Could you explain the portfolios you will be managing in your new role?
I am responsible for 3 business units within the IDC. I’m looking after agriculture and agro-processing, new industries, and industrial infrastructure.
In April 2015, IDC reviewed its long-term strategy. We asked ourselves “what are the key sectors that give us that edge as a country?” We identified mining and metals, agro-processing and agriculture, and the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
Infrastructure is the catalyst one needs to unlock the potential of these sectors, so we then formed the unit that I manage – Industrial Infrastructure. This unit focuses on four areas from an infrastructure perspective: power, telecoms, water, and logistics.
If we focus on agro-processing and agriculture, this is probably one of the key sectors in terms of being able to include communities. There are huge development opportunities, especially in rural areas. We are not a country that has excess land therefore we think the region, from a continental perspective, provides us the opportunity. We can add value in South Africa, and by doing so we achieve regional integration.
Can we discuss the water issue in South Africa and how to make it commercially viable, whilst serving the basic needs of both industry and the people?
Water is the most complex issue we have at the moment. Unlike energy, it’s a truly basic need. The tariff system in South Africa limits private investment. We have spent two years researching this matter in order to best serve our stakeholders and influence policy to facilitate private sector infrastructure.
We have prioritised four objectives. The mining sector pays rehabilitation fees to a fund so we need to see how we can leverage that fund and utilise the water. The second is water efficiency, which we are trying to analyse in the same way we look at energy efficiency to unlock existing capacity. The third is related to waste water, and here we’ve had engagement with civil construction firms and are partnering with them to create a mutually beneficial package. The final objective in water is desalination, but this process is energy-intensive. New technologies in this regard will be crucial and we’ve been observing projects globally to ascertain their adaptability to South Africa.
Out of the countries you’ve observed, which example do you feel is best suited to replication in the South African landscape?
Israeli agriculture encounters similar problems and yet they make do with what they have via new technologies. We want to learn from their methods. We’ve also engaged with partners in Catalonia and have been actively studying Namibian desalination efforts.
The IDC has earmarked 4.5billion ZAR for youth-owned-businesses. Innovation is usually synonymous with young people and youth are the most in need of employment. How has this been received?
We have set aside this amount to support youth participation in the economy across all the sectors, with the aim being that the youth own our economic transformation. We held our first youth conference in October this year, and the result of this meeting was the creation of a portal called ‘SA under 36.’ The portal serves as a forum for anybody concerned with youth development in South Africa.
The feedback from young entrepreneurs was that more conversation is required, so we’ve created a youth development pipeline and a panel of industry experts to assist not only financially but also technically. Money is not enough, they also need support and guidance.
What is your advice to the young entrepreneurs in South Africa and international investors considering South Africa as a destination?
We are open for business. We have strong policies, strong financial markets and systems in place. To young entrepreneurs, I would say research your idea thoroughly. Come to us so we can better direct you. We are able to compare your idea to others that have succeeded or failed and prepare you to create a business plan that will attract finance.