The Positive African Narrative JA x Dr Sumarie Roodt: Director of Silicon Cape

Dynamite insights, constructive solutions and the open-minded nature that South Africa needs right now! Dr Sumarie Roodt reminded us why both local and international investors should appreciate the stories that inform a positive African narrative.

You’ll read about the reasons to invest in SA, the importance of our local narrative and why the creative-tech mish-mash is a hopeful promise and not a fourth industrial nightmare.

The most difficult task had been to determine which of the many informative parts to our discussion will be shared here, but the excerpts below serve as a great example as to why Dr Roodt was a natural choice when considering ambassadors of positivity - let’s dive in!

The Irrational Fear of International Partnerships.

Johan: We live in a country where our identity has become paramount to our growth, but a big part of that involves international collaboration. Are we on the right track when considering partnerships?

Dr Roodt: We’re doing a lot of advocacy around a relationship between China and Africa at the moment. I was in a conference call recently with Beijing towards running a whole series of events around tech in Africa and to establish how we can build better networks between ourselves and China. We want to change the actual narrative around China from the uninformed negative sentiment that people are unfortunately buying into, to the great accomplishments that’s already been achieved through this partnership. It’s just very exciting.

Johan: I agree! Heidi Dahl and her team at Innovation Norway provides additional proof on how other countries are not here to steal from Africa, but instead to provide their own resources in order to upskill and empower our African economy in building its own economic rocket ship. It’s easy to jump the negativity gun, but in light of our recession it should be all the more telling that other countries are partnering with us due to our potential for growth and not our reluctance to being easy and desperate targets.

Dr Roodt: It’s so important to change that narrative, because in most cases the interventions I’ve seen were genuinely here to help. They’re not here to take our stuff and run away. It’s backwards to even be thinking about resource exposure at this point. Other countries want to come and help and if people want to come and help, why not let them? They’re not here to enforce their narrative – they’re here to empower our local culture.Internationals have showed me what they’re seeing in their media; and no wonder they panic. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be demystified. And we have a responsibility. Especially in the way you’re doing now.

The Silicon Cape Attraction.

Johan: You’re in the position of leading a company that is integral to so many local entrepreneurs - so naturally you understand the value of Silicon Cape’s role, but why do you personally believe in Silicon Cape?

Dr Roodt: Our culture is rooted in serving the ecosystem. We’re not driven by any primary interest group and our independence is what allows us to represent the interests of everybody in the space. There’s a lot of collaboration happening and people are more than willing to share towards achieving greater goals. There’s a certain energy that comes with the ecosystem as well and you can sense it in Cape Town. You have this mish-mash of the creative space with the tech space. So JA, it’s the energy for me. The energy and the cultural ecosystem and the fact that it’s trying to unify this Pan-African reality in terms of these 100’s of tech hotspots that aren’t unified yet. Cape Town is now also seen as the unification point – which makes it so exciting!

I am deeply passionate about Africa, entrepreneurship and innovation. It would be naïve to say there’s a silver bullet, but as an ideal I think it’s something incredible to aspire towards. Silicon Cape needed me to step up and I spend about 40% of my time here. It’s something I believe in - I believe in Africa as the future in terms of being a potential leader from an innovation perspective; and I’d like to be part of that journey. I must add that there is a need for strong female role models in the ecosystem and that is definitely something that was key for me.

African Problems need African Solutions.

Johan: Can you name three innovative approaches or companies that you really respect and admire, which can be described as ‘African solutions’ to ‘African problems’?

Dr Roodt: Two happen to be in the Agri-space and one is in digital services. The first example is SweepSouth - which is pure social innovation in terms of impactful entrepreneurship. They’re not only talking about it from an accounting perspective, but they harness the PPP approach. People, Planet and Profit. Historically, our traditional capitalist business schools was all about maximising job value. SweepSouth on the other hand suggests that accounting principles should convert to the PPP. JA, of course they’re making money from it, but it’s very much a social improvement project. They’re focussing on their Sweepstars and provide other services to them which will improve their livelihood at a national level. That is key for me.

I think for me that’s an incredible example of a start-up where it’s going to potentially have a massive impact on people’s livelihoods, and at the same time make money. And possibly become a dominant model globally for that type of thing.

Johan: A while back I wrote about SAESIS: South Africa’s Endangered Species Investment Sector. SweepSouth falls perfectly into the Zebra category, equally valuing both profit and the improvement of society in a capitalist jungle, amongst all the unicorns and gazelles. The crazy thing is how rare zebras really are in comparison to unicorns, but then again, maybe the unicorns are rhinos in denial!

Dr Roodt: That’s brilliant! I love the animal analogy and the addition of a third animal - so I will definitely go check it out!Two others: Abalobi – the initiative for sustainable fishing; and Aerobotics, a company that I’m sure you know. Abalobi initiatives provided us with a highly transferable model that can go across industry - there are no geographical borders when it comes to this type of stuff.

Industry 4.0 Positivity.

Johan: Why should people be positive about the fourth industrial revolution?

Dr Roodt: I read an article yesterday from the World Economic Forum which states that The Fourth Industrial Revolution is actually about empowering people and not about the tech itself. It's not about the ‘Rise of the Machine’. There is a huge focus on the 4th Industrial Revolution and we romanticise it, you know? ‘Ah, it's going to transform the world’ and all that. It's also kind of got the dark side to it - ‘we're all going to lose our jobs and it's doom and gloom’. I don’t agree with the negativity surrounding it.

We need to start looking at it differently. It can have a massive transformative effect. For example, if you think - about 3 billion people don't have electricity - the fourth Industrial Revolution can potentially address that! It may enable us on a massive scale to address problems in society that we have historically not really been able to address. Simple as that.

Should investors continue to look to SA?

Johan: Why should investors be positive about the South African landscape?

Dr Roodt: Let’s look at a corporate that had humble beginnings - Naspers. It’s actually the biggest media company in the world outside of America. It was a start-up and now it has committed R4.5 billion to the local ecosystem in Africa. Naspers is also extremely invested in making other investments in offshore markets and have acquired stakes in a lot of companies in Asia, for example. They are truly one of the big success stories in terms of being innovative from an investment perspective.

Also look at what happened recently at the South African Investment Summit where Ramaphosa closed 90 billion successfully - why shouldn’t you be excited? South Africa is being seen as the gateway to Africa. If you want access to the rest of the continent, then this is where you need to start building.

There is a statistic saying that by 2030 the African population will constitute half of the global population. Half of the global population! That’s staggering! It’s not that far away either. In 11 years we could potentially sit with the globe’s next biggest workforce.

Education as a part of the South African Narrative.

Johan: Education should be considered a contributing factor towards spreading hope. Not in an ‘ideal world’, but in a very practical and necessary manner. What are your beliefs on education?

Dr Roodt: I actually get goosebumps when you say that, because I believe that it's the core. It's that simple. If I was allowed only one mandate, then I would focus on the education cycle. I read an article yesterday stating obsolete systems for education should be transformed and modelled on entrepreneurship; that entrepreneurship sits at the core of our curriculum.

Johan: Lee Rael spoke to Seraj Toefy on his Seedpod podcast about a question once raised in class. The question went something like “Did you guys know that only about 5 of you out of the 50 students will consider becoming entrepreneurs?” They continued talking about that percentage ratio and the result of 5 people each employing around 10 others down the line. Suddenly those 5 entrepreneurs provided jobs for around 50 people. So I agree wholeheartedly that the education system, as we have come to know it, is outdated. The world is upgrading constantly and here we are limiting ourselves to obsolescence. So I’m excited to see how some new companies, like Younglings, are starting to reshape education and improving on solutions to the outdated barriers denying entry into our market.

In closing

Johan: So we've picked up on this idea of storytelling and relying on African-solutions and maybe that's something that education should start looking at. Transcend the old traditional model and start to utilise this futuristic people-centric model for storytelling where we shift the narrative.

Dr Roodt: Yes – like you said earlier - to tell the local stories. What are you going to learn if you walk into a traditional entrepreneurship class in South Africa? Are you going to learn mostly of the international examples? You're lucky if you learn about SweepSouth or Aerobotics! That's what we really need to change (and in some places we are), but we need to primarily focus on our local stories.

Johan: And there are so many that we could be telling.

Dr Roodt: Exactly!

Kind Regards Johan Bronkhorst Director & Co-Founder