Councillor Garreth Bloor, Head of Economic Development for the City of Cape Town and star of our monthly live-streamed event Third Thursdays sat down with the MEDO team to discuss politics, entrepreneurship and innovation.
What is your story, who is Garreth Bloor?
I grew up in Cape Town my entire life. For a time I thought I’d be a journalist as I enjoyed writing and still do. Shortly after getting a news editor post in my second year I was the first student journalist to interview the then newly elected Mayor of Cape Town. My first start-up experience came a year later. After meeting someone at a party I got a call asking if I’d get involved in a start-up company, to take it from a concept to something fully operational. We got R1million in funding shortly thereafter for a minority stake in the company and expanded it to the US. It was a fantastic experience and the networks built were amazing. Thereafter I had two associate posts at consultancies.
How did you get into politics?
I was asked to stand for election at university, was unexpectedly elected through some coalition-building and got the post of vice-president of the Student Representative Council. I enjoyed the process and serving in the student council. I declined to stand again for SRC President, in order to pursue business in the start-up world.
Why did you get into politics?
I think politics is about standing for a cause. I do not see it as a career and never have. My belief is one should step forward and serve, even if just for a short period. For the me the big cause is around creating an enabling environment for people to live out their talents and the life they choose without red tape and restrictions. Getting into government or politics does not have to constitute a career choice. You can simply step forward for a term to help create the enabling environment and return to the “real” world of creating wealth and value through the private sector, or the advocacy and accountability avenue of civil society.
Your work in the city, is it a passion?
My work in the City is a passion. I was offered safe seat in the National Assembly in 2014 as a Member of Parliament for the Opposition, but declined it to complete a five-year term in government, and not opposition. I prefer the doing part and I think cities are an exciting place for anyone looking to make change through the public sector. I like setting the agenda and executing on delivery. Today cities, not national governments, are driving growth and innovation. We are entering a new world dominated by cities and I’d recommend entrepreneurs understand this trend, simply because of the implications it may have on markets and doing business.
To be an entrepreneur is to organise, manage, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. Your fiduciary duty is to your customers and shareholders.
What is the role/value of entrepreneurship in South Africa?
Successful entrepreneurs expand the size of the economy for everyone. My mentor Temba Nolutshungu says it best: “Entrepreneurs are the new struggle heroes. They will take the freedom of democracy and make it meaningful through creating the wealth, value and jobs”. For that entrepreneurs require an enabling environment. And to create it is not only the role of not politicians, but think tanks and entrepreneurs themselves who MUST speak up and call for the conditions that make entrepreneurship and economic development possible. Government or high-level policy experts, no matter how well-intentioned, do not always know what is in your best interests. I do think the Index of Economic Freedom is a good scorecard of what is needed in a society that respects and enables entrepreneurs to create and expand businesses.
Explain the Third Thursdays Discussions to someone who has never heard of it?
It is a direct line to policy makers and successful entrepreneurs. You need both an enabling environment from government and business skills to succeed. Third Thursdays covers both: you speak out on the issues affecting your businesses, understanding what government is doing and calling for reform where you believe things need to change. Secondly you meet those who have made it as entrepreneurs. For my part, having being privileged to work on the reform or repeal of over 300 old policies and by-laws in the City of Cape Town hindering business, I think it is a great platform.
What is the value of Third Thursdays?
Getting direct conversation with policy makers and successful entrepreneurs
Value of networking to entrepreneurs?
It is said your network determines your net worth. It is simplistic, but captures a lot of truth. Some of the biggest personalities have said if they lost all their money, they’d make it back. Because they’ve focused on their networks and demonstrated the value they can add.
Explain ‘diversity in innovation’?
You need to get the best ideas put forward to innovate to the best of your ability. I am amazed how firms in other parts of the world hire all sorts of people. A case in point are the big banks who hire philosophy majors. The point is you want to get all angles and perspectives. No one knows it all. An entrepreneur coordinates access to specialized knowledge to give them an edge and needs to act on that knowledge to deliver value and build a solid business.
Any closing statements?
Cape Town is well-positioned as an ideal location for entrepreneurs. We offer the lifestyle and networks that attract the talent many in the world compete for when it comes to hiring the very best. With the right policy environment, we can enable the flourishing of the greatest driver of development the modern world has known: the entrepreneurial spirit of the human mind. Entrepreneurs have fantastic ideas and policy has to keep up with technology and innovation if we are all to succeed.