Masiyiwa challenges governments to harness private sector expertise in tackling national problems

Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa has urged governments to work with entrepreneurs and the private sector to solve national crises.

Masiyiwa suggested African governments could adopt the American and Chinese models in addressing national crises, where governments harness the expertise of the private sector and the ingenuity of entrepreneurs to find solutions to pressing problems.

“In America, when the country has a challenge, one of the first things the President does (irrespective of party politics) is to reach out to entrepreneurs for solutions.

“There is a difference between an entrepreneur and a businessman, even though a businessman can also be an entrepreneur,” Masiyiwa said.

“Just imagine I participated in a meeting chaired by President Obama, and his top officials, surrounded by Silicon Valley ‘techpreneurs’ from Google, Microsoft and Salesforce, to name a few. There were guys working on healthtech, biotech, vaccines, etc, all from the private sector… as well as private foundations and some donors.”

Masiyiwa recalls that the US President and his team did not give speeches or lecture the audience “even though they were experts themselves, and had PHDs and all”. Rather, he said, they listened respectfully.

“At one point the President asked bluntly: ‘How do we solve this? We don’t have all the answers,” recalls Masiyiwa.

He said the US President wanted them to find a solution to deal with the crisis.

“This is how the most powerful nation on earth mobilises for a crisis. Their private sector and its entrepreneurs have always been at the centre of how they tackle challenges when they emerge. They have a system in which there is mutual trust, and respect,” Masiyiwa reflected.

He said he recently spoke to a Chinese entrepreneur who told him that the Chinese government had developed a similar method to its own problem-solving approach during a crisis.

“Until African leaders begin to emulate some of these methods, they will not be able to unleash the full capacity of their own people’s ingenuity in problem-solving. It costs you nothing to reach out to other people and get their perspective on problems.”

He congratulated the Cassava Vaya Tractor team on their launch last week of a platform that will reduce the requirement for new tractors by 85 percent.

“It happened because policy-makers in the Agriculture Ministry (in Zimbabwe) were prepared to engage entrepreneurs for a solution,” Masiyiwa said, adding that this demonstrated what entrepreneurs can do for the nation.

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