The Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) brought together businesspeople and entrepreneurs to an early morning session at The Spade, a four-star boutique hotel and spa in Khayelitsha, last Thursday.
Representatives spent the morning discussing strategies and ways to uplift the township economy.
The organisations present all agreed that their contribution to development should be clear: to inspire and create jobs. They were urged to better their communities by also visiting the townships as tourists.
Devi Paulsen-Abbott, chairperson of the AAXO, said the aim was to showcase the abundant opportunities in the township economy.
“We see our business as a very important economic enabler. We are bringing to the city buyers and sellers into our place. We create communities. We create shop windows. We create marketplaces. What is also important at an event is an economic impact on that community or city. If you think about the people coming from all over the world, they book hotel accommodation, they eat at restaurants, and they use taxis. That down the line impact on the city or the economy is really an important thing we are bringing to the city, not only the organisation we serve. What was very important for us for this meeting was the opportunity to showcase the township economy. What we are trying to do is to show our members the infrastructure first. Look at this hotel, it’s a four-star hotel in the township,” she said.
She said her organisation underscores their commitment to making a difference. She added that she was told that she heard from the tour operator that for the last six years he had only brought local people. She said people need to start touring locally before going to other places.
“We are demonstrating to our members that our township’s infrastructure is of a high standard. We are doing this not only here but across Africa. Look at the venue that we have chosen, it perfectly embodies this idea,” said Ms Paulsen-Abbott.
Ms Paulsen-Abbott admitted that townships are facing a lot of challenges like crime. However, they are committed to revealing the hidden gems in our townships. She said they have a job to market the townships. One of things I say is that I am the ambassador of the country. I am also encouraging international people to come to South Africa, to open a business here, come host an event or attend one. We are also lobbying the government to change the narrative about South Africa. We have got to change the narrative about the township economy,” she said.
Vusi Vokwana, director of Kasi Catalyst, commended the meeting, saying it highlighted the importance of addressing this need as the business landscape is changing, along with attitudes towards “traditional” ways of doing business.
She said there are big corporate businesses who are willing to help the ordinary vendors on the street to fund their businesses.
She said that the last few decades have seen at least some positive changes in terms of opportunities for, and representations of, women in business. However, she admitted that there is still a problem with those who are to dish out the finances to the street vendors.
Ms Vokwana strongly believes that businesswomen are the answer to poverty and crime. She wants the South African government to step up and provide these women with the assistance they need to make a lasting impact.
She said she understands that there are people who would not like some of the entrepreneurs simply because they are black. She said she experienced that when she started working but urged them to resist like a makoti (bride) who is not liked by the in-laws. “Being a black woman in a corporation is like being a makoti. Nobody wants you except the guy that took you. But you must stay and learn,” she said.
She added that there is money put aside for start-ups in government and in some corporations.
According to its website, AAXO members are organisers, from small local owner-operated businesses, to large international players.
The organisation said it is going around the continent with the meetings and workshops.