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Alumnus Ernest Messina wants to Stimulate Entrepreneurship Through a Culture of Innovation

Author: Harriet Box

When UWC alumnus and businessman Dr Ernest Messina walks away from a podium after delivering a speech, people feel inspired. He believes that respect is the basis for true success.

(Published - 3 December 2018)

When University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumnus and businessman Dr Ernest Messina walks away from a podium after delivering a speech, you can’t help but feel inspired.

He is the former CEO of the Small Business Instituut (previously die Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut) - a businessman with two masters degrees and a DPhil in History. He also occupies the seat of chairperson of Groot Constantia, is co-chairperson with Anant Singh of Smile 90.4FM, and serves on the boards of the Du Toit Group, Kaap Agri and is Chairperson of The Fuel Company.

His motto of treating others with the respect they deserve is evident as he interacts with the staff of the Pearl Valley estate in Paarl, where he has been living for a good 15 years now.

He believes that in business and in everyday life, respect is the basis for true success. Messina says he has gained valuable insights and learnt amazing life lessons through the successes, setbacks and even failures that crossed his path along the way. No successful career is ever without its setbacks and failures.

He was one of the many academics who left the University of the Western Cape when the new regime took over in 1994. This was when the University lost some of its most valued academics who were called up to serve their country within a new dispensation in a free South Africa.

He wasn’t part of this group of academics directly, but rather one of those who ventured out to explore new opportunities never available before. He was curious to see what the new South Africa would have to offer and how he could contribute in a modest way to establishing the new dispensation.

In the process, he left behind a blossoming career as a history lecturer at UWC where he taught for 12 years. A few years later he reconnected with his alma mater as a representative of Business South Africa on the Council of UWC.

“UWC will remain the place where my values were reinforced, and I am grateful for the path my career has taken.” Post UWC, he became one of the three founder members of The Western Cape Business Opportunities Forum (WECBOF). He is also involved with National Scrap Metal (Cape Town) and the Franschhoek Empowerment and Conservation Trust. He was the first chairperson of the Franschhoek Valley Transformation Charter, a director of Bridge House school, and, he is a mentor of young and not so young people. Some of the best highlights in his career were when he served on the board of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls here in South Africa, and when he became chairperson of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut (AHI) Western Cape, as well as a member of their National Executive.

“I think I’m in a place where I want to start putting all my experience and expertise and networks to full use and help impact on the lack of an innovative culture in the country. Because this is not about me, but about how I can best serve my community. I’ve started in my immediate vicinity in schools in the Paarl / Franschhoek area.”

He has learnt a great deal from the former Minister of Science and Technology, Mosibudi Mangena, who in one of his books stated: “I’ve seen it (the lack of a culture of innovation) among learners who, when asked to design and develop a new type of cellphone, burst out laughing because they think it’s not possible.”

In a recent address to entrepreneurs, Messina stated: “The world as we know and experience it today is very different from the world of yesteryear. Currently there are unacceptably high levels of negativity and uncertainty in the world and in our own country. Many people are understandably filled with little and no hope for the future. We have more than 9 million unemployed and this is an indictment on all of us.

“Unemployment to my mind should be declared a national disaster. We can’t allow the human dignity of our fellow citizens to be eroded and tainted in this way.

“From a particular vantage point we can argue that the current conditions and circumstances are not in the least bit conducive to creating prosperity. Some would argue that through our actions or inaction, we are the cause of the situation. Just listen to what we say about ourselves and each other.

“We seemingly cannot handle freedom because this mind thing appears to prevent us from optimising the opportunities we have, or are able to create and excel at. I want to challenge all of us to change this state of mind. This generation should become the innovation generation. We have the capacity, capability, talent and the resources to be just that.

“No one can see into the future, but I’m convinced that we can do it. There is no better time than now. So if we want to create a new, stimulating culture of innovation in which entrepreneurs can thrive and be super successful, we need to start by changing our individual and collective mindset, our attitude, our thinking and vocabulary. In this way we will start to lay the foundation for a new culture - first from within and then in the broader society, applying our natural talent and intelligence”.

More about Ernest Messina

He was born on the farm Klein Simonsvlei near Franschhoek on 2 November 1957, the youngest son of two teacher parents. Growing up in this educational and social milieu had a great influence on his life. He attended four different rural primary schools, which left an indelible imprint on his socialisation in respect of his rural roots. Dr Messina matriculated in 1974 from Spes Bona High School in Athlone - a suburb of Cape Town.​

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