Small business owners need two “Rs” – resilience and reinvention – to survive the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, reckons one Fourways-based entrepreneur who has weathered his share of difficult storms.
Thabiso Mkase had been married for just two months when he lost his management job in the catering sector. The sudden retrenchment plunged the newlyweds into a world of uncertainty and anxiety, he recalls.
Now, as many of his fellow South African entrepreneurs face equally trying times, Mkase says he’s grateful for the lessons he learnt pre-pandemic and hopes to encourage others who are experiencing similar hardships.
Raised in Limpopo to a single mother, Mkase’s childhood was riddled with the challenges of poverty. He dropped out of high school early when his mother could no longer afford his school fees. With his duty as first-born son weighing heavily, he moved alone to Gauteng to find work.
He soon completed a diploma in hotel and catering management from Rand Training College, and began working his way up to management. Mkase got married; had a daughter. He had made it – or so he thought.
Then he was retrenched.
With no job prospects, Mkase spent months at home in Tembisa township near Kempton Park. It was one of the most difficult times of his life, but he remained convinced of his own potential.
One night, Mkase had a visionary idea: he would create an adhesive that would stick to any surface except skin. “I became fascinated with how materials bond together and started experimenting with various glue formulations from scratch – paper to paper, rock to rock, wood to wood, rock to wood, concrete to tile – until I came up with an original formula that wouldn’t stick on human skin like other adhesives.”
Even with this breakthrough, Mkase would face a host of other challenges to get his new invention tested, funded and available to the public. He persevered and today Makoya Adhesives’ products are available at select hardware and grocery stores such as Spar, Build It and Midas. Soon, says Mkase, they will also be available at Pick n Pay stores, Shoprite, Checkers and petrol stations.
“My advice to other entrepreneurs is that they must believe in their vision and never allow anyone to deter them,” says Mkase, who attributes his success to steely resilience and the ability to reinvent himself.
He’s now using his business’ growth as a platform to upskill and employ marginalised people, particularly youth – both graduates and non-graduates, women and disabled people: “I want them to have better jobs and, most importantly, contribute to growing South Africa’s economy.”
[Sidebar] Why resilience is an entrepreneur’s most powerful tool
Clinical psychologist, George Bonanno, has spent the better part of 25 years studying resilience at Columbia University’s Teachers College. In his experience, a person’s resilience is not determined by the severity of situations or events, but rather, by how a person perceives them, he told The New Yorker magazine.
Those who view experiences as “traumatic” or “stressful” often struggle to cope with them, while those who view difficult events as an opportunity to learn and grow tend to be more resilient, Bonanno reports.
“The prospective epidemiological data shows that exposure to potentially traumatic events does not predict later functioning. It’s only predictive if there’s a negative response.”
Bonanno says we can make ourselves more or less vulnerable to potentially traumatic events by how we think about them: “We can create or exaggerate stressors very easily in our own minds. That’s the danger of the human condition.”
While scores of scientific research studies have yet to pinpoint the exact reason some people seem better able to rebound from difficult situations, there are a number of theories.
The good news is resilience is a “muscle” one can develop through consistent and intentional practice, according to the American Psychological Association.
American researcher, John Grych, has developed a so-called “Portfolio Model of Resilience”, which identifies three primary traits in resilient people, according to Psychology Today.
The first trait is self-regulation; it includes being able to manage difficult emotions and press on despite setbacks.
The second key to resilience is having strong interpersonal relationships with family and friends, writes Grych, since loneliness can make it more difficult to recover from traumatic experiences.
Finally, those who “make meaning” from their hardships — by being able to process and understand situations, and take hope from them as part of a bigger picture — are also more likely to bounce back after times of crisis.