PE – showing business & government can work together
11 March 2016
You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual App, which is available here.
Hello and welcome to another edition of Old Mutual Live Business, my name is Chris Gibbons. How often have you overheard or even taken part in a conversation inside your business in which government is characterised as the villain. Incompetent, grasping, possibly corrupt, slow, the enemy in other words, or come at it from the other direction.
How often have you overheard or even taken part in a conversation inside your own government department in which business is characterised as the villain. Grasping, possibly corrupt, unfeeling, ruthless, the enemy in other words.
In fact, those kind of conversations I would suggest are so imbedded in the fabric of our society that many of us no longer notice them. Surely though, there must be a better way, a way in which business and government become aligned to the good of all involved.
Well, a city where that has happened in Port Elizabeth and it’s a process that has been facilitated by our next guest, Professor Kobus Jonker, Head of the Graduate School at NMMU Business School. Professor Jonker, thank you for joining us on Old Mutual Business Live, how did the process start and who has been involved? Business and government joining forces in the Friendly City
Kobus Jonker: Thank you Chris, it’s a privilege for me to take part in this. The process started in the beginning of 2014, based on a discussion that the business school had with the business chamber. It actually started with the importance of a vision for Nelson Mandela Bay, or Port Elizabeth, the bigger Port Elizabeth.
There was a discussion, a debate, if you do a vision for the metropolis, who are all the stakeholders and who should be involved. Then, of course as you know, there are multiple stakeholders. We have community leaderships, there are municipal leaderships, there are political leaderships and there are business leaderships. We actually came to the conclusion that the only leadership that we can talk on behalf of, is business leadership.
Based on that, the whole concept of putting a business vision 2030 for Nelson Mandela Bay was born. We first of all started with a lot of stakeholders and we got them altogether. We had a number of workshops and our initial approach was to take everything that was done so far in terms of industrial development strategies, in terms of visions and to put it together in a combined and an integrated business vision.
CG: What did it take Kobus, for the various parties involved to recognise that something had to change?
What it takes to make a change
KJ: I think what was important is that everybody realised that there was no integrated picture or no real future vision. Also not from business leadership side. There was a responsibility on business leadership to actually put this on the table.
What was very interesting about the whole process, was all the debates that we had through the process in terms of where should we go, what industry should we invest in, what industries are our current primary industries; just by doing that, and actually integrated it all into an integrated picture. A lot of positive energy was actually created in that process.
CG: Did that help get over what I imagine was a major hurdle in terms of distrust?
KJ: Yes, because I think the challenge was that it was still a business vision. So I think your comments right in the beginning were still true, that people would still say, that is basically what business leadership is saying. That is basically a business vision.
But because of the fact that we did it out of a viewpoint of, we only want to create a better future, we only want to create a better place for everybody. We’ve also recognised the importance of strategic partners. One of the immediate partners that we’ve identified and that we had negotiations with was the local municipality?
We did a presentation to the mayor, we had the municipal manager on board, the municipal manager also presented their strategy. We were surprised by the fact that the positive response from local government to also take part in this and to actually focus on a common goal.
CG: Talk to me Kobus, if you’d be so kind, about implementation. Was it a question of very, very small steps, let’s do the things that we can and not shoot for the impossible.
Implementing the action plan
KJ: That is a very important phase because as you know, a lot of strategies get formulated in South Africa, but only a few of them actually get implemented. It was very important for us to influence the process although we decided that our role is more one office, rather than doing the actions ourselves.
So, what we did was, in each of these discussions, we involved all the current stakeholders. We look at all the current strategies and we were playing more a directing and a facilitation role rather than a role of putting action plans together and creating alternative action plans.
Our goal from day one was to facilitate the process, to help the process, to get the current stakeholders on board. For instance, we’ve identified a certain amount of focus areas and one of the first areas we worked on is tourism. Because tourism is an important industry for Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay and we had all the stakeholders there.
We said, let’s see what we do, let’s see what we have, let’s see what are the immediate things we can change in a city to turn this industry around. I think the success of the project so far is the fact that we do this all in a positive spirit. We do it all in an inclusive way, we do it all without criticising any initiative that was on the table before, but using more approach of integrating everything.
CG: When did the group feel that real progress had been made, when did you first start to notice?
KJ: Well, you must remember that this is now an ongoing process. So in fact our next focus area that we already had a couple of focus groups, feedbacks to the community and to stakeholders. Our next focus group is entrepreneurship.
Because we believe that jobs are going to be created by small businesses and entrepreneurship, not by really big corporates. So I think our approach at this stage is to influence it. What is interesting to me is the feedback that we’re getting from different stakeholder groups. For instance, the other day I had a discussion with one of our MBA students who is also working for the municipality.
She said to me that she’s seeing some of this business vision appearing in documents of the municipality and that is what we would like to achieve. Is to see that the influence is going through and that we get more and more a unified direction towards this business vision.
Need to develop the competitive advantage of cities
CG: Professor Jonker, is this replicable elsewhere or is it something that’s specific, peculiar if you like, to Port Elizabeth?
KJ: No, it’s definitely replicable elsewhere. It is possible to replicate it in any city. In fact, I think this is based on a fact that we need to develop the competitive advantage of cities. If you really read about this, Porter wrote about a competitive advantage of nations.
We know about the competitive advantage of companies and so on, but this is really about the competitive advantage of cities. I think an important lesson is that every city has a certain unique set of strengths, a certain unique set of assets. A certain unique set of industrial pillars and also a unique set of opportunities.
What we sometimes do in South Africa, we look at all, there are some very good initiatives from government, like Project Phakisa and other projects. But it’s all in general and normally the approach from cities is to see how the city can benefit out of that. It normally becomes a competition to see who can benefit the most from it.
We’ve approached it from another angle and say, no, that should not be the approach. The approach should be in terms of how can we become competitive, not only in South Africa, but also in Africa in the world. Part of our vision is to become the best mid-size city in Africa, so it can definitely be replicated in other cities.
CG: Fascinating developments. Professor Kobus Jonker, Head of the Graduate School at NMMU Business School, talking to us there from Port Elizabeth. Professor, thank you for being with us on Old Mutual Business Live.