The Black-Jewish Entrepreneurs Network is a response to the South African government asking the Jewish community to help reduce the country’s high unemployment rate.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
David Jacobson, executive director of the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies, explains: "In essence, couple of years ago, at the Jewish Board of Deputies National Conference, then-Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe put out a call to the Jewish Community.
"He said, 'Look here, there are issues in this country, issues with employment, with education. I call on the Jewish community to use your expertise, use the powers that you have, the influence that you have, your capital to try and affect some change.
"'We have young entrepreneurs, young and established entrepreneurs in this community, the South African Black Entrepreneurship Forum is particularly trying to develop a culture of entrepreneurship within the black communities, let’s create a meeting, let’s get together, let’s have a chat."
"The way forward is to learn from each other," says Matsi Modise, national executive director of SA Black Entrepreneurs Forum. "You know, we are not going to do it just in silence. We have to kind of come together and find solutions for the problems that we are having in the country. And black people, Jewish people, Indian people, everybody needs to come together, because we are fighting a common cause.”
Following its launch in March, first results and feedback to the initiative give reason to hope. The organizers are already planning to expand to the rest of the country.
“When we initially planned this gathering, it was just a once-off event," says Dan Brotman, head of media & public affairs at Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies. "We wanted to just see sort of what the reactions were. We advertised purely through word of mouth.
"But what’s been interesting is that the reactions have been so positive to the first gathering. And people were hearing about it and reading about it, so that for the second gathering we had 93 applicants. And we only could select 20 Jewish entrepreneurs and 20 black entrepreneurs. So I would say it’s spreading through word of mouth.
"Something that’s also happened is that people in other provinces, people in Johannesburg have heard about this gathering and they are saying this is such a wonderful idea, to showcase the work that black and Jewish entrepreneurs are doing, we want this in Johannesburg."
"We’ve nearly doubled," says Modise. "We had to do a lot of selections. A lot of people had to be rejected so everybody wants to be here. And you know we’ve been very fortunate to be having Investec come on board and say, 'We are going to host you guys.' They’ve agreed to host three this year; they’ve agreed to host nine next year.
"It’s going to go to Johannesburg; it’s going to go to Durban. So there’s just a lot that’s happening. It’s growing, a lot of people are curious about what is this all about. So it’s quite an exciting initiative for all of us."
Winner of the recent gathering, Ludwick Marishane, convinced with his pitch of a lotion that substitutes baths. He won a lunch with a judge of his choice and a free two-night-stay at a Singer group hotel.
Alan Winde, the Western Cape government's minister of finance, economic development and tourism, believes that people in South Africa need hope and that "these types of entrepreneurs are the ones that are going to give hope, specifically to all those young people who don’t have a job, who have inferior education outcomes, who are sort of held captive to so many of our systematic problems that we have to fix as a nation.
"So young people like we see around the table here, they are the ones that give hope because they are doing what they are doing but they are also the ones that are going to find the solutions to fix those systematic problems.”
The next big gathering is planned for November, but there is already talk of smaller, more frequent events and the development of an online forum.