IN DECEMBER 2010 I made a comment that if you were going to back one initiative in the new year, then it had to be the Awethu Project run by Yusuf Randera-Rees.
At the time, a couple of readers complained that the column was a shameless plug for an initiative which had caught my eye.
Perhaps it was, but fast forward six months and the project has grown to a team of 10 members who have provided support to some 2 000 entrepreneurs. That's not bad going, considering that they have achieved this with very limited financial resources.
I'm going to plug them again: imagine what these guys could do if they were equipped with some serious money and infrastructure.
With it being Youth Day I thought this quote from Dr Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green which presented the award to Awethu, was relevant: "Echoing Green's 2011 Fellows are an inspiring group of pragmatic visionaries who, rather than accept the world as it is, see what it can be. It takes a village to raise a social entrepreneur."
I loved that bit about seeing the world for what it can be.
Let's be honest, it is very difficult to remain upbeat about South Africa if you read the news headlines. Everything seems to be under threat including media freedom, employment, electricity supply and roads - one could go so far as to suggest the very moral fibre of the country is coming apart at the seams.South Africans strut their stuff on the world stage
Are people like Yusuf fighting a losing battle?
My feeling is no and I'll point to Visa's recent announcement that they would be buying Cape-based startup Fundamo for $110m. A handful of entrepreneurs have built a business which will see hundreds of millions of rands in foreign investment flow into the country in the next few years.
I have also become jaded by reading some of the headlines, and one of the first questions I put to Visa when I chatted to them about this deal was bout the topic.
“With all the nonsense around the Massmart/Walmart transaction and having read the headlines dominating South African papers at the moment, why in the world would you want to invest so much capital here?”
The reply from the guy at Visa: "The product out of Fundamo was head and shoulders above the rest of the world, and in terms of regulatory hurdles the whole deal took less than 90 days to facilitate."
The moment I heard that I realised that while we have some very real problems in South Africa, we also do some incredible things. We consistently punch above our weight and if you look around, you will see other deals, including CSense and Peresys which have been bought out in the last nine months by foreign heavyweights because the products we have developed really are world class.
From the grassroots stuff that Yusuf is doing to the corporate headquarters of Visa, South Africans are continuously being recognised for their achievements and we should keep our eye on the ball when we are feeling down.
Old Mutual has a payoff line on one of its current campaigns that I believe is apt for Youth Day and it is simple:"Do great things."