Money doesn’t grow on trees

I shared it with a few of my Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management (PDEM) students but initially they didn’t seem that interested. Essentially it comes down to the question, would you rather have: one million rand in one go, or one million one-rand coins?

We were having coffee (R8 a cup) and discussing the course, Rhodes and life in general (priceless).

Walking back to class I saw something shining in the grass. I mentioned it to one of the students. “Look!”, I said, “The money is just lying on the ground in South Africa”.

The student asked me where it was and we walked back a couple of steps to see this R1 coin shining in the sun. “Oh”, the student said, “it’s just one rand. That’s not worth bending over for to pick it up”.

This triggered me and I couldn’t resist picking it up out of the grass. I held it in my hand as if it were a trophy and felt an urge to give a lecture on the value of money, right there and then… but I held back, for at that moment it might not have had the desired impact. So, I parked the incident in the back of my mind for a later more appropriate time to bring it up.

During the course we discuss different academic views on entrepreneurship. Although I have been part of a few entrepreneurial endeavors myself, I will be the first to admit I’m not an entrepreneurship practitioner. However, I have an abiding passion for teaching entrepreneurship. I think about it all the time.

The course I teach is not a ‘how to become a successful entrepreneur’ but instead I focus on topics such as entrepreneurial traits, business failure, innovation, franchising, youth entrepreneurship and related themes. One of the areas the students had to prepare for was on what comprises business competitiveness and perhaps more tellingly, how can South African SMMEs compete in the international market? This was my chance!

After we talked about the traditional theories of competition, I found an old interview with the late Prof C.K. Prahalad. You might know him for his ideas on core competencies but he also described the so-called “bottom of the pyramid”: the billions of poor people in the world who live on a few dollars (or rand) a day but are consumers none the less.

More and more companies are finding ways to make money by selling to the poorest; everyone needs to eat, drink and clean themselves. A company like Unilever makes a few cents per micro-product they sell to this target market; this market already accounts for half of its revenues and Unilever even plans to take these micro-products to Europe because they expect poverty to increase (t)here too!

I showed the students the coin I found again and made sure to rub it in. “In the Netherlands we have a saying”, I said, “If you don’t honor the small, you don’t deserve the big, at all!”. Now they realize that you make a fortune one rand at a time: money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s the streets that are paved with it.