A pathway to developing a strong enterprise base in Lesotho:
A case for Ichorise Mohoebi
BEDCO launched its entrepreneurial capacity-building project, Ichorise Mohoebi on 25 November 2013. This was a defining and seminal moment for the Corporation as the project was ushering in a new era in the enterprise development in Lesotho. It was an attempt to equip entrepreneurs with skills on how to start, operate and grow their businesses. It had come to the notice of the Corporation that business enterprise in Lesotho was stagnant for a number of reasons, one being that those involved in business lacked the requisite know-how and the mechanics of running a business and to grow those already operating to greater heights.
First, those who have grand business ideas and would like to develop them into business had no shoulder to lean on so that they end up in business, what kind of business and with what resources. With the Start-Your-Business module, Ichorise Mohoebi was able to equip starters in the business environment with techniques on how they could develop their grand business ideas into real business. Second, there are entrepreneurs who are already in business, but just wanted techniques on how they could possibly operate their business in a professional manner so that they sustain in business. Lack of business acumen has rendered most businesses unsuccessful because they fail to differentiate between their business and their immediate families and personal needs. They see business as an alternative to their needs. Partly so, because one comes to business because there are needs that have to be met and for the fact that capital has been injected into the business, which should give the owner returns. However, the businessman/woman must be able to treat his/her business as an independent entity, which has its own needs. Under Ichorise Mohoebi, businessmen/women were able to tap on the skills on how to operate their businesses better for more returns. They acquired these skills free of charge.
Third, entrepreneurs trained under Ichorise Mohoebi were able to tap on skills on how they could grow their businesses. Every business, just like a human being, must move from point A to point B. This implies growth in terms of profits reaped by the business. It also means growth in terms of the stock the business is capable of purchasing, given financial resources at its disposal, which of course, will bring more profits if sold. Growth also applies to the number of employees a business has. If a business first employed two people when it started, it must be seen to grow to employ more so that there are more hands and heads that add value to the business. Most organisations are stuck in the middle of the road as they cannot realise growth from one level to the next. Under Ichorise Mohoebi, businessmen/women were equipped with relevant skills on how they could do all the mentioned three.
The project recorded a high number of 587 entrepreneurs trained, 348 of which were women, 127 men and 112 were youth. The divisions here are important as they show that the programme catered for the various demographics within society – women, youth and men. Above all, Ichorise Mohoebi demystified and debunked one of the traditional practices and myths where women have lagged far behind as they were not in business. Traditionally, either by default or design, men seemed to take the centre-stage in terms of involvement in business. However, the trend is gradually changing and this has been evidenced by Ichorise Mohoebi. It therefore says, if these 348 women who were lucky to acquire skills under the project can get into business or improve their businesses, tapping on the skills they obtained from the project, Lesotho will make a dent in terms of women empowerment, especially as regards business.
Fourth, youth also remain on the side-lines of society when it comes to business. They remain one of the vulnerable and forgotten age groups who are pushed to the margins of society, but who are only active during elections when they dip their fingers in the ink to elect leaders, and mostly they elect male adult people who turn their backs against them once in power.
They will be remembered in the next poll. Under Ichorise Mohoebi, a great lot of idle youth got trained and this has had a positive multiplier effect for the envisaged development of Lesotho. If those 112 youth could start their own businesses, they can change the economic and socio-economic landscape of the country by reducing the high unemployment in Lesotho, much of which features youth. The next step for them is to craft attractive and selling business plans and submit them to banks to solicit funding of their businesses. Writing business plans was one of the modules under Inchorise Mohoebi. If the Partial Guarantee Scheme had been rightly-placed under BEDCO, it would be handy as women, youth and men who have been trained under Ichorise Mohoebi project would be able to tap on the funding and start their own businesses.
Ichorise Mohoebi also did wanders by training 35 consultants who added value as trainers for MSMEs who reaped benefit from the project. This pool of consultants will be remembered in the future when training programmes come emerge at the Corporation. BEDCO is overwhelmed by this development under the Ichorise Mohoebi Project, which was testimony to the fulfilment of the Corporation’s core mandate of developing and promoting entrepreneurship in Lesotho. This mandate is unambiguously spelt out in the founding Act that established the Corporation 34 years ago. The achievement under Ichorise Mohoebi is evidence to the Corporation’s slogan – ‘we grow business.’ Indeed, we did it under the project and are looking forward to Phase II of the project in anticipation of more entrepreneurs to be trained and developed.
A cursory look at ‘flea markets’
Our micro, small and medium enterprises’ mission is to have their products sold to their customers. This in return will give them profits that they will use to run their business and to make ends meet in life. That is the essence of business – buying stock, selling it and making profit while at the same time replanting the seeds for continued harvest.
BEDCO has been involved in the provision of temporary markets for the MSMEs that it has worked with over the years, called flea markets. Flea markets are temporary because they grant entrepreneurs an opportunity for the day to showcase their products. They also network entrepreneurs with customers who would like to place orders for their products in the future.
BEDCO would like to improve the organisation of these flea markets to make it more fruitful. There will be three major flea markets organised in a year, shifting from the random district ones. There will be one flea market organised in one region, say the Northern Region comprising Leribe, Butha-Buthe, Mapoteng and Mokhotlong. It may be stationed in one of the three districts. Entrepreneurs from these districts or other districts outside the region will have a grand opportunity to display their wares in one area for a day or two where they will attract buyers from various places.
The Communications & Marketing Department will have advertised the flea market well in advance, two or three months before, so that the public is aware of it and prepares itself, budget-wise in other ways for the flea market. The entrepreneurs in the areas in question will have been conscientised well in advance so that they prepare their wares for display in these flea markets.
The next big flea market is expected to take place in Butha-Buthe on 30-31st August 2014. This will involved as mentioned, entrepreneurs from Leribe, Butha-Buthe, Mapoteng and Mokhotlong. Potential buyers will come from all over the country.
Critical analysis of new-coming organisations
The private sector has been broached by the Government of Lesotho as an engine room for economic growth. This is the case everywhere in the world. This is so because the Government has realised that it can no longer absorb graduates who complete tertiary education to work in the civil service. In Lesotho, the civil service is saturated as it takes almost 3-4 and to some five years before securing a job in the civil service. This places severe strains for families and the graduates themselves to undergo training and no returns are seen. It becomes a serious disincentive for others to go to school to the level of tertiary education. It also undermines the government’s efforts to invest in education if those educated with taxpayers money just end up in streets seeking jobs. Also, it does not add much value to the needed human development plans of the state.
Therefore, the government encourages growth of private sector so that when graduates complete their tertiary education, they do not expect to be absorbed by the civil service, but engage in business and create jobs for others. This means that the Government only remains the policy maker, not job creator. Ideally, those who work in the civil service perform primary responsibilities of delivering service to the people to facilitate their business development. People who are employed in the civil service must be those who make payments to businesses that provided service to the government, be it for construction of a road, a bridge, catering, and stationery or for any other service provided to the government. Others should be those who facilitate business by registering private companies, passport services and others. The rest must be self-employed either in partnerships, sole traders or in companies. The state must play the facilitation and regulatory role while a great chunk of work is done by the private sector.
In most countries, micro, small and medium enterprises are the backbone and engine room of economic growth. That man and woman or even youth seen in the streets, bearing the ghastly cold winters is the one who is jerking the economic growth of the country as he pays huge taxes that go into the coffers of the country. The men in suits and ties and women in smart clothes add little in terms of economic growth. Instead, the latter group are a burden and liability to the state as they consume from the coffers because their salaries are paid from the taxes that come from the man and woman in the street. That is the reason why civil servants should be fewer than those self-employed working in the private sector. The state as well must encourage people to be self-employed. However, the scenario has been the total opposite as politicians when they canvass their political manifestoes promise people jobs in the civil service. When they have been voted, they take some of the voters and dump them in the jobs that were supposed to have long been leased out to the private sector. Cadre deployment, which is done in pursuit of garnering voters is only short-term and distorts long-term economic growth as it creates dependency on the civil service as the sole employer.
Politicians have created dependency on the civil service for a long time and this has been evidenced by the list of graduates who await deployment into the civil service through applications submitted to the Public Service Commission (PSC). These are counted in thousands and only a small fraction is absorbed annually.
Efforts to embrace entrepreneurship as the way to go in growing the economy is gradually taking shape and a few politicians are talking the language of job creation that is driven by the private sector. The National Strategic Development Plan of Lesotho (NSDP) talks directly to this fact of job creation up to 10, 000 jobs per annum. The 2014/2015 budget speech delivered this year in parliament has emphasised this fact of private sector-driven job creation.
However, the practice on the ground is a different one. There seems to be more organisations that are established to deal with entrepreneurial development in Lesotho, while results of this are too little. But if one strong entrepreneurship corporation or company was assigned the role of developing entrepreneurs, Lesotho’s economy would grow tremendously. BEDCO is therefore well-placed to perform this role. In an ideal scenario, resources, financial, human and infrastructural would be channelled towards one area, BEDCO to drive the agenda of entrepreneurial development. The many mushrooming entrepreneurial organisations that seek funding from the government weaken the grand objective of having the private sector as the engine for economic growth as this strains the small cake among a number of organisation, some of which have little capacity to do so.
A glance at the reorganisation exercise at the Corporation
After picking bones from near collapse following a spate of shenanigans that had bedevilled BEDCO, the Corporation bit the lower lip and vowed not to drown, but to reincarnate from the ashes. The coming of Mr Robert Likhang as Chief Executive Officer by secondment from the Centre for Accounting Studies into the BEDCO’s fold a year ago has seen marshalling of a new rejuvenation plan, a plan that seeks to pull the Corporation from the doldrums to which it had been thrown. It is now close to two decades of the reorganisation exercise, the Corporation is breathing new life. A number of developments aptly attest to the new vision, mission and strategic direction that the Corporation has vowed to take to make a turnaround. This is not for any individual’s benefit, but it is for the good of entrepreneurial development in Lesotho, which is at the heart of the Government of Lesotho. It would be remiss of the Government of Lesotho not take noble steps towards development of enterprise in the country as it is the engine room of economic growth. This must not only be fashionably be uttered in political rhetoric, but must be shown in actions. For the past decade or so, the Government of Lesotho’s annual budget speeches delivered by various ministers of Finance have carried the catch phrase – ‘Private sector is the engine of economic growth. it is up time these words turned into action.
Likhang was able to bring to the fold, a rejuvenation and has been averse to calling it transformation or reincarnation as the two connote reinvention of the wheel, when it practical terms it is not, but building on what was already in the pipeline and just giving it shape. For example, introduction of Ichorise Mohoebi is not a completely new phenomenon at BEDCO, as it is enterprise development, which has existed for decades, but the project was injection of new energy to move the ship forward.
The rejuvenation has also been seen through rebranding of the organisation to give it flavour in the eyes of the onlookers, its stakeholders and all those with whom it constantly comes into contact. New banners, promotional material and many more bear testimony to the new visioning at BEDCO. As an addition to the rebranding exercise, a new Department of Communications and Marketing was created to specifically work on the internal and external image of BEDCO. By crafting comprehensive marketing and public relations programmes, the Department will ensure that the favourable image of the Corporation is created and sustained.
Internally, that it to say, at human resource level, changes also took place – a new organisational structure was crafted, with intent to breathe life into the performance of the Corporation. Introduction of new portfolios and reshuffling of staff to redeploy them to where they will make the needed impact has added value to the organisation. New performance management systems and the writing of new job descriptions has also been with intent to improve delivery.
Of critical importance is that there were no job loses or retrenchments as the case may be, but people were moved from point A to point B so that they unleash their potentials where they are most suited. Without saying, remuneration packages also changed dramatically to place directors, managers, senior officers, supervisors and the general staff at least at par with their colleagues in other like-minded organisations. Without delving on the theoretical perspectives that remuneration has proven that it is not the only motivator for good performance, but it does add value to people’s expected performance and delivery. Human resource management experts could argue that most retention strategies involve good remuneration packages that organisations must reconsider. After all, most people turn down their offers at interview level because the remuneration packages offered do not meet their expectations. It can be argued further, as it is the reason why most people leave their current jobs.
Another injector that has been brought to the fold as part of the rejuvenation exercise is that of the positive attitude to work, the work ethic in other words. It would be futile for Likhang to think of injecting changes by leaving the attitude change dimension. It is the cardinal point to all these mentioned changes. Even if salaries would be raised, rebranding done and reorganisation be effected with intent to improving BEDCO, if attitude to work (work ethic) still remained the same, it would not benefit the organisation. Therefore, the management of BEDCO, led by Likhang is working towards change of attitude and work ethic within themselves first, and then inject this spirit of being results-oriented to their subordinates. Change of attitude does not come overnight, but is a result of painstaking work of gradually making an impression that if approach to work was done in a different manner, it would yield more results for the organisation. There is therefore a lot to do with changing people’s attitudes and this sometimes has to do with deeply-entrenched traditions of doing things that are imbedded in the minds of people. New ways of moving them to change for the better requires a skill in people management. Humanistic approaches argue that dealing with the social fabric of the employees at work can work positively for a manager who desires to see attitude change. These involve staff welfare mechanisms at work that introduce new social ties and new thinking in the social life of employees. New traditions such as staff trips and outings, social networks such as social clubs, new staff uniform, new offices, regular staff meetings where employees are kept abreast with new developments in the organisation as well as introduction of staff awards for rewarding excellence in work performance as well as in discipline add value to people seeing change and adapting to it. BEDCO is in the way to introduce these for it to see the expected change in the manner its employees approach work.
The last major change that BEDCO under the stewardship of Likhang has introduced is that of changes in the programmatic content of the Corporation. Without reinventing the wheel as earlier mentioned, changes in the shape of programmes has been effected to inject better performance. Such changes to mention a few are the introduction of the Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation Programme with a manager and officers has injected change in the manner officers, especially managers see things. This does not imply that there was no planning, monitoring and evaluation done at BEDCO before, but introduction of a new portfolio in that regard creates a good impression that PME is being taken seriously and with more focused attention to it and its detail.
As the rejuvenation takes shape, the organisation works towards seeing more results coming its way. This will be ensured by comprehensive organisational, programmatic and individual performance appraisals that intend to assess how the organisation and those charged with responsibilities fare in their areas of operation. The results of performance of the organisation will be put together and communicated to the stakeholders during a Stakeholders’ Forum that will from this year, be held annually. This is a platform that is envisaged to grant all stakeholders of the Corporation a grand opportunity to meet with the organisation and get a glimpse of how it executes the mandate conferred on it.