“We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to cultivate entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in Botswana, and what better way to do this than to open a door of opportunity for any citizen with a good business idea and the potential to be a good business owner and manager.” These words were said by the then First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) Chief Executive Officer, Danny Zandamela six years ago at the launch of the FNBB Itsose Business Idea Competition.
Zandamela later handed over the reins to Lorato Boakgomo-Ntakhwana, who reiterated the bank’s commitment as a good corporate citizen to actively assisting in the development of entrepreneurship in Botswana. FNBB launched the Itsose Business Idea Competition in partnership with the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), Sunday Standard, Marsh and University of Botswana (UB).
Each of these organizations played a crucial and specific role in the entire process. The competition was launched in 17 November 2008 and attracted more than 2,800 entrants from which 100 finalists were chosen. The finalists underwent a week long intensive business plan training course conducted by LEA. They were then expected to draw up business plans which they presented to a panel of expert judges. This competition was different in that it first trained finalists to write a proper business plan, such that it only required entrants to have a good business idea as opposed to asking them to present a readymade business plan to qualify.
Sunday Standard’s role was to provide publicity for the competition and exposure for the winners. FNBB’s role was to provide access to preferential funding to the winners, while Marsh as a global insurance and risk management firm, would provide insurance cover for the loans. The 10 winners were announced in 2009 and each received a P10, 000 cash prize, laptop and cell phone. In addition, they were promised business training by LEA over a period of one year at no cost, exposure for their business ideas and priority for funding from FNBB. Responding to questions from Sunday Standard, FNBB Communications Manager, Kemiso Ben said the Itsose Business Idea Competition was phased out following the announcement of the winners. She added that it was never intended to become a long term project, but was rather designed as a once off competition.
“It served its purpose and was later phased out,” said Ben.
In an interview with Sunday Standard one of the winners Tiroyaone Barungwi bemoaned of his displeasure and disappointment regarding FNBB’s failure to afford them the opportunity to take their businesses off the ground as it had been their expectation as winners. Barungwi asserts that his business concept which was refined and crafted to meet the stringent requirements of financing by the business plan training he received was not prioritized for funding as had been the promise. He disclosed that after receiving the cash prize, laptop and cell phone on the night the winners were announced FNBB did not maintain communication so as to unlock the financing obstacle that the start up entrepreneur aspirants faced. His argument is based on the premise that FNBB as a lending institution launched the competition with full knowledge of the difference it has the capability of making in terms of providing access to funds. After constant follow-up with the FNBB personnel in charge of the competition at the time and with other partners Barungwi was forced to accept the failure of FNBB to fulfil its end of the agreement. It could be concluded that Barungwi’s account of the Itsose Business idea competition raises a high likelihood that the rest of the winners watched their business concepts fold when the opportunity to grow them was only dangled in their faces but not carried through. This as result means that mentorship that LEA could have provided did not follow through due to lack of the business concepts’ materialization. It also means that the growth potential of the start-ups was not realized and hence the publicity and exposure that Sunday Standard could have granted was prematurely cut off.
Today, a trace of the purpose the competition set out to serve questions the nobility and dedication behind Zandamela’s words.
Research cites that corporate social responsibility (CSR) depends on the goodwill of an organization and is as a result not enforceable. It therefore comes from the responsibility an organization feels impelled to fulfil but its lack thereof only challenges the integrity and ethics of such an organization but it does not put it on trial. This makes it difficult to measure the commitment of an organization to the causes it engages on. A study on corporate social responsibility practices in developing and transitional countries (Botswana and Malawi) reveals that there is a “noticeable difference in terms of the role of business in the development of Botswana compared with Malawi. Rather than philanthropy, the major theme of the responses from Botswana managers was the importance of the economic role of business.” The accepted model of CSR is depicted by a pyramid, from bottom to top, which outlines economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities. The study therefore asserts that Botswana managers place more importance to the economic responsibility than it does to philanthropy, the opposite of which is the case in Malawi.
Perhaps if FNBB had continued with the competition it could have filled the wide gap that currently exists with regard to the lack of extensive and up-to-date information on the SMME sector in Botswana. From the analysis of the competition, Head of Business Clinic Elliot Odirile garnered that “21% of the finalists entered business ideas in the field of Agriculture, 6% in Tourism, 19% in Services, 19% in Manufacturing and the rest in other sectors,’ FNBB Head of Business Banking Tsholofelo Kokorwe. ‘’58% of the entrants were business ideas, with 14% having been in business for less than 6 months. “This means that we are looking at 70% of our entrants as being start-ups.” The information deduced from the competition qualifies to be used as statistics for the SMME sector. The lack of continuity of the competition further clogged the prospect of fuelling the SMME drive in Botswana. The competition involved the necessary partners who through working together could have given the right impetus needed to advance and propel the SMME sector.