Lesotho’s Entrepreneurial Scene: Reflections and Projections

By Motebang Senaoana


One of the best advises given for entrepreneurs was (for me) from Fred Swaniker in one of his posts online, where he dwelled on the importance of adopting the student’s mindset in the entrepreneur’s professional development.

Entrepreneurship is never a destination, but a journey, one that is hard, and sometimes easy (or maybe you just get used to it), one that is straining and risky, yet thrilling. Problems and hurdles encountered need one to be able to have a teachable spirit, a “give up now, only to wake up tomorrow and get back to it” energy.

2018 has stretched all of us, Lesotho’s small and medium enterprises have met all kinds of hurdles, pains, and moments of triumph, but it seems they go neglected, overshadowed by the former. As 2019 ushers in, how about we take a moment to reflect before we start with “New Year – new me” and “what’s next for my business?”

No doubt there has been growing activities from our local Small and Medium Enterprises;

  • Digital media has been flooding our newsfeeds with so much from our growing industries; the local fashion scene has had the likes of Lesotho Fashion Week and Maseru Fashion Week, and brands such as The Fabric Era and Bonono Merchants cement their names deeper in our fashion industries,
  • Creatives such as graphic designers and comedians, musicians and photographers understand the importance of “Branding” and creating reputable names for themselves through their crafts.
  • The use of social media for businesses has seen our local brands find more practical ways to get the word out faster, and more efficiently, and
  • Event organizers have made it their mission to assist and grow normal Basotho with side hustles trying to make a name for themselves.

While local entrepreneurs are pulling up their socks, giving local markets an even better reason to “support local”, ecosystem builders stand hand in hand to give value to entrepreneurs and mobilize some of the key stakeholders in the ecosystem such as government and their parastatals, corporates and financial and educational institutions.

We have seen this in many forms; workshops and seminars held to target entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to equip them with skills and offer those networking opportunities for potential clients, investors and partners.

All this while still not forgetting networking events such as The Hook-Up Dinner Maseru, and Start-Up Grind Maseru. This was not just to network, but to engage and contribute on key matters that affect consumers and entrepreneurs to address and strategize a way forward that works to remedy some of the struggles faced and provide sustainable solutions to foster proactive entrepreneurial culture.

Reflections on the local business market

The local business market is influenced by a number of externalities, at the core of it, the economy. Lesotho is landlocked within the Republic of South Africa, making not only our economy, but our everyday activities and influences pegged to the Republic.

The rise on SA’s VAT forced our country to do the same, this without having not increased the disposable income for working class citizens. As a reactionary response, there were protests from workers, taxi associations, teachers and other workss to increase salaries and wages to have more spending power.

Taxi fares increased and minimum wage as well. This unpredictable economic activity had its soaring on the local business market, in all stages. Production, wholesale and retail. Recessions and climate drought kept hitting, like a bad movie, with no good scenes to ease tensions and allay our moods. Who could forget the scandals? From Listeriosis to lack of safety in our transport systems and all things in between.

There is a sociological view. Present structures and institutions have a role, either latent or manifest, that they each play in our lives. This social constructionist perspective could maybe be one of the perspectives we must deploy if there is to be any hope.

All of these phases we went through, one would argue that they had to have played a role, some sort of an important lesson to teach us. For me, I would say; it goes back to the student’s perspective, this will be required to go back to the drawing board, and ask ourselves critical questions if ever we are to move forward.

We cannot undervalue the importance of an introspection. It is needed. Whether as individuals or entities, we need to know our value propositions, our socioeconomic environment, develop innate rules; visions and missions and what place we play in this fast moving ecosystem.

Obviously entrepreneurship will not thrive on its own, it needs the learning spirit and wisdom from the old, the innovation from the young, the finances from corporates, policies and legal frameworks from our local government, and mentorships from the experienced business gurus and entrepreneurs.

Speaking of finances, do we remember Tshepo Jeans and Skinny Sbu Socks? The latter was, to me, the face of Small and Medium entrepreneurs (if you do not know him, I’d urge you to check out his story on YouTube and his SABC interview that made waves).

At the end of the day, entrepreneurs NEED MONEY! “Teach a man how to fish, rather than giving him a fish” is true while limiting and contingent on so many factors, including an enabling environment. Why teach me how to fish and not put me in a lake with actual fish? What about a fishing rod?

Let us balance mentorship programmes, seminars and workshops and master-classes with diversified financial acquisition for entrepreneurs. There has to be a point where we are realistic with ourselves; while making me investor worthy, give me access to investors, and create an environment that will allow me to grow and learn from failure. Let us stop praising success not realizing failures it took get there.

The past twelve (12) months of Lesotho’s scene have taught us that we don’t only need entrepreneurs, but skilled professionals. We have been taught the importance of collaboration; our skill-set is limited, why not work with someone who is better at a certain task and find a way to add value for each other.

We have been encouraged to open up, and talk. In as much as entrepreneurship is thrilling, it is straining. Learn when to rest, when to work and when to ask for help.

We must be inculcated more on leadership, leading a business is one thing, leading people, is another, and you cannot have one without the other. We have learnt most importantly, the growth of each entrepreneur, depends on the individual and collective activity of us all.

So what do the next coming months hold for local business market?

Well, if there is anything we have to learn, is that we need to value relations over profit. We have to understand the importance of learning, matter of fact, I propose 2019 be a year of capacity seminars and workshops that should not be for free, each one teach one, and each one grow one.

From project management, value proposition, the art of negotiation, public speaking and financial management, each of us has to be proactive, for this to happen, these will be skills required and we must understand their value.

2019 has to be a year of action and growth. Let us not just do, but do to grow, grow to learn and learn to grow. For any growth to occur, we need to understand our economy and the culture it evolves in how these two can work together to create an inclusive economy.

How can we use local money schemes like stockvels to grow economies, and businesses, so far they have been growing homes, so why not economies? How do we use tech to foster inclusion? Create a strong market base and supply international economies? How do we collaborate with our differing skills to grow businesses?

Our political economy may be argued to be unpredictable, a very risky ballgame for the business market, but one that should force us to encourage our legal and political structures to protect our economy more and meet entrepreneurs more than halfway in growing their local businesses.

Seeing as to how at the pinnacle of any economy is agriculture, farming, resource mining and financial freedom. It would be very interesting to see more businesses on agri-tech, fin-tech, and mineral resource based businesses.

Most importantly, how do we use renewable energy and build sustainable farming and agriculture solutions. Let us make 2019 a year to learn and grow, and do more. Let us see businesses that dwell on financial inclusion and building community based economies, and businesses that create formidable unified actors in our economy.


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