In conversation with
Mr. Michael Roberts

CEO | Khonology

FDI Spotlight: What are the new trends and developments that you think should be implemented in order to enable sustainable relationships

Michael Roberts: Part of our model was to build this talent pool where we give people away. We empower individuals and up-skill the employee base and always try to do what is right for community development and the individual.

By building the right talent pool and looking after people in the early stages of their careers, they, later on, become a line manager or a hiring manager; this means that, if we have done our job, communities will be stronger and we maintain a voice of connection. When we do a great job you are going to come back to Khonology when hiring the next generation. That is the sustainability in our model. It is a positive feedback loop.

Sustainability is considering how to make sure this generation begins to give back. Creating a conveyor belt of sustainability and a generational loop is vital.

Technology is the real enabler for South Africa, which is why we are building tools to speed up that process. Our technologies help our clients understand what it is they really need. We see ourselves as listeners, educators, and enablers.

What is the significance of embracing technology in businesses and how can you create a shift towards a greater understanding within society?

Michael Roberts: For Africa to participate, I always ask: are we providing FinTech solutions that are solving the un-banked problems and the informal sector challenges? There’s a whole economy that exists today that no one knows about. I don’t want to take any kudos away from where FinTechs have delivered. Unfortunately, it is not enough to solve the African challenges. The only way to embrace the digital economy is to make Africa inclusive and engage them to solve African challenges with a solutions approach. We have to bring technology and finance together.

Technology alone is fine but if you are missing the financial, entrepreneurial, business solutions you will not move fast in modern economies. If you don’t understand economics and how the financial system works, you cannot bring it all together. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure they understand the economic climate. Then we must all work towards developing financial and technological literacy with our education systems. With all the factors considered this will lead to long-term financial inclusion.

Concerning employment, where corporate fall victim to politics or hierarchical bureaucracy, technology differs. Technology has zero respect for colour, race, creed, age or religious views. Technology removes all the barriers to entry by default because it is anonymous.

What are the values that you look for in future long-term partnerships?

Michael Roberts: There has to be a win-win for everybody. Getting this return is quite alien to people in most conversations. Collaboration is about how to make sure my client benefits. My employees are in a better position than before and making sure they get the opportunity of a lifetime. It is about creating a holistic value chain and making sure I make a profit so to can keep everything going. Long-term sustainability is the motivation so the wheels always keep turning.

For SMEs to grow their economy, we need to build an effective ecosystem. Collaboration between big business, multinationals, and SMEs builds ecosystems and communities. This way we would have big businesses that depend on many small businesses to deliver its products. That is collaboration and adds to our value chain. We need to produce a policy climate that enables SMEs easier access to the market with lower barriers to entry. This requires a genuine focus on collaboration to transform our communities.

The challenge we have at the moment is that big businesses have created hurdles and barriers to entry. They have a procurement department, HR department and other departments that operate like a government. It is either too difficult to enter or you cannot gain entry.

What is your message of confidence to the international investment community?

Michael Roberts: My message to investors would be that the opportunities in South Africa are endless. You need to have courage and conviction. Are you investing for the return or do you want to play it safe? There is an upside but you need to get into the market. If you don’t get involved, you are never going to get the return and the upside is huge, the potential is massive. Yes, it is risky and scary but this is where innovation is derived. Chaos breeds amazing stuff. If you want consistency and a comfort blanket, the rest of the world is your market. There is no real massive change in the world, South Africa, and Africa is where the change is going to happen. Opportunity is on the edge of chaos. We do not want to be a charity, so stop feeling sorry for us. We do not want your pity, we want investments and we will give you your ROI. We have to break away from the charity mindset that exists domestically and globally. We need to get individuals to exercise their financial education and investments that work to create sustainable change.

What are the personal characteristics that have allowed you to build Khonology?

Michael Roberts: Somebody told me recently that I have a tendency to swim upstream. It is a character trait, that if challenged, I will take on the challenge – it is in my nature. It can backfire but I don’t take no for granted. Everyone should make mistakes. They are a great learning tool and you never gain as much from playing it safe. I like to prove, one can do many things people believe impossible and I like to be different. I do not like to follow the norm because it is boring and less satisfying. I like to challenge the status quo every day. I have grown up always questioning why?
My grandfather was a very knowledgeable man who thought about the world around him. He used to entertain all my questions and challenge me to think about the world. He also taught me the power of empathy. Growing up in conservative South Africa I could not help but question everything. I liked to push the boundaries and this certainly became a part of my nature. This was not received very well, but it built tenacity and resilience within me. I became accustomed to being the difficult one and I actually quite enjoyed it. It is imperative that we do not accept the way of the world, as it is. We do this by questioning and creating a dialogue. Continuously, we need to be asking if there is a better way. When the answer is yes, it is important to work to create the solutions.