Yes, it’s all about these twin proverbs: “culture of saving” and “access to finance.” So Mr Tebello Tjapela, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Master’s student of Economics spent months underground, researching about and creating a Credit and Lending Cooperative with the aim of encouraging the culture of saving among NUL students and teachers and supporting the ballooning levels of NUL innovation.
This business will be incubated under the NUL Innovation Hub.
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“I therefore take this opportunity to invite all interested NUL students and lecturers to meet with the organisers of this cooperative at the Netherlands Hall on Friday the 18th of October, at 1.00 pm,” Tjapela said.
Here is why Tjapela is so convinced that such an organisation is long overdue.
First and foremost, it is about the culture of saving. It is not a secret that most of us live from month to month when it comes to our use of money. Should we have a single month without an income, then, everything turns upside down. “How about we start learning to save the little we have?” Tjapela asked, rhetorically.
“If we do, then, maybe we would have started a way to enhance the culture of saving that might as well stick with us to the end of time,” he argued.
Then, it’s about taking control of our financial destiny. “There is nothing wrong with existing financial institutions except that sometimes we feel like they are not quite suited for every one of us,” he said. “Sometimes we need the freedom to borrow, and at low interest rates, only to hit a wall when we approach traditional lending organisations.”
But most importantly, Tjapela is not prepared to lose the bigger picture.
In the end, “It’s all about access to finance,” he said. Yes, the phrase “access to finance” is almost proverbial in Lesotho. The problem? We are good at talking about it, and we are hardly doing anything about it.
So what is “access to finance” all about? Ask every single small business in Lesotho what the major problem preventing its growth is and you get the same answer, “access to finance.”
In simple terms, few financial institutions are willing to lend a small business some money to deal with cash flow problems that often prevent it from growing.
If you thought that was a problem already, you ain’t no heard anything yet. A country that is not prepared to assist small businesses financially cannot be expected to assist start-up businesses.
And worse still, a country that has no system of funding start-up businesses can only dream about job-creation and economic growth.
Yes, small businesses are not necessarily start-ups and vice-versa.
Start-ups are those new businesses that are often meant to test a new business idea or product in the market and they are almost always in need of capital injection. When they succeed, start-ups can change the economic equation of any country.
So when Tjapela was a fourth year student, he was “lucky enough to do a project in which I studied the emerging NUL Innovation Ecosystem and compared it with similar ecosystems locally and abroad,” he said. “What I found was astonishing!”
“I found the NUL Innovation Ecosystem, which has been crafted over a period of ten years, unparalleled locally and regionally in its design. Its emphasis on creating products from the lab, incubating them at the innovation hubs and mass producing them at industrial parks find its match in advanced universities in the West or in countries such as China.”
However, the beauty of the NUL Innovation Ecosystem notwithstanding, he said he discovered a missing link. “The beautiful system is orphaned by the lack of financial support,’’ he said. “Investment in those start-ups the system is continually giving birth to is left to chance.
Of course NUL itself and some businesses such as Lesotho Funeral Services and Metropolitan Lesotho and LNDC have spent some fortunes in support of the businesses within the ecosystem. “However, imagine where we would be, had we have a dedicated investment schemes to support such innovations,” he quizzed.
That is part of the reason behind this cooperative. The idea is for the cooperative to grow into both a Development Bank and a Commercial Bank in the future. The Development Bank part will have a job of investing into start-ups being born from the NUL Innovation System.
And here are his parting words.
“We can’t keep waiting for good Samaritans to start building our financial system because if experience is something we can trust, we ain’t no getting good Samaritans anytime soon, if at all.”
[Business proposals for the second phase of the NUL Innovation Hub: http://bit.ly/2MEE0e4]