Opinion Piece

Bridging access to information gap between young entrepreneurs and economic development agencies

Access to information is undoubtedly the cornerstone of any developing economy. Inevitably, the Competition Commission has placed high on its advocacy agenda, the promotion of youth entrepreneurs. While identifying barriers to entry, the Commission has among other challenges fingered access to information as a pivotal economic divide between commercial businesses and youth entrepreneurs. Ironically, youth ought to drive social change, contribute to economic expansion, and create job opportunities across the country. It would be amiss for digital markets, fintech, renewable energy, agriculture and telecommunications, to mention but a few, not to envision a central role played by young people in growing these markets.

For this reason, and working with various state economic cluster agencies, the Commission held its inaugural Youth in Business (YIB) Exhibition in the year 2022.  The YIB Exhibition is a culmination of the Commission’s stakeholder engagement workshop conducted in 2019, to understand the barriers faced by emerging youth entrepreneurs. The Commission identified that there are key barriers that affect the entry, participation, and sustainability of youth in business. These barriers included limited access to vital information about running a business, recognising financial resources targeted at youth-owned businesses, how to comply with regulations, and government funding opportunities.

The 2022 workshop provided a valuable opportunity wherein 300 young entrepreneurs gained access to information about various government resources, inter alia, funding available to youth-owned businesses and mandatory regulatory requirements needed to access such funds and interventions. One of the entrepreneurs who credits the success of her entrepreneurial dream to the support of her family and government institutions, Keatlegile Mnguni, was part and parcel of the YIB Exhibition held in 2023. The young farmer started her entrepreneurial journey four years ago selling bunches of her startup spinach crop in Bronkhorstspruit. Following basic training in beef production and seed funding from Development Funding Institutions (DFIs), to put to test her processed agricultural products for nutritional information, Keatlegile was able to diversify her business to include the cultivation of other vegetables, beekeeping, and establishing an agricultural clothing label.

Two DFIs had helped Keatlegile on her entrepreneurship journey, thanks to the Commission’s intervention that extended a helping hand to the country’s young entrepreneurs, in the main, to narrow the information and communication divide between youth and government agencies. And so was born the concept of creating a single space where youth could meet with several government agencies and engage face-to-face with representatives of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), the National Empowerment Fund, the National Youth Development Agency, South African Revenue Service, the Small Enterprise Finance Agency, South African Youth Chamber of Business, and many more.

The first edition of the YIB Exhibition took place in September 2022 at the dtic Campus in Sunnyside, Tshwane. Commission’s senior leadership and our advocacy teams had a rare opportunity to meet with young entrepreneurs active in various industries such as organic haircare and fast food, with many attendees in various stages of their business journeys – from having a business idea that sought to address social change to needing guidance on ensuring products met regulatory standards. In November last year, the second YIB Exhibition not only brought government agencies into one space but also invited nine young entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses and share their business journey with other youth at the exhibition. Keatlegile was one of these entrepreneurs who inspired the event attendees by demonstrating the power that access to information can have in promoting entrepreneurship among South Africa’s youth.

Youth entrepreneurship is a catalyst for inclusive growth and a greater spread of economic participation by Historical Disadvantaged Persons (HDPs), youth in particular. It is always fulfilling to meet young entrepreneurs at every YIB Exhibition, especially those who are already visionaries in their business concepts and models with evident signs of determination to promote products and services that support rural communities. South Africa’s young entrepreneurs in the country are hard at work to address the socio-economic we are seized with, and it is imperative for the public and government agencies alike to support youth entrepreneurship to tackle youth unemployment, food security concerns, and the energy crisis, to name a few. Keatlegile’s remarkable journey proves that all that young entrepreneurs need is a “hand up.” 

The  Commission’s efforts  underscore the importance of promoting youth entrepreneurship as a tool to drive change, to ensure young people understand what competition regulation entails, and how our work can help reduce barriers to entry for youth-led businesses. That’s why the Commission is steadfast in its commitment to obliterate the information and communication divide between the youth and government agencies by continuously engaging with young entrepreneurs on the ground. Just last week, we participated in the Green Youth Indaba in Durban, where we met with young entrepreneurs in the renewable energy industry and raised awareness about the Competition Act whilst visiting a local buyback centre. I cannot wait to share, in my next column, key insights learned from the Indaba including amazing youth business engagements with youth, while highlighting other success stories of young entrepreneurs, who like Keatlegile, are fast  becoming formidable business leaders.

Makunga is spokesperson for the Competition Commission of South Africa.

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