MESSAGE Innovation is the competitive currency of the future Jacques Moolman, President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Jacques Moolman If there is one thing in which private enterprise and the profit motive excel above all its other virtues, it is in its flexibility. Unlike large institutions and state-owned enterprises, the private sector’s small, medium and micro enterprises are quick to react to market demand and indeed to all sudden changes. The Covid-19 pandemic is a case in point. It demanded swift changes to operating methods, often making the difference between survival and shutting up shop. The Cape Chamber is an example. Its team made a change to remote working within 24 hours of the first lockdown. It then concentrated on help and support for its members, ending its first financial year of the pandemic better off, despite taking a hit from a depleted customer base. Now, having made the transition to a new normal, we and everyone else have to accept that the economy has changed. The country is essentially bankrupt – financially and morally. Unemployment, crime and corruption are now permanent attributes of the country. That means not simply hoping that things will get better but making sure that we will get better at dealing with reality. The Chamber is now better positioned for doing so because of decisions we made in the years before lockdown. Since we are not state-sponsored, we were determined to retain our fierce independence, so we made revenue generation key. That meant a single-minded concentration on engagement with our customers, our members. Because we recognise the competitive currency in the future will be innovation, we have a mantra at the Chamber, “If no one dies, the risk is acceptable.” We also abandoned three-year plans. We set our strategy for two days ahead. What we are getting good at is planning the strategy – that’s more than 150 strategy sessions a year – and we get to monitor and respond to each one. It is this practice of planning that is invaluable. The plan itself is just the outcome. Learning is indeed the greatest gift the universe can give us. As long as we can learn, “We are alive.” That is why I am confident that the private sector in the Cape will bounce back and survive whatever challenges are presented. The entrepreneurial spirit in the Cape goes back at least 217 years as the Chamber itself proves since it is now entering its 218th year. That resilience is not unique to us. Nor is innovation. Both are in the very marrow of the private sector of the province.
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