The GIBS “State of the SME sector” Forum

Monday 17th February 2014

Last week Monday the 17th March 2014, 2020 Insight attended the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Forum Event in conjunction with Nedbanks’ ‘Making Small Business Happen’ initiative. The heated topic of discussion was aimed at addressing ‘The state of the SME sector in SA’ through confronting some of the issues that affect small businesses in SA. There was quite a flood of ideas and perspectives that figuring out what to take away from it is has proven to be a bit of a challenge.

The four speakers of the panel as well as the facilitator did a stupendous job at provided us with an umbrella view of the sector.

SMEs and funders talking different languages

Nazeem Martin, the Managing Director of Business Partners Limited was his usual eloquent and insightful self.  He drove home the point that there is more money available from the financial sector and other investors than there are bankable business propositions. He further suggested that the problem with access to funding by SMEs is more a communication issue. SMEs don’t know how to structure and present themselves and their ideas in a compelling enough fashion to secure funding, to this he proposed more coordinated support and ongoing mentorship from corporates and the government.

A model for success

Additionally, another compelling point that was raised by panellist Tebogo Nkosi- Managing Director of Boffin & Fundi was that there is a growing importance for an “authentic vision” that will drive Entrepreneurs versus the current short-termism and expediency mind-set that is prevalent today. Further, as she continued, the sector needs to engage in Thought Leadership, which would in turn create a culture of entrepreneurship in the country, as this would be beneficial in inspiring the youth towards entrepreneurship. This statement mirrored what Martin profoundly said, which is: that “Doctors save lives, but so do entrepreneurs, because they create jobs!” therefore, entrepreneurship as you would have it, is a worthy aspiration for all South Africans.

Bringing it all together

The common concern voiced by the panel and the audience was the evident lack of coordination of national SME development efforts. Gordon Malebo of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NAFCOC) proposed a ministry of SME development, however to the disapproval of many. The sentiment was basically “please not another ministry.” To quote Denis Dykes of Nedbank “…provided we close the other two ministries.” Understandable perhaps, but all agreed that more work needs to be put into coordinating the national drive to build SMEs and Entrepreneurs.   The opening of the Gauteng Investor Centre (GIC) by the Provincial Government in February this year has been universally applauded and indicates the merits of a single centre to drive and simplify business and investment. The centre is there to make it simpler for local and foreign investors into Gauteng to set up shop. These are mostly well resourced organisations and individuals, and if a case can be made for assisting them, then what more the micro and small businesses struggling to get off the ground across the country?

“What doesn’t get measured…”

Dennis Dykes also presented Nedbank’s newly formed Small Business Index which “tracks trends and issues affecting small businesses in South Africa”. ( The index is still in its early stages and intentions are to tweak and expand it as time goes. It currently looks at the following four areas with regards to SMEs:

  • Confidence and behaviour
  • Financial activity
  • Expectations of government and private sector
  • Difficulties faced and their impact

This will be an important additional tool for policy makers and all of us involved in developing SMEs.

Part of the solution

We had brief ‘offline’ talks with the some of the panellists after the formal discussions. From our side, it seems that there is a lot of good work being done by various sectors including Government. And that we as South Africans are sometimes unfairly critical. The task facing the country from 1994 has been overwhelming, we did not even start from scratch, but from a huge negative. Perhaps not enough was done to set clear objectives that would help manage expectations, and provide a sense of a unified and strategic national purpose. The National Development Plan has now somewhat done that. It speaks of an imminent “national small business service delivery agency” which is in line with what Gordon Malebo proposed. We discussed this with him, as well as what NAFCOC has been up to lately. We enthused enough to commit to going over there ASAP to see if we might be of use.

On the whole, a very informative and inspiring evening. Hats off to GIBS, Nedbank and City Press. We can certainly do with more of this.   


  • Okay so, we didn’t tweet live, there was just too much going on. It needed time to process. See our overview (Linked in link, facebook link).
  • Overall all great evening. Well done to the organisers and all participants.
  • We very much the Nedbank’s Small Business Index (