MONEYWEB: On the line now we have Cedric Buffler. Cedric has been nominated in Social Entrepreneurship category [of the South African chapter of the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Awards]. He is the founder of Micro-MBA which started in 1991. Cedric, would you define yourself as an entrepreneur?
CEDRIC BUFFLER: Yes, I’d have to, almost by exclusion. I mean, we’re doing what we’re doing to help people, but in doing it we have to cover our costs, we have to make money. So yes I guess that is entrepreneurship.
MONEYWEB: Now what exactly does the Micro-MBA do? How does it work?
CEDRIC BUFFLER: Well it’s a very simple programme which is aimed at people with a low level of education. The interesting thing is, though, that lately we’ve had a number of people with tertiary education coming through. But that’s another story. It’s a basic business course which takes people through the essentials of how to run a business in just five days. They work through some workbooks, they write their own manual for their business, including a business plan. And, yes, it was developed in the late eighties, actually, and in 1991 it became available to other organisations as well.
MONEYWEB: Can entrepreneurship be taught? This is a big debate.
CEDRIC BUFFLER: Oh, absolutely. You know, this word “entrepreneurship” is such a misnomer, in my opinion. I think, perhaps, if one is a purist, you can say that 5% or 6% of the population is naturally entrepreneurial. But I know for sure that you can teach anybody to do enterprise. You can teach anybody how to do what they’re doing and make money while they’re doing it.
MONEYWEB: Micro-MBA has helped over 160 000 people start businesses. Has there been anything that stood out as a great example of what the Micro-MBA does?
CEDRIC BUFFLER: Wow, there are so many. You know, we work through community-based organisations. Now I’m thinking of a lady in Sebokeng who, when her husband was retrenched in 1994, came and did the course, and since then she’s put five children through university, she’s trained other people to run small businesses by teaching them how to cook, how to do catering. You know, that for me is just a brilliant example. Also there are a number of women who are part of SAWIC – South African Women in Construction – who have been through our programme, and they all say it made such a difference to them because they now don’t lose their businesses when they win a tender. Some people are so keen to get these things called tenders from government, and sometimes they don’t know how to bid, how to charge for their time, how to charge for their services. And that’s what Micro-MBA teaches people to do.
MONEYWEB: Cedric, just in terms of what happens and what the Micro-MBA does, what do you think the biggest challenge facing the country, and facing your business, is?
CEDRIC BUFFLER: Well, there are two different questions to that, of course. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, facing the country is: how do you mobilise perhaps eight million people who are unemployed? How do you meet those needs? And that then becomes the big challenge of our business, because the problem is that, of course, most of the people who need what we have can’t afford to pay for it. So we have next to the company a non-profit trust in which is housed a bursary fund, somewhat like a university situation, so that people who want to support what we’re doing can put bursaries of R1 000 each into the fund. Then people can get through the programme. If this need isn’t met, I don’t see how we can talk about a new South Africa while there are upwards of eight million people who are really marginalised still.
MONEYWEB: Cedric Buffler is the CEO of Micro-MBA.