VIRTUALLY every state engages in commercial activities.
The involvement of the state in commercial activities manifests through a variety of designations - parastatals, state-owned enterprises, public enterprises, and so on.
Essentially, public enterprises (PEs) are state-owned enterprises wherein the state has significant control through full, majority or significant minority ownership. About 81 public enterprises, with 17 644 employees, have been created since the country's independence in 1990.
As of now, the Namibian public enterprises are divided into commercial public enterprises (CPEs), non-commercial public enterprises (NCPEs) and Extra-Budgetary Funds. The commercial public enterprises currently stand roughly at 20, or 25% of the total PEs, with a total employee base of 11 418 and total asset base of about N$60 billion. The NCPEs and Extra-Budgetary Funds combined, account for 61 PEs, or 75% of PEs, with a workforce profile of 6 226 employees.
Public enterprises in Namibia have, to this day, been beset with many challenges and difficulties. Despite their significance and potential, PEs are ceaselessly castigated for many things: inefficiency, wastage, bureaucracy, not competitive, poor and underperforming and blocking private sector investment. Invariably, the foregoing challenges are considered as "sins" of public enterprises.
Over the years, the problems in PEs were routinely attributed to bad management and governance practices. Especially, the flawed leadership, governance and ownership model is often cited as the "father" of problems in PEs. On the other hand, despite challenges in many PEs, developed countries continue to harness and optimise the strengths of PEs by remodelling them into 21st century public enterprises.
Then, a question arises: What are the characteristics of a typical 21st century public enterprise [in] a century that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?
The following characteristics may exemplify 21st Century public enterprises.
An entrepreneurial spirit is about listening with one's heart and mind. This means being attentive and reflective about daily happenings and, consequently, following up and acting upon what is heard in the heart and contemplated in the mind. Demographic shifts, economic pressures and new technologies are, in profound ways, re-shaping the purpose and functions of public enterprises.
By capitalising on the gigantic capacity and potential of public enterprises, a 21st century public enterprise is embodied in the continuous quest to create new public entrepreneurs (P-preneurs). A 21st century public enterprise is entrepreneurial, risk-taking and full of idealism. In essence, a 21st century public enterprise should be able to support or fuel economic and social growth by being maverick, yet disciplined; servant- (public) spirited, yet austere; a breath of freshness in the organisation, yet humble; informed and knowledgeable, yet continuously learning. Thus, people in 21st century enterprises must know what they are doing.
A critical characteristic of a 21st century enterprise is being customer-centric (responsive to the needs of customers and citizens), not aloof. Moreover, a 21st century enterprise can be summarised in the old adage "doing much with less", in other words, the perpetual concern in a 21st century enterprise is how to do things efficiently and effectively yet with less costs, routine and rigidity. Immediately, this points to the need to have the best people in the right positions at all hierarchical levels in the organisation.
The philosophical outlook of a 21st century enterprise is the belief that the human resource is the most critical resource of the organisation. A 21st century enterprise recruits people who demonstrate unquestionable integrity and values; people who can work in different cultures. The 21st century enterprise continuously searches for authentic (genuine) leaders who lead from the heart and can entrench the culture of functioning in a community of humans. Leaders in 21st century enterprises entrench effective and responsive interpersonal relationships. Excessively arrogant and abusive leadership and managerial styles are taboos in 21st century institutions. Instead, selflessness and "love of neighbour" permeates a 21st century enterprise.
In the final analysis, it is all about the human resource in the organisation. One can develop sophisticated systems, processes and procedures but it is all about the human being in power; at the helm of the organisation. Therefore, leadership in a 21st century enterprise is a critical aspect. A 21st century enterprise needs leaders who are full of power, which means rich in mercy and justice, and who can welcome all people without showing any partiality or without belonging to any factional grouping.
The technological advances of the 21st century have introduced easier and faster ways of communicating. As such, a characteristic embodied in a 21st century public enterprise is the increasing focus on technology and cyber systems to achieve cost savings, effectiveness and efficiency. A 21st century public enterprise leverage technology to create innovative services and solutions to citizens and customers.
Despite the much-talked about 4th Industrial Revolution, organisations and countries in African environments still have to capitalise fully on technology as an enabler for efficiency and effectiveness. In many Namibian public and, private sector institutions, manual and handwritten records are still the norm, which are anti-theses to 21st century enterprises. The advent of technology should assist enterprises in effectively communicating in person, print and writing.
Organisations consist of different stakeholders with competing interests. Therefore, effective stakeholders' management is foremost in a 21st century enterprise. Especially, considering the era of social media, in which everything is "live", effective stakeholder relations management is critical for the success of a 21st century enterprise.
The question that remains unanswered, and requires further contributions, is this: How do Namibian public enterprises compare to the characteristics of 21st century enterprises?
* Matthias Ngwangwama is a Namibian business management academic and practitioner. He writes in his personal capacity and the views expressed in this article are his own abstractions. For constructive responses, email [email protected]