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Milk too messy for sterilised corporates

At a pan-African conference with more than 40,000 delegates, one imagines that a not insignificant proportion of attendees are parents of young children. There is also the emerging trend of business travellers who take their children along on business trips, out of choice or circumstance, as I tend to do.

Yet when I asked the conference organisers if they had considered adding a childcare booth as part of the conference amenities, I was met with bewilderment.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I have hosted a conference in Cape Town myself and not once did the thought of childcare enter my mind. We live in a world with hard boundaries between the spheres of paid work and care work. Parents have to split themselves into parts, and in many ways, it remains taboo to let these spheres intersect.

On my first business trip with my baby daughter, I had to attend a two-day conference held at a hotel outside Stellenbosch. I booked into the hotel, located on a large property with lovely walkways and with one of the rooms converted into a cosy playroom. This was not a good way to start, because it was too easy and convenient, and raised my expectations. On the next trip, I ended up at a high-end hotel in the Cape Town central business district. It had great facilities but on inquiring about the playroom I was informed that the hotel caters to business travellers. I, too, am a business traveller.

Once, a client-side colleague on a project told me that when she had a young baby that fact was not visible in her work life. She was juggling graduate school and building a consultancy and none of the people she encountered in her work-life would have guessed that she had a newborn. The implicit advice was that I do the same lest I lose out on opportunities. In the context of our conversation, that advice did not come across as harsh as it might sound and was probably a little exaggerated. But it still raises concern.

Have we set up workspaces where parenting has to be invisible? Where it’s aspirational to take time off for a soul-searching sabbatical but admitting to the demands of childcare seems like shirking?

As one who acts as an adviser to organisations in various capacities, I have a vantage point into the diversity of support offered to parents in the workplace. I have had to pump breast milk in bathrooms (would you make a sandwich in a bathroom?), once in a Top 40 CEO’s office suite (a lovely gesture aimed to conceal inadequate facilities) or at the airport clinic en route to an institution I knew would be hopeless on that front.

But the worst part about pumping is the product.

A US woman entrepreneur, founder of Naya Health Janica Alvarez, set out to revolutionise the user experience with a smart pump that does not make the hideous sound, collects more milk (and useful data) and is truly portable. But she is reported to be struggling to raise the next level of financing from (male-dominated) venture capital firms.

Global health guidelines are unanimous on the value of breast milk, but financiers fail to appreciate the opportunity to transform the user experience.

Finally, I should mention I’ve begun to make a conscious effort to refer to “parents” in discussions, because they so easily scale down to the challenges facing working mothers. The triumphs and trials of modern parenthood are framed as if men are not part of the equation. It is dismissive of fathers, and families led by men only, to proceed from the assumption that a woman should always be the lead parent.

(Published originally on Business Day on 21 November 2017:

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Mzansipreneur Reading Room

The Mzansipreneur Reading Room offers hot-desks that you can use for a couple of hours to work, and enjoy coffee and food ordered from one of the many restaurants in Grant Avenue.

We have great WiFi but this is not a business services centre. This is like your old school library where you can punctuate work with browsing our evolving collection of books and magazines on business, creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship, that showcases diverse authors and ideas. Here you will find stories of local entrepreneurs like Miles Kubheka alongside a polemic on work/family balance by Anne-Marie Slaughter next to a back issue of the Gentlewoman. If you want to take a deeper look at a book or magazine, you can loan it out for a small fee for a week (in addition to an annual deposit).

Our Membership Fees and Working Hours:

Co-working space per person  
Opening hours: 900 to 1600  
Less than 4 hours 55
Day 110
Week 550
Month 1500
Per book for 1-week loan
Book loan 25
Deposit book loan (annual deposit) 250

Come by and have a look!


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How private equity takes business to the next level

Author: Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA)

In Southern Africa, the impact and value created through private equity extends far beyond just that of a specific deal’s allocated investment, it is also about positively influencing businesses, the communities connected to these businesses, and their broader economic environment. This is according to the recently launched SAVCA 2017 Case Study Compendium (see here) which highlights how private equity investment is resulting in more sustainable business practices and positive community outcomes.

The publication – comprising of sixteen case studies showcasing successful private equity and venture capital partnerships between fund managers and the businesses in which they invest – underscores the long-term nature of these collaborations and confirms the value add offered to both start-up and established businesses.

Tanya van Lill, CEO of the Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA), says that these case studies confirm that partnerships of this nature represent a great deal more than just monetary investment. “Private equity plays a vital role in corporate governance, job creation, employment equity initiatives, skills programmes, and social upliftment, thus rendering the portfolio company more resilient, more efficient, with healthier governance structures and with an expanded footprint.”

Technology is a recurring theme from the SAVCA 2017 Case Study Compendium, adds van Lill. “Some of these companies have introduced systems to manage their operations more efficiently, while others have introduced new technology to the market. An example of this is seen in the Emfuleni Voerkrale case study, where the sheep feedlot company was backed by IDF Managers in 2015 to acquire a state-of-the-art electronic scale to weigh animals. This allows management to easily access and analyse data on each animal, which has enabled faster and more efficient decision-making.”



13 December 2013. Madiba Street.

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The value of art

Moriri 2, 2013. Artist: Maki Mashigo

A reader of this blog asked, a few weeks ago, how individual works of art are valued. I gave an intuitive answer, based on my wanderings through the art circuit, but I must admit that the economist in me was not satisfied with my answer. Last Sunday, at the Turbine Hall Art Fair, I attended a talk by the art dealer Warren Siebrits which brought me a step closer to a satisfactory answer though I won’t be building a workable quantitative model anytime soon.

Warren presented some variables which determine the value of a work of art. The reputation of the artist matters. This can be discerned from critical writing about their work, their education (including informal education I would argue) and the opinions of their peers. The artist’s sphere of influence also has to be considered. In a small market such as ours, Warren argued, it’s important to consider the artist’s regional, national and international footprint. William Kentridge is probably our most distinguished art export. But there are others including young artists such as Lolo Veleko whose work I saw exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem last year. 

It is also important to compare local prices to international prices. An equivalent amount spent on an artist in another market may yield greater gains over time. It also crucial to form a view as to whether an artwork is overvalued or not. A small market may be susceptible to bubbles.

The value of an art piece also depends on its medium and period. There will be a period during an artist’s life that she produces her most compelling work. And there will be a medium that an artist excels in. 

Like in other creative industries, fakes are ever-present in the visual art market. It is thus prudent to establish the provenance of work before purchasing it.

Warren sees art valuation as a question of experience, instinct and passion. Dealers and auctioneers, who may have some of these traits, are useful to establish price in the art market.

After this talk, I decided to heed my instinct and bought a piece by Maki Mashigo titled Moriri from a gallery called Fried Contemporary. It deals with the politics surrounding black women’s hair. The central element of the piece is  a photograph of a black woman with natural hair. It is obscured by strands of natural and synthetic hair that are pasted on to the photograph. Icky and thought-provoking all at once.

Other art works that caught my eye at the Turbine Hall Art Fair include Damien Schumann’s photographs which include a handwritten message by the subjects captured in the work. This is refreshing given the ease at which the power relation between artist and subject can be viewed as exploitative, especially when the lens is turned on vulnerable individuals such as the economically disadvantaged or members of marginalised communities. There was also the colourful print of an abstract painting by Wopko Jensma which already spotted a red sticker by the time I got round to it. I have a bias towards photography so this would have been welcome diversification in my collection. A haunting image of Brenda Fassie taken by Sally Shorkend has been on my mind. It served as cover art for a story in the Mail and Guardian about the making of the hit Weekend Special, a development that has confirmed the work’s potential status as the iconic image of Brenda Fassie for future generations.

As the gallerists packed up their stands, I inadvertently became part of a heartfelt debate that almost became a screaming match. It was between two prominent faces in the Jozi art circle, and it reminded me that this is a small market that has yet to shed its provincialism and the baggage of history. I salute the Turbine Hall Art Fair for trying to broaden the audience and to start new conversations about local art.