Celebrating our young Future Leaders and listening to their innovative solutions to the challenges of our time was my privilege during the Sustainable Brands conference held in Cape Town this weekend. Of course I had to resist the impulse of wanting to apologize to them all for leaving them such a complex world to sort out. This should never have happened and could have been prevented.
Nevertheless, there was enough inspiration. Most notably the lovely young Lufefe Nomjana, known as the ‘Spinach King,’ from Espinaca in Kayelitsha. His story bubbles with enthusiasm – of creating a business with R40 in his pocket using what is already available in his area. And a thirst for learning and clearly a brilliant entrepreneurial spirit. So he watches the gogos grow spinach and wonders what one can do with this leafy green. Jumps onto the internet – which he repeatedly credited as the essential tool for his business. He learns about the health benefits and nutritional value, researches bread and comes up with a solution which ticks all the boxes. For this health enthusiast makes no ordinary spinach bread. No wheat, no gluten. He only uses olive oil. Now we’re talking!
Changing Khayelitsha one spinach loaf at a time
“I am changing Khayelitsha one spinach loaf at a time,” he says with sparking eyes. His vision is bigger than the shack he lives in. The fork and knife can be weapons of mass destruction, he muses, very concerned about what his community is eating. Afterwards we get to taste this delicious offering. Here is a young man to be watched.
Where can I find this delicious bread, I ask munching away. Don’t worry, he says, Espinaca is this year opening its third baking factory – this one in Stellenbosch. So even in my household he can soon make a difference.
Business must allow the future to flourish
I also enjoyed the talk by Dr. Geoff Kendall from Future-Fit in the UK about running a business with a future orientation. “A future-fit business is one that in no way undermines the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on earth forever.”
According to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index a company like Unilever scores 92m, while their CEO says it’s more like 25. Why is this score so high? Because it is in comparison to others in the similar industry, and compared to the past. Hence a company like Thai Oil can score as high as 87! Something is clearly wrong here?
“We need to measure absolute progress towards a future state rather,” he says. We need to have a future fit benchmark and future fit goals. Read more at www.futurefitbusiness.org and see his open source benchmarks for a sustainable future.
Green is not a colour
Then there was Devan Valenti and Simon Atlas who recently launched their book “Green is Not a Colour.” They believe that corporations need to understand that if they develop sustainability today you will develop competencies that will set you apart from your rivals going forward.
“South Africans have an instinct or solutions,” they said.
On day 2 of the Sustainable Brands conference corporate business is exploring what is needed to tackle the escalating world challenges. Jonathan Hanks from Incite says the search is on for bold and visionary leadership.
“The change that is required is going to happen largely in business,” he says. “Yet how to pay back the debt when we don’t have growth is going to be hard.” This amidst increasing levels of complexity and connections between rising issues. “As things become more complex the harder to address them.”
A seminal moment in history
“We are in a seminal moment in history,” said John Fullerton.
“We are running out of planet. We can no longer depend on growth but on debt.” Someone asked where is the Steve Jobs of sustainability. Jobs said one should have a meaningful worldview to save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.
Who has the courage to change the status quo?
The search is on this brilliant leadership, who will have some outstanding qualities like:
- The vision and strength and recognise the need for systemic change
- The courage to change the status quo
- Holding themselves fully accountable and working towards better metrics
- Being prepared to be challenges in from of their peers
- Redefining their core purpose through a societal lens
- Being unafraid to say uncomfortable truths.
Address the levels of hubris in the boardroom
“We need to address the levels of hubris in the boardrooms,” said Hanks. “It is time to point fingers at ourselves instead of at the government. We n need agreement on the scale of change that we need.”
Business needs the characteristics of activists, like:
- A credible and skilled negotiator
- Challenge without being challenging
- Seeing the positive
Here and there speakers mentioned the need for the media to keep our society more informed. Interestingly, nobody mentions the Green Times. Leaders, I would add, don’t need recognition to keep going. I give myself hope by leading an inspiring life. Anyone can do that. Be the leader we are waiting for.
By Elma Pollard