The real driving force in any successful economy is the active participation of entrepreneurs, who identify new and innovative ways to meet market demands and serve consumers. When government regulators erect innumerable hurdles for those entrepreneurs to surmount before they are legally allowed do business, however, many of the best ideas are never even tried — and the rest of society loses out on the value and growth that those entrepreneurs might otherwise have fostered.
That’s the situation today in South Africa, as Atlas Leadership Academy graduate Michael Howe-Ely wrote in a recent analysis for Atlas Network, “Can entrepreneurs save South Africa?” Howe-Ely is the chief marketing officer at Ineng, the Independent Entrepreneurship Group. Founded in early 2014, Ineng is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and seeks to achieve policy change driven by entrepreneurs.
The goal of Ineng’s flagship program, Entrepreneurs in Public Policy, is to bring the voice of entrepreneurs into the policy-making process, first through education and second through action, especially policy advocacy. The long term goal of Ineng is to reduce poverty and unemployment by increasing economic freedom in South Africa, thereby allowing small businesses to grow and thrive.
Tell us about your organization and career history. What inspired you to work for a free-market group, and what successes have you had so far?
In October 2013, an independent event titled “Entrepreneurs in Public Policy” was held in Cape Town. It was focused on the red tape affecting businesses in South Africa, and I gave a presentation on a recently released report, “Reducing the Cost of Doing Business in South Africa.” After this initial event, I and others decided to form the Independent Entrepreneurship Group, abbreviated to Ineng, which would host the Entrepreneurs in Public Policy (EPP) events and, down the line, other projects and programs. EPP is intended as a forum for entrepreneurs to speak out against restrictive laws, regulations and policies that hinder their ability to do business. The goal is to discuss these issues with entrepreneurs and then make coherent policy recommendations to the relevant authorities, driven and supported by entrepreneurs themselves.
My professional career thus far has mainly involved marketing, apart from a two-year stint working in South Korea. I currently work in a market research and data analysis role. My involvement with Ineng is on a volunteer basis, and was the result of wanting to get involved in a project that tackled one of the causes of poverty (being excessive regulations that exclude small businesses from the economy). I initially joined to work solely on marketing and communications for the group, but have since become involved in other aspects.
Since being involved with Ineng, I’ve come to realize the importance of freedom (both economic and social) in helping to reduce poverty and empower people. Many of South Africa’s most pressing problems can be solved by free enterprise, allowing government to focus on its core functions and working to improve these.
So far, Ineng has held six independent events and co-hosted the SYPALA 2014 conference with another of Atlas Network’s partners, African Liberty. Our events have featured talks by some of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs and have focused on how markets can provide solutions to the problems facing everyday South Africans. So far, we’ve focused on building up a network of people who are interested in the concept, and are currently seeking to work with entrepreneurs and their supporters to identify key policy reforms that we can work toward in 2015 and beyond.
How did you learn about Atlas Leadership Academy, and what inspired you to participate?
I learnt about Atlas Network through a friend, and applied to attend its Think Tank Leadership Training in November 2014. I was impressed by their extensive network, and that they offered training and opportunities to people from around the world.
What were the biggest takeaways from the training you received?
One of the biggest eye-openers was hearing from other attendees who were in the same global training program. I realized that the problems facing South Africa were not unique, nor were they unsolvable. I heard people from Asia, Latin America, Europe, and other countries in Africa discuss solutions to problems that could be applied to South Africa.
Another important takeaway was to hear the stories from those who had founded and grown their own think tanks, often under difficult and hostile circumstances. While the online education component of the Atlas Leadership Academy is useful and very convenient, listening and talking to people in person adds another level to learning. Getting to meet key people from Atlas Network and other major think tanks was a great privilege, and inspired me to work harder toward growing Ineng.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to work in the liberty movement?
Often the problems facing society can seem insurmountable, but the work of various think tanks has shown that they are an important part of civil society that can achieve real change. I would advise anyone who is frustrated with the current economic or political situation in their country to get involved in a think tank (or start your own) to try and work toward a free economy and a free society.