Nicky Newton-King, USA Ambassador Don Gips, Leila Fourie, Siobhan Cleary, Benedict Phiri, Samantha Ball, Geoff Rothschild, Dinika Govender
On the 5th of October a SAWIP and JSE group, hosted by the CEO of the JSE, Nicky Newton-King, met over a scrumptious lunch in the JSE dining room to deliberate over the National Planning Commission’s (NPC) call for strong leadership in all sectors, particularly strong corporate leadership, and the potential for partnerships to secure a bright future for South Africa.
In setting the scene for the discussion it was suggested that we view South Africa in a global context where the poor are in protest against the rich. This inevitably led to an acknowledgement of the appalling conditions at Marikana, the crisis in the mining industry and the dire socio-economic conditions endured by so many of our people.
The groups fully endorsed and supported the servant leadership approach, foundational to SAWIP and its alumni, as the most appropriate for the challenges facing South Africa. Genuine care for the poor, expressed through behaviours of leadership, was identified as largely missing and a contributor to the sense that the nation’s leadership is self-serving and ineffective in leading the country through the current crises.
The discussion was initiated by the following question: What role does business have in the socio-economic and political space?
Firstly, there was agreement that business has a responsibility to be fundamentally involved in partnering the state and the citizens in the provision of adequate housing, education and healthcare, far beyond the traditional CSI giving. There was a sentiment expressed, however, that business in general is seen to be concerned merely with self-enrichment and that the level of commitment to genuine and sustained social upliftment is lacking.
The group, as a whole, did not support business involvement in the political space as is common practice in the USA. It was noted, however, that at present business is, behind closed doors, active in looking for alternatives to the weaknesses in government and leadership which are currently challenging South Africa and putting its well-being at risk. There was a feeling expressed that such business leaders should readily and openly express their views as this would be reassuring to sectors of the public who experience a vacuum of business leadership in the political domain.
The National Development Plan (NDP) presents, all agreed, an excellent Vision for South Africa as well as an informed and detailed plan, but, there was concern expressed that implementation would be limited due to the leadership deficit and the lack of a central NDP directorate to drive implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
On the question of the unacceptable and dangerous levels of unemployment in our country, entrepreneurship was promoted as a critical area for development. Sentiments were expressed that corporate South Africa should be active in equipping and effectively supporting small business. It was suggested that South Africans are not entrepreneurial in spirit and that this approach does not have the potential envisaged. However, this opinion was vigorously opposed with many examples of South African innovation and business success given. It was observed that much innovation and entrepreneurship emerges when societies are in trouble and that, perhaps, South Africa’s serious current challenges will give birth to a flowering of innovation and entrepreneurship. There was agreement, however, that the failing education system would need to be fundamentally strengthened and the curriculum modified to promote and develop an entrepreneurial mind and skill set.
In an attempt to address the socio-economic-political crises and tap into the expertise and experience of corporate South Africa, it was suggested that there be an expansion of the availability of genuine mentorship, in all sectors, across the generations. In accepting this suggestion, all agreed that mentorship is a powerful practice and should be vigorously promoted and expanded.
Participants left the luncheon reinvigorated and inspired to make their particular contributions toward the realization of the vision of the NDP and lead South Africa out of the current crises. The expressed intention of three of the four SAWIP Alumni present to enter public service, early or later in their careers, was seen as hopeful and encouraging.