Inspire Mastery: The importance of collaboration in the SA tech space


A successful entrepreneur knows how to master his or her environment. An idea can only take you so far. The skill lies in knowing how and when to execute. Inspire Mastery is a series that looks at some of the trends that are driving the journey of South Africa’s savvy tech entrepreneurs.

Cultural segregation remains one of South Africa’s biggest barriers to real growth. It’s becoming increasingly obvious though that modern tech and startup cultures are helping grow communities.

Sharing spaces and ideas are crucial to innovation. Whether its lending services, spaces, ideas or finances, collaborating has become an essential food for your average tech entrepreneur’s diet, and not just within the workplace but externally as well.

The importance of collaboration

Firstly, community enables networks. Even if an entrepreneur’s pitch is ground-breaking, one needs to promote the idea so that others adopt or buy into it. That’s not to mention the need for capital, partners and skills.

Given the country’s extreme dynamics, this is where government and big business should also step in. We’ve started seeing development from both parties in the last few years.

The amount of inspiration and experience an individual can get by collaborating with others is also an important feature of motivation.

When chatting to entrepreneurs at co-working spaces or hubs, the most important benefit they note is the inspiration they’ve found from their peers. The mere fact of knowing that there are others with ideas just as crazy yours and that they are in the same boat, is comforting. These guys are also most likely your early adopters.

Similarly, conferences, competitions and hubs across the continent provide inspiration and promote role-models and familiarity.

We’ve seen the rise of tech hubs in most of the continent’s biggest cities, collaborating when it comes to ideas and resources. In Cape Town specifically, we’ve come to learn about the importance of tech hubs and co-working spaces where techies network, ideas get refined and people make friends.

Co-working spaces are modern repositories where ideas can grow, and projects become startups.

In his biography, Apple founder Steve Jobs believed that creativity could be engineered:

If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.

A landscape report by Ernst & Young found that there is improved access to various support structures like business incubators, mentor programmes, workshops and training for startups. Levels of coordinated support between clubs, associations and business administration were, however, found to be less prominent.

Uniquely South African

The culture of collaboration is hailed as one of the key characteristics in driving modern entrepreneurship forward, but isn’t it also ingrained in South African culture?

The idea of achieving a single task by leveraging the power of the community is what ubuntu is all about — a core African philosophy that refers to universal sharing. As an example, the stokvel concept has been around for decades, but has in the last few years become more popular given the amount of scale the internet allows.

The idea behind stokvel is that communities collaborate by supporting each other individually and routinely contributing finances for the sake of informal group savings.

A 2014 survey by African Response revealed that 23.4% of South Africa’s adult population belong to a stokvel, equating to over 8.5 million members, whose savings are estimated at R25-billion.

This form of financing has started gaining attention in the digital world as well, which means that it’s not limited to smaller, physical communities. With peer-to-peer loans you can fund projects in your network, adding value to the people and communities that are close to you, or simply invest in a great idea.

In an inspiring TED Talk, Boyd Varty talks about the importance of Ubuntu and the inspiration it embodies:

While it’s true that Africa is a harsh place, I also know it to be a place whose people, animals and ecosystems teach us about a more interconnected world. Nelson Mandela said often that the gift of prison was the ability to go within and to think, to create within himself the things he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, harmony. Through this act of intense open-heartedness, he was to become the embodiment of what in South Africa we call Ubuntu. ‘I am; because of you.’

Image: Isabel Eyre via Flickr.

Primary-Logo-Potrait-Full-colour-2013Inspire Mastery is a series brought to you by Oude Meester. The Oude Meester Tour featuring Idris Elba will be taking place from 10-15 November 2014. The Tour hopes to #InspireMastery in young, up-and-coming future Masters of South Africa, through the stories and advice given by Idris himself, and other local Masters. To find out more about the Tour, visit Oude Meester’s website at

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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