We had an opportunity to interview Mr. Stephen Monyamane who discussed in detail their work at The Entrepreneurs Network and The Hookup Dinner. The interview has 2 parts. The first part explains the vital roles TEN and THuD have played in developing and fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in Lesotho. The second part shares in details about the Entrepreneurship Expos. The interview turned out to be more of a lesson through profound simplicity.
The interview with Stephen
I am Stephen Thabo Monyamane Jr., currently executive chairman of The Entrepreneurs Network. TEN is a movement, a Not for Profit Company, a wave and many other things with the sole purpose of developing entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Why is developing entrepreneurial ecosystems important?
Developing entrepreneurial ecosystems is significant because it curbs unemployment, strengthens after establishing and growing entrepreneurs so that we move from survival mode to thriving mode. So that it is not about subsistence but building and growing value, widening entrepreneurial ecosystems as well as establishing that sector in this country so that the economy of this country can be in the right hands.
Which hands are those?
Right hands means, explicitly and unapologetically, the economy must be in the hands of indigenous or native Basotho. Ours is to ensure that we grow, we develop and get Basotho to be at a state and a level where they can participate in the economy meaningfully. In so doing, not only will you increase participation, but you will also increase income levels, value, worth and wealth among indigenous Basotho.
How will that impact Basotho in the short term and long term?
With wealth creation and with income levels high, you also create an environment where Basotho can be more responsible and determine their own fate, history and future. The time where propaganda and political lies are the order of the day will come to an end.
Ultimately, by developing these entrepreneurial ecosystems, growing and developing entrepreneurs to be meaningful impactors of society, who are not only focusing on making money for themselves, but understanding the role and responsibility that comes with the privilege of having high income levels. We will also be in a position where Businesss Can Make Government, not the other way around.
So clearly as we talk about it, it becomes crystal clear that it is not a two-year plan; we are in it for the long haul. We have been doing this for the last three years. We started with a simple thing called The Hookup Dinner, which we run on a monthly basis. Like they say, data is king.
What major successes have you achieved with The Hookup Dinner?
In the last three years, we have been able to have at least 160 SMMEs come and pitch their business ideas at THuD. When we were doing our average attendance, we have had about 115 people on average and every single month. We have had just under 5 000 people attend THuD over the last three years. Imagine the ripple effect that that comes with.
Through THuD, we have been able to raise over M600 000.00 of investment through crowdfunding for SMMEs. We have been able to activate what I call “Ordinary People with Ordinary Money Doing Extraordinary Things.”
It comes to a place where we realize that it is all our responsibility. We all have a role to play. With the same Hookup Dinner, we have been able to bring about different topics. Among other things we talk about ‘What is Your Vibranium?’ A term for what is your unique selling proposition.
What implications does this have for Basotho?
A lot of times we are very quick to downplay what Lesotho is, what Lesotho has done or what Basotho are capable of doing. If we can actually take time to look back, we can be able to realize what Great A Nation This Is. Rich in history, rich in astronomical success in many spheres.
Talk about women empowerment; do you understand that in the 1940s, we had regent queen when Virginia University in the 70s was refusing to accept women? In terms of youth and leadership, progressively so, King Moshoeshoe I was 34 years of age when he founded this nation. When Britain went to World War, this tiny so called impoverished country that we talk about today in mostly unsatisfactory standards, bought 20 spitfires for Britain.
In today’s terms, spitfires are equivalent to your F35s, your fighter jets. If you are able to look at what we were able to do back then, then extrapolate it to today, you must see our high potential for greatness. That is why it is important for us to look back and realize what we are.
This year has been more than anything about discovering what’s unique about being a Mosotho. What makes a Mosotho go out of this country and excel wherever they go? If you go to the Free State, top performing doctors are Basotho. Go to Joburg, corporate Joburg is filled with Basotho. Go overseas, you will find Basotho there. How many of our own have been directors of the World Bank?
As part of doing this, we also have the responsibility to awaken the sleeping giants in us. So that we can realize that yes, we have seen years of doom and gloom in the last 30 years. More precisely, we have published years of doom and gloom. But Greatness Still Is In Us. So if we can awaken that, the way we perceive ourselves will be different. The perception of yourself can determine the heights you can achieve as an individual.
If you believe that you are a no good for nothing, low life individual, who is disadvantaged, impoverished, has high rates of HIV and a least developed country, you can’t achieve much. Even when you have an opportunity to sit on the table, you are already negotiating at a disadvantage. Conversely, if you understand that you are the descendants of royalty, the descendants of great diplomacy, the way you view yourself when you sit at that table is different.
In the sketch of unemployment. In the sketch of all the negative things which are the reality today. We says let’s start by first identifying who we are. Let’s identify our DNA. Excellence. That unique selling proposition. That vibranium. Runs through our veins. It is in our DNA.
It’s not only about raising capital for entrepreneurs, not only about having a hype for exciting entrepreneurs. It’s also saying how do we instill self worth in entrepreneurs and professionals as a whole.
What are your other activities?
The other component of what we do is the Entrepreneurship Expos. The first was in 2016, the theme was START LOCAL, GROW GLOBAL. How do we then start perfecting our craft locally so that one day we can be able to access the global markets.
I was reminded of my recent good read by Strive Masiwa entitled HOW TO BUILD A MULTI BILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS IN AFRICA FROM SCRATCH. Within it he shared a story by Chido, a lady who uberised the bus service in rural Kenya through enlisting on the New York Stock Exchange (get the book and learn the details). The book appeared to be a collection of some of his status updates because I recalled some stories from Facebook as I read. As a result, I enquired how possible it was for a Lesotho company to enlist in the New York Stock Exchange.
Even before enlisting in the stock exchange, do I have a product the world needs and wants and is prepared to pay for? Can I say I have perfected my craft enough for anybody in the world to buy my product? Can I say I have perfected my model, my supply chain, my value chain, my delivery processes, my quality management systems to a point whereby I have no doubt that whether I take it to Japan, the US, Europe and in Lesotho it will be accepted? It’s about saying as I start local, I am not just doing things to survive. We need to start growing business to build value. To build wealth.
I understand, I am not ignorant about where we are as a country, whereby most of us start businesses because we can’t get jobs. So we need to find a way of putting bread on the table. We are saying, how do we work from just putting bread on the table to then saying building wealth. From building wealth to building value that I can sell at one point. For you to get to the stock exchange, you need to be selling value.
Update: Part 2 of Interview can be found HERE!