What South Africa can teach the world?

Article written by Willem Eksteen, Stone CE

What South Africa can teach the world? Indeed. In contemplating the content for this blog, I had to ask myself and those close to me the same question. As a strategist I usually place the hard business goals as the pebble in the strategy centre, but is this the most valuable lesson we can teach?

I had to find what the essence would be of how we are leaving the world a better place than the state we found it in. We must recognise the gift what we have in hand that we can share with others.

We live in turbulent political and social times and unfortunately and unavoidably some people fall victim as result of this. We all reap the harvest of our downgraded economic status due to the world’s view on rife public corruption. It is sad that in South Africa some cannot satisfy their greed by constantly scurrying around to thrive when others barely survive as victims of utter poverty and despair.

Amidst all of this turmoil and despite tales of disillusionment, we find South African stories of hope, compassion and compassionate business leadership. Social empowerment, job creation, gender equality, youth enrichment, colour-blind poverty alleviation, entrepreneurship stimulation and social innovation are undeniably part of the business agendas of so many South African successful businesses. This is cause for great excitement to be part of doing good business in our country right now.

Borrowing the words of Desmond Tutu, we must remind ourselves that hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. In my view South Africa’s biggest lesson and legacy must be the ability to see the light of compassion when going about our daily business.

As South African business leaders, we can live with compassion and do business with that in mind. In so many cases in South Africa, CSI is no longer merely random acts of kindness for BEE points or tax breaks, but increasingly business is recognising the need in our society and in response being truly compassionate, adding value to the lives of those from whom we can gain the least. We must not ignore the exciting movement happening across our business landscape. CSI is no longer a feel-good after-thought or a selfish compliance box-ticking activity to gain the correct procurement status to hang on to one’s licence to do business. Our integrated board reports mostly comply to regulatory requirements and our BEE audits often testify to change compliance. However, and more importantly; business champions are increasingly giving with compassion without expecting something back! Despite the backdrop of executive greed and corporate gluttony.

Increasingly South African businesses are rising to the challenge and set the action example of compassion. We can teach the world the power of adding value beyond own gain. In many cases South African business is writing the essence of compassion into its business strategies as a central business imperative. No longer are good company values merely poster words set on heart-wrenching stock photography along the office hallway leading to the corporate canteen.

The people who make our companies great are the people who live their good values and leave their legacies of bright hope. Good businesses teams are people who truly live the principles of Ubuntu. People who realise the true meaning of being part of a community go beyond own personal gain and bottom-line growth.

Many South African businesses are already adding hope in the dim daily view of our society’s marginalised people, knowing full well that they are people too – people with perhaps unfulfilled hopes, failed opportunities or unrealised aspirations. As a much wiser man once remarked - our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronising, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. As South African business leaders, we must remain true to this virtuous vision and spread this attitude of compassion further afield.

Madiba said it so well: “Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul, and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.”