Open Licence is critical for SA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem


by Michelle Matthews 

Entrepreneur support organisations (ESOs) don’t have to design programmes from scratch. The key to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is to find ways to work together, and open licence content can help us do just that, writes Michelle Matthews.   

South Africa has a hub and incubator network of more than 300 organisations dedicated to offering inspiring programmes for entrepreneurs. This ecosystem does crucial work in helping people to grow their income-earning opportunities and preparing them for the realities of the new economy by developing their skills in entrepreneurship, digital technologies, business growth and gig work, and connecting them with opportunities and like-minded people.

ESOs are an important contributor to the development of South Africa’s entrepreneurs, but the output and support structure that they’re offering is not yet as strong as it can be. Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister for Small Business Development, recently described the sector’s efficacy as “underwhelming”.

ESOs’ budget constraints mean there is not enough money or time available to create robust programmes. A lack of centralised content and materials for learning means hubs typically need to start from scratch, using what comes up first in an internet search and Silicon Valley blog posts for inspiration. When they realise these aren’t actually helpful to their entrepreneurs, they then spend significant time searching – often in vain – for relevant and local content resources to provide the kind of support SA’s business owners really need.

Making knowledge ‘open’ – a licensing approach that’s been used in a range of industries both locally and abroad – could be the spark we need to catalyse the kind of growth we’d like to see in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Why? Because content and online resources published under an open licence, in contrast to proprietary licensing, enable users to share, copy, adapt, modify and, in some cases, even rebrand work free of charge. 

For the ESO ecosystem, the wide adoption of open licence content can promote a free exchange of ideas to drive advancement and development of the profession of entrepreneur support. It can also equip budget-constrained hubs to offer better services, particularly if the subject matter is easily accessible and locally applicable for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Not only will the wide use of open-source content allow organisations to accelerate the rate at which they provide effective support, but critically, it will provide a strong foundation on which to iterate and adapt, encouraging greater innovation. By making content open source, it is freely available to anyone to be used however they like, the only condition being that they attribute the source. Training organisations are even able to use the information and toolkits commercially, for their own financial sustainability.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of open licence content is that it enables a collaborative approach to building a relevant entrepreneurship curriculum and knowledge library, which hubs, no matter their size or location, can use freely and adapt to their specific locales. While the internet offers extensive training and learning material, not all of it is appropriate in a South African context. As the ecosystem adapts its offerings to prepare young people for the new economy, it is important that learning materials are contextually relevant and designed with the needs of the market and communities in mind.

Providing free resources and toolkits in the form of open licence content to ESOs and hubs will lessen the constraints these entities face. Instead, they are freed up to do what they do best: actively supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners to grow. To make a meaningful impact on unemployment and alleviate poverty one of the biggest risks facing the South African economy we need to encourage more people to find their own pathways to income. Ensuring hubs and ESOs are better capacitated will be key to achieving this.


*** Michelle Matthews is a director at Viridian, which designed and delivers Launch League. Launch League has curated and adapted best practice content and made all its resources and toolkits available under open licence. Launch League recently launched its new website with free, downloadable tools for hubs and support organisations to use to deliver better programmes for entrepreneurs and youth.