Favorite quote: “Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.”
What is your story (tell us about yourself)?
I was born in a small village called Hlamalani in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga – I am a proud rural girl. Regarding my qualification and scholastic experience, I hold a Ph.D. in Business Administration and a Masters in Entrepreneurship from the Tshwane University of Technology. I am currently employed as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, in the School of Tourism and Hospitality.
I transitioned into academia with a keen interest in Entrepreneurship education. I previously worked for two other universities; the University of South Africa and the Tshwane University of Technology teaching in the entrepreneurship department. It is there that I developed passion for entrepreneurship education and development. My research is in the areas of entrepreneurship and small business development, entrepreneurial policies, rural entrepreneurship, as well as technological entrepreneurship.
Apart from my life as an academic, I am passionate about youth and community development. In 2012, I founded a non-profit organisation: Marcia Lebambo Foundation, which focuses on improving literacy in South African township and rural schools in 2012. The Foundation has interacted with over 5 000 learners from rural and township schools across South Africa and about 300 learners from Maseru in Lesotho, in a quest to improve literacy in Africa. We use programmes such as storytelling (using mother tongue) reading-aloud, writing clubs, summarising books and the popular Spelling BEE. She regularly donates books and school shoes to township and rural schools. This work earned me the 2018 News24 top 100Young Mandela of The Future.
I can summarise my life as academic, researcher, education activist & entrepreneurship specialist. My favorite part of my job is to mentor young people to establish their own successful small business venture.
When did you start your first business and what inspired you to start?
Dr Marcia Lebambo Academy started operating in January 2020.
Motivation to start:
Statistics say 78 percent of our learners in Grade four (4) cannot read and those that can read cannot comprehend what they are reading. Coming from rural areas, I was once part of the 78 percent. I inherited a schooling system characterised by low-quality foundation education. I was born and raised in a small village called Hlamalani in Bushbuckridge. Like many young South Africans who inherited a broken and unequal education system, I had to fend for myself to receive a sit in the academic world. So, when I walked on stage to receive several qualifications including a Ph.D. at the age of 29, I knew that I had to be the change I want to see. This is what motivated me to establish The Marcia Lebambo Foundation. A non-profit organisation established in 2012 focusing on teaching learners writing and reading skills using various programmes including Spelling Bee, book clubs, storytelling using mother tongue, debate, and school motivations. In addition, we recently added youth entrepreneurship, using a competition called “LearnerPreneur Pitch Drive”. In the competition, learners are given the opportunity to pitch their entrepreneurial ideas for an opportunity to receive mentorship from industry experts. This is a way of encouraging youth entrepreneurship which is vital in the quest of reducing the socio-economic challenges facing Africa such as unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
However, as an Entrepreneurship and Small business Development scholar and an advocate for youth entrepreneurship, I felt responsible to respond to the call for young people to establish businesses that will help revitalize the economy of South Africa. In 2020, I established a Pre-School in 2020, the Dr. Marcia Lebambo Academy to champion quality early childhood education for kids in the rural and township communities. The pre-school is located in Soshanguve, Tshwane, and the second branch is under construction in her rural hometown, Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. The Academy focuses on Arts and culture, Literacy, Science and Technology, as well as and Entrepreneurship. I have employed three young full-time employees and two part-timers. I plan to grow the Academy into a fully-fledged primary school soon.
What is the Key Objective(s) and Vision of your business? (Has it changed overtime or is has it always been this?)
The primary objective of the organisation is to provide a quality-schooling foundation that will adequately prepare children for Grade R and beyond. We intend to offer a quality and safe early learning programme that will enable a child to grow and reach their full potential. This will be achieved by creating a child-safe and friendly environment that will protect and support a child’s physical, psychological, cognitive, and social development.
• To ensure that only well-equipped, professional, and caring staff work at the center.
• To incorporate activities that will ignite a child’s creativity, develop their confidence and nurture their unique talents.
• To support the staff through training and development.
• To work together with parents through various channels such as parents’ committees, meetings, etc. in supporting the child’s learning development.2
• To ensure diversity in all our programmes and activities and upholding the principles of Ubuntu.
• To develop a healthy eating programme and support children’s health and wellbeing.
We have not changes it since we recently established the business in 2020. We are a Covid19 business venture. However, we continuously monitor our services in line with the objectives. The pandemic has already prepared us in terms of change and crisis management, and adaptability.
What challenges did you face in your journey? What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome (are still overcoming)?
There are a number of challenges in the journey. However, the biggest challenge has been society’s attitude towards youth entrepreneurship. My academy is located in a township, being a young female pre-school owner has received mixed reaction from the community. Others supportive but many questioning if a “woman” can do it. As a woman you have to work ten times more because of the perception society have on women in general. In addition, business compliance is also challenging, we do not have a one-stop-center for business support in South Africa. This can be discouraging at times, moving from one department to the next tying to comply. Others include self-confidence, appropriate guidance, funding, infrastructure, they affect the business regularly. However, we are work in progress and continue taking it one day at a time.
How did you manage to navigate your company through this period of the Covid-19 pandemic? (What business strategies/operational adjustments have you made over this period and how has it impacted your business model?)
Launching and operating a business during a pandemic was challenging. One operates the business under many uncertainties and fears. The most daunting decision to make was deciding if we should continue or shut down the business for good. In navigating this predicament, we asked ourselves the following questions:
1. Is it viable to continue operating with only a handful of kids?
2. If yes, are we going to be able to protect the lives of the kids and adhere to COVID-19 regulations?
3. If yes, what kind of support is necessary to enable the pre-school to continue during and post-COVID?
The three questions directed our strategic objective. After careful evaluation and consultations with relevant parties, we were able to put measures in place to allow us to operate during the pandemic
How do you approach networking and building partnerships in your industry?
I am very active on social media. I reach out to as many people as possible. I use my social media to advocate for the business. This has helped a lot because when we officially use only Facebook to advertise. And within a month we reached our enrollment target. I follow entrepreneurial events on social media and attend others. Some of the entrepreneurs whom I look up to have since joined the school board of directors. What worked for me was reaching out and keeping track of business leaders I would like to work with.
Do you have (or ever had) a mentor in your journey, and do you believe it helped (if yes, in what way)?
Yes, I have a mentor, I learned valuable lessons of mentorship in my Ph.D. journey. Without the guidance of my study supervisor, I would have not completed my studies. Similarly, in my business journey, I am surrounded by successful entrepreneurs who are helping direct the course of my business strategic objectives, offer new ideas, advice, and counsel. Mentors are important because “they have been there and done that”. They share a real-life experience of their business journeys. They make you realise that business frustrations and mistakes are normal in one’s entrepreneurial journey. However, my mentors are doing business outside the schooling business environment. I am currently looking for a mentor who is in the exact business space so they can directly contribute to my school. (They say never waste an opportunity, so I guess, I will use this interview to ask for a mentor who owns a school or college).
What is your perspective on the South African entrepreneurial landscape before and after Covid-19 pandemic? (Would you say the “new normal” context drives more or less opportunities for entrepreneurs?) How can entrepreneurial policy development aid in expanding opportunities in this new context?
Business ventures emerge and grow where there is a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem that offers a conducive business environment for businesses to succeed. In South Africa, we do have an encouraging entrepreneurial ecosystem however, other important elements such as social, cultural, technology, market, and network elements are still a huge challenge, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Most of the country’s townships and rural communities have limited accessibility of basic infrastructures such as water, roads, telephones, Internet, and electricity. These challenges existed pre Covid19 and the pandemic has since worsened the situation. We have witnessed disadvantaged communities unable to comply with Covid19 safety regulations such as to wash hands regularly due to lack of water. This contradicts the raft of policies that were designed to redress historical inequality and injustice and to support entrepreneurial activity for the previously disadvantaged such as back entrepreneurs. Some of the country’s business administration systems are still somewhat ineffective. Red tape in business compliance, poor systems on admin, lack of information and availability of entrepreneurship support institutions in remote areas, lack of business management skills. All these factors threaten the viability of businesses and discourage youth to participate in entrepreneurial activities.
For the country’s entrepreneurial policy development to aid opportunities in this new COVID19 context, the government needs to revise their entrepreneurial policies approaches to ensure that intervention programmes are inclusive and supportive to under-developed communities such as rural areas. In addition, invest in digital tools and technologies which support business viability in such areas. Very often, policies and strategies are not tailor-made to address the needs of the unique environments of disadvantage groups of the society, as such the intended entrepreneurial policy objectives are not realised.
In your opinion, what are the secrets to being a successful entrepreneur?
In my experience, the one trait of entrepreneurs that truly defines the essence of entrepreneurship is resilience. Covid19 attests to this, it took resilience for businesses to withstand the pressures of COVID19. In addition, Leadership, decision-making, and conflict resolution will define the longevity of the business. The management style and management skills of entrepreneurs largely determined the success of businesses. Entrepreneurs should create an atmosphere in which, employees, clients, and other stakeholders are respected and valued. In turn, they will be advocates of the business’s vision. Lastly, Lead with love: Covid-9 has left many confused, anxious, and fearful, this period requires empathetic and authentic leadership that will inspire a positive mindset among people.