme is to support the university’s new academics as best they can, and, as Swartz put it, “it is extremely gratifying for us when our academics do well.  The achievement is all theirs, and we are lucky to play a part in supporting them.  We could not do this without the work of the mentees themselves, like Dr Steenkamp, or without the mentors, like Prof du Plessis in this case”.

Her research focus
Steenkamp’s PhD was in climate change law and her research focus for the next five years will be on carbon pricing mechanisms and ‘green taxes’ (environmental taxes). “South Africa enacted the Carbon Tax Act 15 of 2019 last year, so there are many opportunities for conducting comparative analyses with other countries who’ve either implemented a carbon pricing mechanism or adopted an emission trading system.

“From a business school perspective, it’s quite interesting to supervise MBA students who study the impact of the carbon tax on their own companies or sectors and develop strategies to mitigate for this,” she says.

“My goal is to work towards the next NRF rating opportunity in six years. This requires sustained and cohesive output as you need to demonstrate that you have built a focused body of work. I’m excited about building research partnerships and have embarked on numerous collaborative research projects with colleagues and graduates from the business school,” she says.

Dealing with criticism
Steenkamp says criticism is an integral part of the peer-review publication system. “Over time you learn to separate constructive from negative criticism. The former is a helpful and necessary component for developing one’s research ideas and enhancing the quality of the final product (be it a thesis, conference presentation or article in a journal). I serve as a peer reviewer for several academic journals and appreciate the time and effort that goes into providing this sort of feedback,” she says.

“I still haven’t developed a thick enough skin for the negative criticism, though. But I’m getting there. I’ve recently read an excellent book written by Cal Newport, wherein the key message (and title) is to be “so good they can’t ignore you”. I believe this is the best way of dealing with setbacks and criticism.

“I think every researcher has a curious mindset and it’s the endless possibilities of learning and discovery that keeps you going.”

“I think every researcher has a curious mindset and it’s the endless possibilities of learning and discovery that keeps you going. Ultimately, it’s knowing that your research is making a positive impact and that you are playing a small part in advancing knowledge in service of society,” she concludes.

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New report launched: Bold steps to stimulate a changed economy and renewal of South Africa’s growth trajectory

USB News

New report launched: Bold steps to stimulate a changed economy and renewal of South Africa’s growth trajectory

  • October 13
  • Tags Media release, Development Finance

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An alternative economic strategy for South Africa, proposed by Dr Nthabiseng Moleko and Prof Mark Swilling, could see GDP doubling in 10 years, 10 million people moving out of poverty, and unemployment cut by two-thirds to 12% by 2030.

South Africa’s response to the Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to reconfigure, restructure and rebuild the economy by departing from more than two decades of post-apartheid economic policy which has seen lacklustre growth and not achieved significant gains in economic equality, says a report released by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University.

Continuing on the current path, reliant on “mainstream economic thinking and use of existing micro-economic solutions” is unlikely to deliver different outcomes in the future, while the proposed alternative strategies are geared to diversifying the economy to support inclusive economic transformation, labour-intensive growth and a globally competitive and sustainable economy.

Titled New wine into new wineskins: An alternative economic strategy for South Africa’s economic reconstruction, the report and proposed alternative economic framework are a collaborative effort by policy-makers, economists and academics from diverse public, private and research institutions convened under the Social Justice M-Plan by Prof Thuli Madonsela, the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University.

To overcome the stagnation of the economy, which has been deepened by Covid-19 and the national lockdown, the South African government must boldly look to drafting new economic policies that can deliver on the vision set out in the National Development Plan (NDP), the report says.

Following workshops in Stellenbosch in late 2019, an economic working group led by Prof Mark Swilling, Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development in the Stellenbosch University Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, and Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, Development Economist and Senior Lecturer: Managerial Economics and Statistics at USB, developed the proposed strategic interventions to support the emergence of an inclusive, equitable and sustainable economy.

The alternative economic framework is driven by strategic interventions in industrial policy with a target of doubling the contribution of manufacturing to GDP, prioritising labour-absorbing sectors, and boosting domestic food production and rural development. The framework envisages shifting policy on investment and mobilising domestic capital, fiscal policy aggressively targeted at higher economic growth, building state capacity for innovation and governance, and re-shaping empowerment policies to achieve real growth through redistribution.

Sluggish economic growth and the triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality have worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the strategic interventions proposed in the alternative economic framework have the potential to use the current crisis spending to generate inclusive growth, the report says.

Dr Moleko said Covid-19 and lockdowns around the world could trigger an economic disaster worse than the global financial crisis of 2008, with South Africa’s economy expected to contract 7.2% in 2020.

“How government chooses to allocate relief funds in efforts to support economic recovery and longer-term growth can either deepen existing systemic structures or liberate South Africa’s people and the real economy to drive transformative economic change.”

Dr Moleko said the collaborative, multi-stakeholder exercise had produced alternative solutions to South Africa’s economic challenges packaged in seven strategic policy interventions and had used economic modelling techniques to develop scenarios and analyse the potential impact of the interventions on achieving the growth targets of the NDP.

While the “business as usual” scenario for the next decade sees the economy stuck in low growth with continued high rates of unemployment, poverty and inequality; modelling of the impact of the recommended policy interventions indicates “an inclusive growth path that will deliver real and significant benefits to the private sector and working-class and poor families”, she said.

“It shows that a significant portion of the poor would be able to improve their living conditions, that unemployment would decrease significantly and that the private sector would benefit from a significant expansion of the domestic market. Direct benefits accrue to government through a declining debt-to-GDP ratio and an increasing average investment-GDP ratio. Indirect benefits include a growing sense of social cohesion that could promote stable capital accumulation.”

Strategic interventions summarised

The alternative economic framework proposes a new model of the state, “enabled by enhanced coordination and supported by domestic capital mobilisation with a reduced reliance on external capital markets and financial flows”.

Industrialisation as a key growth driver
On industrialisation as a key growth driver, the report recommends the establishment of an Industrial Council to enable coherent planning across the various institutions falling under the Department of Trade, Industry and Economic Development. Although under a single umbrella, agencies such as the Industrial Development Corporation, Small Enterprise Finance Agency and the National Empowerment Fund use different incentives and policy instruments, leading to fragmented and ineffective programmes.

The alternative framework sets a target of doubling the contribution of manufacturing to GDP by shifting from primary sector activities to high-value-added goods and processing of agricultural products.

A phased approach would initially develop highly labour-intensive sectors, adopting a more capital-intensive growth path over the longer term and transitioning to technology-based industrial development.

Labour-absorbing strategies
Arguing that South Africa’s unemployment challenges are due to ineffective interventions rather than lack of funding, labour-absorbing strategies are proposed to address the lack of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs and the mismatch between skills production and labour demand.

Sectors with potential to absorb large numbers of unemployed people – including agro-processing, plastics, metals, construction machinery and the transition to renewable energy – should be prioritised, with education and skills programmes aligned to their needs.

Sectors that do not hold the potential to absorb much more labour – chemicals, machinery and equipment, and agricultural and transport machinery, for example – but that still play a key role in value chains should be supported through employment-generation conditions in state procurement programmes.

Rural development and domestic food production strategies
Alternative rural development and domestic food production strategies are needed to address high levels of economic inactivity, unemployment, food insecurity and dependence on social grants in rural areas, and to grow the share of black farmers in the agricultural sector.

Alternative strategies would link the rural farming economy to upstream and downstream value chains, and improve access to markets, including by providing state-subsidised credit to small-scale farmers.

Investments, domestic resource mobilisation and private sector participation
A “radical shift in approach” to investments, domestic resource mobilisation and private sector participation is proposed to support expansion of manufacturing sectors and stimulate long-term economic growth.

The new approach would include reconfiguring the role of the Public Investment Corporation, development finance institutions and public and private pension funds to mobilise domestic financial resources and drive growth through redistribution and structural reform.

Enabling debt instruments that will grow industrial and productive capacity and generate positive social outcomes are recommended, along with imposing a tax on “idle capital” to encourage corporations to reinvest rather than stockpiling capital.

Strategic fiscal measures
Strategic fiscal measures should link government expenditure to economic output and the impact on poverty, inequality and unemployment, while fiscal stimulus packages would revive supply side sectors, boost industry and drive competitiveness.

Advancing economic recovery can be achieved through inflation targeting, quantitative monetary easing and lower interest rates, rather than by increasing public expenditure and tax cuts.

Fiscal stimulus should focus on sectors such as energy and those that can generate greatest socio-economic impacts over both short- and long-term, achieving poverty alleviation alongside growth. Non-debt fiscal stimulus interventions are also recommended, including redirecting the investments of the PIC and development finance institutions, zero-rating certain items, increasing grants and restructuring the tax system.

Build state capacity
A new paradigm to build state capacity is needed to reverse the “hollowing out” of already limited capacity due to state capture and create a successful developmental state. This should focus on enabling effective relationships of trust between the state and stakeholders, particularly private business and civil society, and shifting to “good enough governance” that can adapt to changing dynamics.

Government officials should be supported and rewarded for innovative risk-taking (for the right reasons) and be able to work through partnerships to achieve their mandates.

Economic growth through redistribution
State-led transformation interventions such as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) have failed to achieve equitable participation in the economy, and the alternative framework proposes a number of strategies for economic growth through redistribution.

An empowerment model should be driven by the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act to encourage and provide fiscal support to rural and township enterprises to participate in national and provincial procurement programmes.

Land transfers for agricultural and manufacturing use should be finalised in order to support the emergence of a new class of farmers and industrialists, while amendments to the Competition Act are recommended for fast-tracking to limit oligopolies and open access for locally-owned retailers in small towns, villages and townships.

“The recommended interventions aim to stimulate, stabilise and strengthen the economic framework to realise a socially just and sustainable economy. Shifting the economy will require the consistent implementation of stimulus-orientated policies that aim to expand aggregate demand and supply while growing productivity, employment levels, and income and expenditure at the business and household levels. This provides the foundation for enhanced participation in the economy, particularly by the most marginalised,” Dr Moleko said.

Click here to download the report.

The M-Plan is a Marshall Plan-like initiative aimed at catalysing progress towards ending poverty and reducing inequality by 2030, in line with the National Development Plan (NDP) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The name is in honor of Palesa Musa, an anti-apartheid activist who at the tender age of 12 was one of the school children that were arrested, detained and tortured for challenging the apartheid government.

The M-Plan seeks to foster social accountability and social cohesion, mobilise corporate and civil society resources to fund socio-economic inclusion and foster civic responsibility.

It aims to leverage data analytics to enhance the state’s capacity to pass laws that reduce poverty and inequality and to foster a culture of data based decision-making, focusing on assessing and predicting the likely social justice impact of planned policies, legislation and plans as well as those already in operation.

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Prof Nicolene Wesson Virtual Inaugural Lecture 2020

Will mandatory audit firm rotation reduce audit market concentration in South Africa? | Prof Nicolene Wesson Virtual Inaugural Lecture 2020

USB News

Will mandatory audit firm rotation reduce audit market concentration in South Africa? | Prof Nicolene Wesson Virtual Inaugural Lecture 2020

Prof Nicolene Wesson Virtual Inaugural Lecture 2020
(Source: Supplied)

  • October 05
  • Tags Our news, inaugural lecture, audit market concentration, annual reports, accounting

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Prof Nicolene Wesson, who lectures Accounting and Taxation at USB, recently presented her inaugural lecture during a virtual presentation on whether mandatory audit firm rotation (MAFR) will reduce audit market concentration in South Africa.

She was the first woman to be promoted to full professorship at the business school in 2018.

She says an inaugural lecture is generally quite a daunting task. “The Covid-19 pandemic definitely added a new dimension to my experience, but I am grateful that I had the opportunity to share my research and that Stellenbosch University has put measures in place to allow for the continuance of the inaugural process.”

The topic of MAFR is contentious and limited research has been done on the topic in South Africa. “Being a chartered accountant myself, I am specifically interested in this field and want to contribute to knowledge by providing evidence-based research on a topic that is often debated based on anecdotal (unscientific) evidence.

“Mandatory audit firm rotation will come into effect in South Africa on 1 April 2023. Mandatory audit firm rotation in this country aims to enhance auditor independence, accelerate transformation and enable deconcentration in the audit profession. In my inaugural lecture I explored the effect of mandatory audit firm rotation on one of the focus areas of MAFR, namely audit market deconcentration,” she says.

Wesson used annual report disclosures on audit firm identity and audit firm tenure (with audit firm tenure only available as from 2016) to describe the audit market concentration over a nine-year period (2010-2018) and to provide insights into the possible effect of MAFR on audit market concentration.

On her findings she says: “My results confirmed that the Big 4 audit firms (namely PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) dominate the South African audit market and that one of the Big 4 audit firms has a monopoly within the audit market. Increased audit market concentration (based on number of clients and audit firm rotation trends) was evident subsequent to the date that audit firm tenure disclosure came into effect. This disclosure on audit firm tenure is seen as to represent evidence of an auditor’s ‘independence in appearance’ and may have influenced companies’ decision to replace their auditors in anticipation of MAFR.

“Based on the Big 4 audit firm dominance and the sheer scale of audit firm rotations to be carried out in anticipation of MAFR, this study identified the possible impairment of audit quality and an increase in costs as unintended consequences of MAFR. The study proposes remedies to address these unintended consequences prior to 2023. Future research on MAFR-related topics – specifically focussing on audit quality and audit costs – is imperative to ascertain whether MAFR (in its proposed format) is the solution for South Africa,” she says.

Watch the full inaugural lecture here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoPHGzPr8yU

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Africa 4IR

What can Africa contribute to the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

USB News

What can Africa contribute to the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Africa 4IR

  • September 21
  • Tags Press release, Leadership, 4IR, Africa

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By Prof Martin Butler

The science fiction writer William Gibson remarked that “the future is already here – it is just not evenly distributed”. This is certainly true for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The First Industrial Revolution explains this perfectly. Even though certain communities and, to an extent, certain countries across the world did not know about the existence of the steam engine and industrialisation in Britain 250 years ago, it transformed the lives of thousands and then millions as it spread globally. That which was unique to parts of Britain in 1770, was well recognised and part of the new normal in 1860 in the developed world.

Fast forward to the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) and some of the most innovative uses of mobile technologies take place on the African continent. Mobile money is one area where we lead the world in using technologies intrinsic to the TIR. When the World Bank needed the skills to head up mobile payments, they recruited a South African that cut his teeth in Kenya.

Although steam and railways (First Industrial Revolution), mechanisation (Second Industrial Revolution), and computing and automation (TIR) shaped the African content, we remained primarily consumers of the technologies developed in other places. Africa either adapted or implemented the technology owned by global organisations or continue to purchase the products and artefacts. For example, we do not design vehicles or mobile phones at a mass scale. Still, we will create factories to manufacture under licencing, or purchase the products arriving in our harbours.

Three of the industries bucking the trend are telecommunications, financial services and agriculture. Some companies and products in these industries are entirely home-grown, and large organisations that are significant players in these industries have partially transformed the image of the lagging continent as African innovations and role players are starting to shape the transactional environment.

The 4IR, often confused with the third that is all about computers and automation, is blurring the line between the physical and the digital. The omnipresence of technology, as well as significant advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, is transforming the work that can be performed by, and how we interact with, technology. This cyber-physical world is different from automation in many respects.

This transformation challenges the essence of humanity, our values and beliefs, and most importantly, how systems react in certain situations. Products of the TIR, like drones and computers, responded to inputs from their human masters. Products of the 4IR, like self-driving cars and autonomous weapons systems, react based on their ability to make sense of their environments by using complex logic that continues to evolve. However, at the core of their reactions is complex patterns devised by humans, or at least the methods in which this complex logic evolves.

…we could, and should, play an essential part in the complex ecosystems that allow this blurring of the physical and the digital.

I do not think African companies will become global role-players in developing automated vehicles or autonomous weapons systems. I do believe that we could, and should, play an essential part in the complex ecosystems that allow this blurring of the physical and the digital. Africa can contribute to the 4IR not by resisting the inevitable distribution of the future brought by the 4IR, but by actively seeking to address some of the biggest remaining problems to ensure universal value for all industries, communities, and citizens of her countries.

Facial recognition systems that dispatch a drone to arrest a criminal on Interpol’s most-wanted list, must not embed past biases in the recognition and decision-making process. Autonomous vehicle and weapons systems must have access to ethical frameworks and moral judgements to make the correct decisions. Capacity development initiatives for humans working shoulder-to-mechanical-shoulder with automated manufacturing lines, or with AI algorithms in financial services, must have the capacity to do so.

The question is often asked about the destruction of employment in the face of automation and the 4IR in particular. Our research indicates that total employment is not reduced; it just shifts as the economy restructures. Rather than asking about the number of workers that will be displaced by technologies, we need to ask how we capacitate our workers to exploit the many new opportunities created by the 4IR. Why can we not be proactive and lead the world in devising methods and models to reskill our workforce for the newly structured economy?

Yes, Africa will not necessarily create the artefacts or entire ecosystems of the 4IR. Still, I think we have a critical role to play in contributing to the reasoning and algorithms embedded in the systems. We also have an important contribution to make in defining and setting examples of building human capacities to exploit and use the new world unlocked by these systems.

…we can make a significant contribution towards long-term value from the 4IR by forming part of the critical conversations and implementations and reskilling of the workforce.

Business, in essence, remains relatively simple: create value for customers through the execution of operations. As new customer value is created, and operations are transformed by investments in 4IR technologies, we need to become part of the conversation about creating equitable value for all customers and providing skilled resources to execute operations that deliver the required value.

Although Africa will not necessarily produce the hardware and software at the centre of the 4IR, we can make a significant contribution towards long-term value from the 4IR by forming part of the critical conversations and implementations and reskilling of the workforce.

*

Prof Martin Butler is Head of Teaching and Learning at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) in Cape Town, South Africa. He is also a Research Associate at the Institute for Futures Research (IFR). He holds an Electronic Engineering degree from the University of Pretoria, and an MBA (Cum Laude) and PhD from USB.

**

Butler was the presenter at a USB Alumni Webinar facilitated by the Ghana Chapter of the USB Alumni Association on Friday, 28 August 2020, where he addressed the above topic.

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USB student following class via blended learning delivery on her laptop

Blended Learning at USB – all programmes offered via this format from 2021

USB News

Blended Learning at USB – all programmes offered via this format from 2021

USB student following class via blended learning delivery on her laptop
(Source: Artem Podrez)

  • September 21
  • Tags Our news, blended learning, postgraduate studies, teaching and learning

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The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) has developed a multitude of ways for students to keep learning and progressing through these unprecedented times and will also now be offering all its academic programmes via the Blended Learning format from 2021.

What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is another form of part-time learning that combines e-learning technology and methods with traditional classroom learning practices to create a hybrid way of learning. This means that students can choose to attend the class on campus or via any internet-linked device from anywhere in the world. The online option is delivered synchronously with the on-campus option.

Those who follow the classes via the Blended Learning format can also ask questions and interact with the class. Thus, whether a student are logging in from home just around the corner of the USB campus, or joining from another continent, they will still enjoy the high level of interaction with lecturers while acquiring the crucial business skills needed to lead responsibly in uncertain times.

Blended Learning at USB
USB has been investing in advanced technology and perfecting its methodologies since 2015 to ensure that its Blended Learning experience is cutting edge, personalised and that students get the best education possible – however they decide to learn.

“USB’s lecturers have been trained to deliver a world-class virtual learning experience and currently there are online learning conventions happening to ensure that the Blended Learning format provides an optimal experience for USB students,” says Prof Martin Butler, head of Teaching and Learning at the business school.

“Online classes have been designed by learning experts for delivery via various multimedia platforms. We are using technology to take the teaching and learning to the student,” he says. 

Benefits of Blended Learning
The Blended Learning experience at is immersive, inclusive and highly interactive. Advantages of this format include:

  • Study while you work, which means minimum time away from work.
  • Reduced travel cost because you can log in remotely from anywhere in the world; and
  • Apply learning immediately as students opting for programmes offered in blended learning format can immediately apply their newly acquired skills in their workplace.

Kyle Loff, a current student doing his MBA via blended learning, says the Blended Learning option of study caught his eye immediately, “and the benefits of limited time off from work appealed to me,” he says.

He adds: “Studying part-time takes its toll on you when you have a demanding job, and that’s where time management comes in. The Blended Learning format is convenient for those that want to build new skills and have minimal impact on their working and family life. I believe there’s more balance to it.”

Apply now
It is now more important than ever to keep learning. Find the perfect USB Blended Learning programme for you today.

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SBA participant in front of one of her classic cars that she restores

SBA particpant’s classic car restorations offer keys to tackle rural poverty

USB News

SBA particpant’s classic car restorations offer keys to tackle rural poverty

SBA participant in front of one of her classic cars that she restores

  • September 21
  • Tags Press release, Women in business, Small Business Academy

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Inspired by a TV show on restoring vintage cars and with R2 000 in her pocket to buy a rusted 1947 Pontiac, Nosipho Kholutsoane saw a road out of poverty and an opportunity to develop industry and skills in the remote rural town of Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape.

Five years later, Mrs Kholutsoane, 39, employs four people in her business Lereku Trading Classic Cars, has a customer base of vintage car enthusiasts from all over the world, and is currently completing the Small Business Academy (SBA) programme presented by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

She was one of 19 small business owners sponsored by the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency (JoGEDA) to participate in the programme aimed at empowering entrepreneurs to grow sustainable businesses in the Eastern Cape’s northernmost district. The mostly rural Joe Gqabi district includes Aliwal North, Barkly East, Burgersdorp, Maclear, Steynsburg and Ugie.

Previously involved in the construction industry, Mrs Kholutsoane now combs the dirt roads and farms of the area in search of disused classic cars dating from the 1930s to the 1970s, buying and restoring them to their former glory and marketing them around the globe via social media.

She has taken on commissions from all over South Africa from owners of old cars in need of restoration, and also hires out her restored vehicles for special events and photo shoots, as well as participating in classic car shows all over the country to promote her business.

“My team and I have a passion and a love for these classic old cars.  Reconstructing them and restoring them to an excellent standard and value for money, brings joy to us and our customers who get to drive a unique vehicle and feel like a king or a queen,” Mrs Kholutsoane said.

The mother of four sees her business as a way to develop skills in the youth of the impoverished, underdeveloped area, and build a future for her schoolgoing children.

Mount Fletcher, with a population of about 11 000, is deep in the rural Eastern Cape – 40km west of the Lesotho border and the nearest urban centre, Mthatha, is 170km away, making it an unlikely spot for a vintage car restoration business.

But the  location has a strategic advantage, says Mrs Kholutsoane, in that Mount Fletcher is on the R56, the shortest route between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, gaining international customers for her business as tourists travelling from Durban to Cape Town stop to take a look at the remarkable sight of classic cars being worked on “in the middle of nowhere”.

Competing against established classic car restorers and custom outfits in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Mossel Bay, she says the SBA programme  has inspired her and equipped her with the skills to “put Mount Fletcher on the map of classic car restorers in South Africa”.

“The Small Business Academy has made a big difference to my business and opened my mind to opportunities to grow the business and market it better. I didn’t understand profit and loss before, but now I can track whether business is growing or going down – and the best part is that I can see that the business IS currently growing.

“I can also see now how many more people I can employ, how I can spread skills to more young people and create job opportunities,” she said.

The SBA programme has also helped her to map and plan for future needs such as a proper workshop under cover and a much-needed chroming machine for restoring bumpers and metalwork.

This was the fourth year of the JoGEDA partnership with the USB Small Business Academy to bring their development programme – specifically designed for historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs in low-income areas – to the district and sponsor participation by selected local entrepreneurs.

JoGEDA chief executive Ayanda Gqoboka said that results for the more than 60 businesses that have now been through the programme had been “outstanding” in enabling entrepreneurs to structure, focus and plan for their businesses.

He said that empowering small businesses to move out of survivalist mode and become sustainable engines of economic growth and employment creation was part of JoGEDA’S strategy to diversify economic activity in the district, unlock the potential for growth in sectors such as agro-processing and manufacturing, and create local employment opportunities that would retain young people in the district.

SBA head Dr Marietjie Theron-Wepener said the programme was developed, and first rolled out in the townships of Cape Town, in response to the high failure rate of small businesses, and she was delighted with the positive results seen in its extension to the Eastern Cape.

“Our vision is to make a difference in the lives and businesses of small business owners in low-income communities, building sustainability and eventually supporting them in such a way that they can play a vital role in alleviating poverty by creating employment,” she said.

 

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gwo 2023

USB to host Gender, Work, and Organization (GWO) Conference in 2023

USB News

USB to host Gender, Work, and Organization (GWO) Conference in 2023

gwo 2023
Business people working in high-end modern office

  • September 14
  • Tags Press release, Women in business, Leadership, diversity, inclusion, gender

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The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) has been selected from a competitive round of applications received from around the globe, to host the Gender, Work and Organization (GWO) Conference in 2023.

The GWO provides an international forum for debate and analysis of contemporary matters affecting gender studies specifically related to the workplace.

With the theme Marginalized gender identities, Prof Anita Bosch, USB Research Chair of Women at Work will be the lead convenor together with Faith Ngunjiri from the Concordia College in the USA; Nasima Carrim from the University of Pretoria; and Ameeta Jaga from the University of Cape Town.

Prof Bosch said hosting the conference in 2023 will be a first for Africa and a major achievement given the significant positioning of the GWO in global business scholarship.

“USB is ideally placed to take the lead as host institution with our expertise in workplace gender studies and offers us the opportunity to showcase the high calibre of international scientific and scholarly pursuits on the African continent.

“We are extremely proud that USB has been recognised as a partner to the GWO which further strengthens the business school and Stellenbosch University’s international scientific standing.”

Attracting around 500 people from around the world, the conference convenes for interdisciplinary scholarly exchange. The conference evolved in recent years from the Gender, Work & Organization Journal, launched in 1994 and the first journal to provide an arena dedicated to debate and analysis of gender relations, the organisation of gender and the gendering of organisations. It is one of the top journals for explicitly feminist work in organisation studies. The recently released 2019 Impact Factor emphasised this with an increase to 3.101 and a position as the number one title in the ‘Women’s Studies’ Web of Science subject category.

Although initially bi-annually, the conference will be hosted annually from 2021. For 2021, University of Kent in the UK will be the host, followed by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia and the Universidad Santo Tomás, Bogotá, in Colombia in 2022.

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2020 women's report south africa

Could #BlackGirlMagic be the secret recipe for success in SA workplaces?

USB News

Could #BlackGirlMagic be the secret recipe for success in SA workplaces?

2020 women's report south africa

  • August 25
  • Tags Women’s Month, Black Women Excellence, Gender equality

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Black African women who bring their #BlackGirlMagic and ubuntu management style to the South African workplace provide leadership that is more culturally relevant to transformed and diverse organisations and leads to better business performance.

Businesses that understand these women’s impact, and tailor their leadership development and mentorship programmes accordingly, can “capitalise on ubuntu-infused leadership and Black Girl Magic” to build an organisational culture geared to greater employee engagement, productivity, and profitability, says University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) lecturer Dr Phumzile Mmope.

In the 2020 Women’s Report, in association with the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP), released during Women’s Month, she says that while the concept of ubuntu is rooted in African traditional philosophy and #BlackGirlMagic is a modern-day movement stemming from social media, the two are linked by values of solidarity, unity, inclusion and a focus on relationships and collective well-being.

“When deployed by leaders these qualities can create more humane workplaces and engaged workforces,” she said.

In her article #BlackGirlMagic – does it have a place in the workplace? in the 10th anniversary edition of the report, themed The rise of the black woman: Celebrating black women’s excellence, Dr Mmope said that research on women and leadership in the African context was limited and that leadership training and development in South Africa remained mainly Eurocentric.

“But the concept of ubuntu-based management, specifically in the context of its application by black African women through #BlackGirlMagic, provides a foundation for leadership development that is more contextually and culturally relevant in transformed and diverse South African organisations.”

Dr Mmope said while increasing numbers of black African women were rising to leadership positions in business, they often had to adapt their behaviour to “the norms in organisations historically dominated by white male leadership” to assimilate and as a coping strategy against discrimination and stereotyping.

…there is a surge of professional black African women who are positively embracing their authentic self and influencing and reshaping organisational cultures with their practise of ubuntu values…

“More recently, however, there is a surge of professional black African women who are positively embracing their authentic self and influencing and reshaping organisational cultures with their practise of ubuntu values and their embracing of the #BlackGirlMagic movement that celebrates black women’s success and resilience and gives them a collective voice.”

“Black Girl Magic is an affirming phenomenon that resonates deeply and amplifies the traits that professional black women embrace when they practise leadership that is shaped by ubuntu values,” she said.

Professional black women who identify with the #BlackGirlMagic movement share their stories of success and encourage others, and attribute their leadership traits such as resilience, accomplishments and triumph over adversity to their #BlackGirlMagic.

Black Girl Magic could be a powerful force in the South African workplace, because its power lies in uniting and establishing a collective voice among black African women leaders…

“Black Girl Magic could be a powerful force in the South African workplace, because its power lies in uniting and establishing a collective voice among black African women leaders who are all striving for the same thing — to challenge the status quo and create humane workplaces.  In reality, black African women should be supported to reach their full potential through community, while they, simultaneously, protect each other from the world that often views them as ‘others’,” she said.

Studies on black African women leaders found that they employed ubuntu-style leadership and employee engagement, focusing on achieving goals through collaborative problem-solving and collective action, building unity and authentic relationships in the workplace, and seeing leadership positions as more about making a difference in the lives of others, including personal goals¹.

Dr Mmope said that rekindling humanness, or the spirit of ubuntu, in the workplace could “perhaps be considered one of the most significant contributions of professional black African women to organisations to improve the effectiveness of leaders and thus enhance organisational performance”.

The authentic relationships resulting from genuine ubuntu-infused leadership remind leaders that people are human beings, not just human ‘doings’ for the achievement of organisational goals.

“The authentic relationships resulting from genuine ubuntu-infused leadership remind leaders that people are human beings, not just human ‘doings’ for the achievement of organisational goals. People want to experience a sense of community, a sense of belonging,” Dr Mmope said.

She said the value of understanding ubuntu from a practical management and leadership perspective – the ethical aspect and the notions of interconnectedness, being part of a collective, making decisions with a view to both individual and collective well-being – lay in the ability to develop organisations “where people enthusiastically align themselves with organisational goals without feeling the need to sacrifice their own individual goals”.

Similarly, the power of #BlackGirlMagic lies in uniting black women and giving them a collective voice, fostering a spirit of solidarity, and encouraging and inspiring others to persevere despite the odds.

Leaders who practise these principles of ubuntu and Black Girl Magic connect employees, promote team spirit and enhance employees’ involvement in their work.

“Leaders who practise these principles of ubuntu and Black Girl Magic connect employees, promote team spirit and enhance employees’ involvement in their work. Employees experience a sense of meaning, significance, inspiration and pride in their work, and that in turn translates into improved organisational performance,” Dr Mmope said.

Dr Mmope’s recommendations for organisations to capitalise on the power of #BlackGirlMagic include contextualised leadership development and mentorship programmes that foster a welcoming environment for professional black women to apply their ubuntu-driven leadership style and be their authentic selves rather than having to assume behaviours and identities to cope with discrimination.

Training and development opportunities should focus more on using existing studies on ubuntu as a management concept, to ensure that these programmes are culturally and contextually relevant in the South African business environment.

 

About the Women’s Report

The 2020 Women’s Report focuses on the rise of the black woman: Celebrating black women’s excellence. The report is compiled in association with the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP) and sponsored by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). The Report is available to download from www.womensreport.africa


¹Ngunjiri, F.W. (2016).  “I am because we are”: Exploring women’s leadership under ubuntu worldview.  Advances in Developing Human Resources, 18(2) 223-242. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301275349_I_Am_Because_We_Are_Exploring_Womens_Leadership_Under_Ubuntu_Worldview

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Rightsizing the Goldilocks dilemma

Rightsizing: the ‘Goldilocks dilemma’ for business under COVID-19 pressure

USB News

Rightsizing: the ‘Goldilocks dilemma’ for business under COVID-19 pressure

Rightsizing the Goldilocks dilemma
Credit: Alexis Fotos, Pexel

  • July 30
  • Tags Press release, Importance of rightsizing, Coronavirus

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Downsizing may present a short-term solution to survival for businesses under the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, but rightsizing – checking the relevance of value propositions, repurposing resources and filling gaps in customer needs – should not be overlooked as a route to longer-term sustainability.

“We all know the fairytale where Goldilocks is faced with three steaming bowls of porridge – they all looked appetising but on closer inspection, one proved to be too hot, one too cold and only one was just right.

For business, these challenging times call for creative solutions to cost and relationship management… – Sonja Cilliers

“For business, these challenging times call for creative solutions to cost and relationship management that are neither too hot or hastily imposed, nor too cool and distanced from the customer, but just the right size,” says University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) managerial accounting senior lecturer Sonja Cilliers.

“There cannot be a blanket assumption that business will return to normal post-coronavirus, and without strategic thinking and planning, a real danger exists that short-term solutions to alleviate the pressure cooker of the present may negatively impact medium- to long-range decision making,” she warned.

Business survival top of mind globally
Business survival is top of mind worldwide, with daily announcements of leading companies in trouble – multi-national corporations such as car rental giant Hertz, $18-billion in debt, and retail chain JCPenney ($4.2-billion debt) filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the USA in May alone. Locally Edcon filed for business rescue in April, with revenue losses of R2-billion, Comair followed in May (R3.4-billion in debt), and Massmart announced earlier this month that up to 1 800 employees in its Game stores could be retrenched.

Challenges facing organisations
The challenges are clear in the second Stats SA survey of the impact of COVID-19 on business, published in mid-May, indicating that 9% of the 2 182 businesses surveyed across various sectors had already closed down permanently by 30 April, almost half had “paused trading” in under Level 5 lockdown in April and 30% said they would not survive a month without any turnover.

Although the follow-up survey  published at the end of June showed that pressure had eased slightly under lockdown level 4, mounting cash flow problems still appeared to threaten survival, with only a third of businesses confident that they had the financial resources to continue operating through the pandemic, said Cilliers.

“If the issues faced are of temporary nature and the company finds itself in a position in which it cannot meet its financial obligations, then a process such as business rescue may be a viable option.

“For those companies that have some leeway in terms of cash management and therefore the luxury of time to plan, it would be sensible to consider two aspects: First, to deal with the immediate threat to continued operations and, second, critical analysis of the sustainability of the business model and the continued relevance of the value proposition to the customer.”

While an application for business rescue or bankruptcy protection doesn’t mean a company will necessarily be liquidated, and corporations such as General Motors and Delta Airlines have regained profitability after bankruptcy reorganisations, she said, “the challenge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is to determine whether the business model followed by a company is still valid”.

…where possible, organisations should aim towards a rightsizing rather than a downsizing orientation. – Sonja Cilliers

She said cost-cutting measures to deal with immediate cash flow problems should be done with a clear view to the direction in which the company is headed, and “where possible, organisations should aim towards a rightsizing rather than a downsizing orientation”.

Call for creative solutions
“Rightsizing requires that resources be repurposed to where the needs gap is manifesting currently. It may very well be that rightsizing the organisation may lead to increased activity in certain aspects of the business, for example products that fulfill basic needs of customers may see an increase in demand in these times.  The challenge then becomes how to repurpose resources, which may range from redeployment of the workforce to the reorganisation of a production plant,” Cilliers said.

She pointed to the example of US supermarket group Whole Foods which has turned some of its physical store locations into “dark stores”, repurposing them into semi-warehouses for online order fulfilment to meet a massive increase in demand for grocery deliveries and curbside collections as customers seek physical distancing.

“The customer needs gap is filled while also providing the store with a greater margin of control over the current bottlenecks and delays suffered by delivery services,” Cilliers said.

She added that relationship management throughout the value chain will be a critical success factor to ensure the survival not only of the company, but the entire value proposition to the end user.

The loss of key supply partners “may prove to be as catastrophic to the business as is the loss of customers”, she said, pointing to the Stats SA survey1 which indicated that 53% of businesses had been unable to obtain the materials and supplies required to continue operations.

The pandemic environment means companies will have to revise forecasts and adjust budgets on a rolling basis… – Sonja Cilliers

The pandemic environment means companies will have to revise forecasts and adjust budgets on a rolling basis, even though assumptions about future revenue that underlie budgeting are particularly challenging with customer spending patterns impacted by decreased income, changing needs and physical impediments to purchasing.

“Revenue assumptions drive production or service costs and in many cases, these costs are fixed over the short term. Even where costs are seemingly locked in, managers will have to think about renegotiating terms, repurposing and rescaling activities.  If businesses can access their relationship capital without resorting to a formalised business rescue exercise, they may be able to garner a larger amount of control and flexibility as to the way forward,” Cilliers concluded.

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