Trailblazing African entrepreneurship: harnessing the power of blockchain for social good

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According to a recent report by GEM, Africa shows some of the highest rates of female entrepreneurship. High total early-stage entrepreneurial activity is seen in countries like Angola and Togo, where female entrepreneurship is substantially higher than male. ARYZE has recently interviewed Pretty Kubyane, African female blockchain leader and Co-Founder of Coronet Blockchain. Coronet Blockchain is a supply chain management solution that provides blockchain vetted hair-related commodities to African salons, distributors and retailers from ethical global manufacturers at lower sourcing costs.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I grew up in a small village in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. My experiences with business started as early as the age of 6, while working within the family business which was in the wood cutting business, supplying wood to local butcheries, funeral homes and to the community for building or domestic consumption. On weekends my father ran a car fixing workshop that was a business hybrid model: functioning both as a car repair business, and an apprenticeship program for boys in my village that were not academically capable nor accommodated in the education system. My parents also supplied wood free of charge to widows and elderly women that could not afford it. This went on to shape my approach to everything I do, especially in business, starting with the fact that I now run a thriving family business in technology which I co-founded with my husband Shadrack.

Can you tell us more about your personal journey?

My parents’ social enterprise approach came in handy when we were approached by an ex-colleague of my husband for consulting input. After becoming retrenched from Deloitte, she shifted her focus to running a hair extensions business and wanted us to put systems in place to formalise and grow her business. The rest of the team in our management consulting practice were hesitant to take the project in, as our preferred clientele were scale-ups in formalised industries. It was an exciting challenge for me because it’s what I grew up seeing my parents do. When it comes to women starting businesses instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for themselves, it gets me excited – after all, although she was retrenched, here she was taking initiative to start something and refusing to take a back seat in her life. After successfully convincing my team to accept the project, they welcomed the challenge. Fast-forward 36 months later: we scaled her business beyond its survival mode from operating out of a handbag into 4 branches, as well as growing the company from a team of 2 to 40 full-time staff and from a $500 start-up capital to $2 million a year revenue.
Once their story received attention, we started receiving many requests from brands across Africa wanting the same success story. Even mainstream retailers began requesting our help with sourcing quality products and fixing their supply chains with many gaps that led to counterfeits and bad quality products. Knowing that both the small and big retailers had similar obstacles, we soon realised we had to produce the same supply chain transformation at scale. To achieve that, we needed a solution that could deliver an industry wide transformation. A family friend, who worked for a legacy technology company, advised us that blockchain would clearly be a glove-fit solution for the pain points we were trying to solve. And after presenting our business case to an investment committee of the tech giant that was solving similar pain points in the food supply chain, they funded us twice during Covid to build the necessary technology.
Pretty Kubyane entrepreneurship and female blockchain leader
Pretty Kubyane, co-founder of Coronet Blockchain

What is the strongest value proposition of Coronet Blockchain?

Our BFF30, which we signed off recently during a vision casting session, captures our blockchain centric Beauty, Food and Fashion vision priorities leading up to 2030, from now going forward. With Africa facing an impending food scarcity crisis, it was quite natural for us to commence exploration of aligning to hit the ground running with using blockchain to track and trace food, from farm to fork, to ensure that ordinary farmers are enabled to participate in mainstream economies, not denied participation or market access. Furthermore, the textile and fashion industries on the African continent has faced several push backs for decades now, in terms of restoring the ‘made in Africa’ brand look and feel. People have trust issues when it comes to fashion items made in Africa, which are perceived to be inferior and worthy to steer clear of. Leveraging blockchain enables us to amplify or repair trust, lower market access barriers for smallholder farmers, whilst also elevating the made in Africa brands to a higher dimension it so deserves.

How does Coronet Blockchain stand out from competitors in the market?

What makes us stand out from competitors is simple: we never try to copy anyone – we are simply ourselves. We keep things simple and practical, and often use the ‘explain this to your granny’ challenge as the ultimate solution design test when we push blockchain to its limits. Can your granny or 10-year-old niece understand what you are about to do? If it is relevant for people outside of your niche network, then it might be worth a consideration as a bankable project. Being practical keeps us closer to the ground, whilst still shooting out the lights. Pushing the boundaries to explore what else this technology can do for ordinary people is our extreme sport, and daily focus. After all, the stickability of any emerging technology, relies on its ability to become embedded into real societal problems. Being value oriented in our ideations and deliveries within our firm , as well as blockchain consulting outside of our start-up, continues to shape our unfolding success and daily routine. Ultimately, being generous, whilst taking care of the bottom line, has always proven to be a source of noteworthy social. To this date, our approach to blockchain always incorporates social good.

Africa has the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the world and it is the only continent on which women account for the majority of entrepreneurs. Why do you think this is the case?

Africa is indeed home to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem by headcount. The old African proverb that says “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family and a nation” is very true. It has been said that necessity is the mother of innovation and one must perhaps add that problems are a great training ground for resilience. Africa is home to some of the most complex societal problems on the planet. These scenarios lend themselves to being an incredible training opportunity and personal incentive for entrepreneurial initiative. Most African entrepreneurs embark on their entrepreneurial journeys out of sheer desperation, the need to put food on the table and be propelled by defining moments in their lives. In partnership with Stanford University, Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) released a report in 2021 that tangibly demonstrated Africa’s flagship position of being home to the highest percentage of entrepreneurs among working-age adults of any continent in the world. A further discovery also pointed to how, across the African continent, women make up the majority of entrepreneurs on the continent, but regrettably, most women-led businesses are less profitable and they have more stagnant growth compared to men’s businesses. A pressing need of going forward amid the implementation of The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, is to ensure growth-focused formalisation at scale of these women-led and women-owned businesses. No economy in the world, Africa included, can make tangible progress if businesses in their locality remain largely informal, offer no job security, and cannot access financial inclusion via trade finance or other means. Showing up is impressive, but growing up is even better.

How would you describe the ideal leadership style to create and nurture successful teams?

Trust and authenticity are key when it comes to nurturing or surrounding yourself with a thriving team. People will know it if you are not authentic, even if they will not tell you because they are on your payroll. We have a saying in our family: integrity is when what you do is aligned to what you say is important to you. When what we tell our team is important for our values and vision priorities does not ultimately align with what they see us dedicating time and resources to, then we run the risk of losing credibility with our team or clients. Successful teams are held together by the glue of authenticity, and when everyone knows they can be themselves. As the co-founders, we are consciously aware of constantly being in full view of our team. They take the cue from us and monitor, intentionally or subconsciously, to observe whether we are authentic and consistent in what we believe in contrast to what we pursue daily. What we sign off as priority on our annual or quarterly priorities compared to what we deploy our time, energy, and budgets to. Without authenticity and nurturing of trust, your leadership foundations and team dynamics will remain shaky for the foreseeable time on your journey. Stand by what is important to you and encourage those around you to be transparent, respectful and authentic. It is only then you can find yourself within a thriving environment.

What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs around the world?

My late father was a big critic of the saying “a half a loaf is better than no bread”. His argument and encouragement to me was that I must never settle for less in life just because I come from poverty. Instead of settling for a half a loaf, why not start a bakery that feeds me, my family and the whole village, he would add. To this day, I always challenge young female entrepreneurs to not settle for less – even if they’re 3rd generation poor or find themselves in similar worse circumstances. They must not aim to do better than their parents or neighbors, but must instead aim to compete and beat their industry competitors on a global level. The bottom line is this, every young female entrepreneur must never settle for less even if they started from zero. The world is their canvas.

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