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Building a resilient and optimistic mindset for startups


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Sport is an extremely powerful institution in its own right. It has the muscle to fiercely unite or divide millions across the globe. Sadly, it can also at times bare a beastly face of hooliganism and racism, particularly in the football arenas.

Many years ago, I invested a lot of fanatic time and energy in the English Premier League (EPL). If my team (Manchester United) lost, I would mourn and not eat for the rest of the weekend, as I’m sure many ardent footie fans still do. As the most watched league in the world, the EPL is not only a passion, it’s an addiction. I once heard that a fan threw his partner off the balcony after she complained that he was glued to the telly for the whole weekend watching soccer and not helping with chores. On a lighter note, NetFlorist recently launched a campaign called Bouquets for Bros with the message “Sorry for your loss. Not.” in the colours of the team. A fun and clever way to send facetious “condolences” to a buddy when their team loses. Proof that the EPL has massive support in nearly every country.

Under the ecstatic mood of the Boks’ world cup victory, I’ve never played rugby or even understood the rules, but because it’s a team sport, it’s quite basic to figure out. As a player, first you need an unclouded, positive and winning mindset before you even set foot on the pitch. Then you need the resilience to go the distance and emerge victorious.

The same goes for soccer. As a young boy, I played under a ruthless coach that made us run five to 10km every day. While we were gasping, whimpering and begging for no more, he’d simply say with a broad grin “endure brothers, it will not kill you but it will make you stronger”. That embedded such a robust mindset within us – one that we had to have – in order to perform at our best, be it for our school or our city. By the way, my soccer nickname was ‘Pele’.

Earlier this year, while I was in Monaco for the launch of the Monaco Youth Sports Club, I met a sophrologist (sophrology is therapy designed to help relax using exercises for both body and mind) who has trained many athletes in a variety of sporting disciplines, including many of the superstars. She couldn’t stress enough just how important it is to build a mindset of resilience and optimism. After all, reaching peak performance and achieving victory begins in your head. Even this weekend’s Soweto and New York marathon winners will echo the same.

This weekend’s win by the Springboks showed exactly that. In the twitterverse and on social media, it was all about positivity, resilience and optimism. Even during half time when the score-line was nail-bitingly close, many people believed that the Boks would still emerge victorious. With a bottle of beer and some braai meat, I watched poor and rich, white and black, locals and foreigners, CEOs and gardeners, all totally immersed in the match, excitingly sharing their common love and support for “their boys”.

On the flip side and on a daily basis, something always emerges that depresses us as a community. From the increasingly high costs of living, seeing our neighbours, friends or families struggling to provide, to hustling and grinding out each day trying to make ends meet, persistent negative sentiments, all while trying to help grow our economy.

Imagine if we became more resilient and optimistic about our future and used even what little power we possess to make a collaborative difference. Imagine if we find better ways to deploy resources and ensure they’re utilized for the goals they meant to achieve. Imagine if we showed the same love, positivity and support to everyone we can – just as we did for the Boks?

Even as a non-rugby guy, I also watched the 2007 world cup victory from a Cape Town pub, which united the nation’s support like never before, due in part to Madiba’s endorsement and calls for unity. The celebratory euphoria lasted for quite a while, then slowly died and we all went back to our little corners and continued with our shenanigans.

Watching the finals on Saturday re-ignited those emotions and positivity. It’s time to change the game plan. Startups and SMEs need the same sustained support, resilience and optimism to survive. They need hope and they need those entities entrusted to support them to have their backs – no matter what. They need capital, they need mentors, they need conducive spaces and a vibrant network of influencers and executives to start and scale.

As the primary supporter base of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem, government, big business, policymakers and investors need to get their game on to ensure small businesses kick-off with a winning mindset.

Thank you Boks for reminding us how great we can be if we stand together!

 Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa – 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus.