The Dean and Director of Henley Business School, South Africa, shares his experiences working as an entrepreneur in Africa and how he is developing the future generation of African entrepreneurs.
Over the years, Europe and Africa have had somewhat of a turbulent history. The turn of the 17th century saw colonialism have a significant impact on African culture, social and economic infrastructures, and African families.
John Foster-Pedley forged a relationship with the African continent through his passion for entrepreneurship and education. I wanted to find out how being a White British man shaped his experiences while living and working in South Africa, and why he chose to set up a business school in South Africa focussing on soft skills.
1.Was moving to South Africa much of a culture shock?
Being a pilot, I was used to travelling and seeing how people lived in different countries. When I flew to South Africa I never really interacted with people but I did get the chance to see the townships first hand. It wasn’t until I visited Ghana (West Africa) that I realised the weight of my colonial upbringing. I realised although I wasn’t racist, my conditioning was. I had to do a lot of work rediscovering other peoples humanities and challenge my own unconscious bias. Most people have unconscious bias; we have to dig deep to get rid of it. That means unfreezing frozen parts of our selves that we didn’t know were frozen. Africa has allowed me to get rid of some of these conditionings. If I’m honest, I never really saw myself as Black or White. So when I arrived in South Africa during the apartheid, I found the whole racial divide a bit strange. It was hard to make friends during this time.
2.Why did you decide to focus your curriculum on the development of soft skills?
Hard skills are not about creating new economies; they are more about measuring and sustaining them. In Africa, we need to develop new markets. The skills people need are not just for safe careers because these won’t change the world. We need people who will get people to engage more with their mind and use it to get tremendous outcomes. These skills will make a generation of confident people who will build strong economies. We’ve got to develop potential and confidence if we don’t want a generation of followers. We need to teach about rhetoric so people can escape their history. We need people’s weirdness and inspired intelligence. We want people who can invent and scale-up because being creative is normal; being unimaginative is weird. African talent is much closer than we think, people will soon begin to chase it.
3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar career path as you and become an entrepreneur?
There is no real logic to my career path. But I would say don’t follow a career path for stability – develop your capabilities because the world needs resources more than anything. I had a conventional career path because I won a scholarship to become an aircraft pilot. However, I became more interested in being authentic and got annoyed when I lacked confidence or felt fear. I did some introspection into what made me feel this way. I realised you couldn’t build confidence by doing what felt comfortable.
So I’d say develop three things, your mind, your creativity, and your heart. Work on your consciousness and awareness. If you feel fear, keep saying how high can I go. Not in an egotistical way but in a purposeful way and know that you have substance.
I would also say do not get trapped in your upbringing and environment when you escape from that it allows you to discover more. Whatever people say to limit your horizons, lift them and always look for a higher purpose. Ask yourself, why can’t I do that? You will fail, and that always hurts, but it’s practising failure that helps.
People who want to be entrepreneurs need to have profound psychological resilience. They can’t be too embarrassed if the thing is worth doing keep at it. You learn to use your wits to find a way to get to where you want to be – you hustle. Wit is a typical trait in working-class people; rich people are disabled by not having to do this.
It’s important to understand that wealth isn’t freedom skills is freedom. Grasping your true capability but never losing your integrity is freedom. Life has fewer boundaries than we think.
By Jasmin A-duah