South Africans must develop a problem-solving attitude that can find innovative solutions to its problems rather than viewing those issues as merely challenges, FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana said.
Addressing the UNISA Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL) Research and Innovation Day, Nxasana acknowledged the problems facing the country. However, he believed that problem-solving training should be included in the education system in the early stages of schooling as this would encourage solutions to come from the least expected, but no less vital arenas.
"A room of engineers will think one way. Bring into the mix humanities, sciences and mathematical training and an innovative solution will evolve - and that highlights the importance of embracing diversity, different backgrounds and genders," he said.
In 2012 First National Bank (FNB) was ranked the world's most innovative bank, for having found innovative solutions to complex business issues. One of the strategies that FNB employed was to open its Indian operations in the slums rather than central business districts. They also listened to their younger employees in the development of technology to, for example, enable customers to withdraw money from automatic teller machines (ATMs) by means of a cellular telephone.
These were innovations the bank was applying in its African expansion programme, reflecting the way that adopting a social entrepreneurship approach to business brought substantial value to shareholders.
"Organisations actively promoting and rewarding innovation are the most effective at bringing about innovation," Nxasana said.
This was particularly relevant in resolving South Africa's challenges from youth unemployment, unemployed graduates and poor education rates with high fall-out figures among children not completing matriculation.
Nxasana pointed out there were areas in South Africa where education levels were worse off than they had been under apartheid. This included primary and secondary schools in the poorer provinces and rural areas, as well as the Walter Sisulu University for Technology and Science in Umtata.
"Not finding innovative solutions to these issues of poor education effectively relegates these children and graduates to third-class citizens. Consequently, we need to think differently in terms of solving education challenges, as well as challenges faced with regards to unemployed graduates," he said.
Looking at current trends, Nxasana said despite women being more than half the country's population, they only represented 45 percent of the workplace and were inadequately reflected in leadership. This meant the country was not innovatively harnessing this strength.
Similarly, the burgeoning pool of youth talent was not being harnessed, but understanding how this level of society thought and operated was key to finding innovative solutions to South Africa's issues.
SBL acting executive director and CEO Prof Elmarie Sadler said that improving research and innovation was a key success factor for the business school this year.
The UNISA SBL Research and Innovation Day was recently held at the SBL campus in Midrand. For more information, visit www.sblunisa.ac.za