Born to be on top

May 19 2011 10:01
Marc Ashton

I LIKE South Africans. For the most part they are smart, innovative and, most importantly, competitive. It is not surprising that the country has developed businesses and entrepreneurs capable of holding their own on the world stage.

For that reason I am always curious to see where South Africa stacks up in terms of competitiveness rankings such as the one run by the research unit at IMD, which released its results recently. Sadly, South Africa has fallen from 44th to 52nd out of 59 surveyed economies.

While I understand some of the issues, to me it just seems counterintuitive to see us lagging in these kind of rankings. South Africans are not born to be mediocre.

You can be defeatist and argue that statement, but I think it is reflected in terms of the way professional sportspeople and the administrators view the rankings of teams and players who participate in rugby, cricket and golf. If we slip, we want answers.

Those codes take pride in their ability to compete with the rest of the world; let's be honest, name even one sports minister who hasn't taken the positive PR associated with us winning major sporting events.

If you can you have ministers posing with World Cup trophies, why are the decision makers who head up the economic portfolios not posing with signs saying where South Africa finishes in their categories?

Obviously it is not a great reflection when you keep showing signs that you are going backward in terms of your international peers, but maybe it is time to look at the uncomfortable stats and start holding them up to the light.

What will the 2011 municipal elections be remembered for? Open toilets which made it on to the front pages of most newspapers in the last few months. Mudslinging, name-calling, tenderpreneurs and finger-pointing which followed as politicians all sought to make sure they weren't held responsible for these issues in their own backyards.

While one can appreciate that South Africa's economic growth issues are broader than mere competitiveness, a focus on this factor can lead to a mindshift to spur the current interest in entrepreneurship in the country.

At the moment we have a desire to create entrepreneurs who create businesses, but we don't really have any short-term goals for this desire. It follows that entrepreneurship and competitiveness will be closely linked. If you know that the guy, team or country above you on the list is doing things a certain way, you are going to start trying to devise a plan to do it better, smarter or more efficiently.

Just like SAFA sets goals for where it would like the national soccer team to be, it would be great to see entrepreneurs, business managers, policy makers and other stakeholders to pick an achievable number and focus on it.

Whether IMD is the right measure is open to debate, but it would be really refreshing to pick a benchmark and say: "South Africa's goal in the next year is to be in the..."

Pick something achievable and with a relatively short time frame.

I am going to sign off this week with a quote from Professor Stéphane Garelli, director of IMD's World Competitiveness Centre.

"In a new world of 'state capitalism', government efficiency will become a key determinant to competitiveness. Alas, the time lag between government reforms and economic imperatives keeps on increasing."

 - Fin24

businesses  |  entrepreneurship



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