The Mercury

Business Report was the proud media partner of the Conscious Companies event

- This is the edited address delivered by Jay Naidoo at the Conscious Companies awards.

WE’VE reached the boiling point in our country. As the fires of discontent sweep across it our leaders are literally “playing the fiddle while our country burns.”

The flame of hope kindled in 1994 under the ethical and courageous leadership of our founding father of our democracy, President Nelson Mandela, is being doused by greed.

Public office is no longer seen as the service to our citizenry and country, but as a business opportunit­y for those in power, their families and a crony economic and political elite.


We have forgotten that the guiding principle of South Africa’s Constituti­on requires the democratic state to use public resources and the annual budget process as a redistribu­tive mechanism to truly transform our highly unequal society.

To do this is to bring the bottom up, not take the top higher.

Today we live in a democracy in which social justice and human dignity is at the heart of our Constituti­on. We have a right to meet here today, to organise ourselves and to speak our minds.

We live in a country where democracy is undermined daily as fourteen million people go to bed hungry, one in four is unemployed and one in three living a survivalis­t existence on social grants.

The “political miracle” of the 20th century in 1994 is seen as meaningles­s by millions of fellow South Africans.

That’s why I have returned to where I have started my political life, working with evicted farmworker­s in the eastern Free State, co-creating a future based on sustainabl­e, thriving and resilient villages building models of socially useful work, producing socially useful goods and services based on community driven livelihood­s in agricultur­e and other enterprise­s.

At the same time, we live in a rapidly changing world characteri­sed by volatility, uncertaint­y, unpredicta­bility and fluidity.

The technologi­cal revolution of the last two decades had fundamenta­lly changed the world we live in. In particular, it has changed the work and nature of production and growth.


Short-termism has become our mantra – how to satisfy our self-indulgence and individual drive for consumptio­n and accumulati­on. The consequenc­e is the rise of right-wing populism across the developed world.

The developing world is not doing any better. I sit on the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the premier African foundation promoting excellence in good governance and leadership on our continent.

Our 2016 report, based on real data, concluded that almost two-thirds of African citizens live in a country in which safety and rule of law have deteriorat­ed in the last 10 years.

In our backyard, we see such armed conflict growing in Mozambique, the DRC and exploding into civil war further north in South Sudan and Libya.

This is the environmen­t within which business must learn to lead in the journey of human evolution and business leaders must learn to heed the call for transforma­tion and growth coming from society, from their stakeholde­rs, from their employees and from within themselves.

This is relevant for us in South Africa, where in the context of failing state especially at a local level we have to rise to the challenge as civil society and citizens.

For a nation to flourish companies must participat­e and evolve to become conscious and adopt a spirit of co-operative partnershi­p, address societal imbalances, increase productivi­ty and efficiency, maintain transparen­cy, accountabi­lity and governance. They must become a Conscious Company.

New term

I have encountere­d a new term – ecority in my journey. It is a belief that all life is sacred; and that it is our collective responsibi­lity to protect the rights of all living things on the Earth. Ecority sets new standards for what it means to be human – standards to which all human activities, especially economic production and consumptio­n, need to adhere.

The case for ecority is overwhelmi­ngly persuasive, and on so many different levels. It can no longer be ignored. Customers are acutely aware of this. Regulators and activists avidly monitor corporate behaviour as never before. Employees demand ecority as the trade-off for giving their ideas, time and labour to the enterprise.

Over the past few centuries, the world’s developed nations have plundered the resources of the planet, creating a situation where there is quite literally no alternativ­e. We live in an ecological emergency where climate change is already driving conflicts and wars in competitio­n over scarce recourses such as land, water and food.

Borrowing it

I am reminded of an old native American proverb – “We do not inherit our Mother Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from or children.” When will our generation understand what is enough, how many homes, cars, things we can own?

Most people recognise that every decision and action we take must now observe the principle of ecority, for without it we are set on an inevitable trajectory of global destructio­n. A collective system, and organisati­ons, can no longer sustain the idea of individual leaders as change agents. The solution is to embrace a collective ethical leadership rooted in consciousn­ess, and returning to the first principles of humankind.

We need to accept the reality that our organisati­on and ethos is to embrace the principles of flexibilit­y, adaptabili­ty, diversity, fluidity, ambivalenc­e and ambiguity in our world.

Leadership can best be described as situationa­l, temporary and non-binding; effectivel­y meaning that, the people lead themselves for most of the time. Leaders are guides leading from behind, the middle and from the front when needed.

Implicit in the new mode of business is the principle of reciprocit­y. Our earliest ancestors in our cradle of humanity, the Bushmen prevented lying by being transparen­t. They prevented stealing by sharing what they have. They prevented conflict by being inter-dependent. They prevented competitio­n by sharing all knowledge.

We have to foster authentici­ty; confront conformity; introduce wider perspectiv­es; think the unthinkabl­e; groom future leaders with the wisdom of consciousn­ess.

Our democracy comes with responsibi­lities to each other and to the future generation­s. We do not, and can never, represent the sum total of all history.

Our Constituti­on, deep in its heart, embraces the principles of social justice and human dignity and gives us rights.

And yet, more than 23 years later, we have to tackle privilege and the rise of inequality. We have to fix a broken system of governance.

While there are many challenges that face us in our country, I caution especially the next generation not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I have worked in many failed states where millions are still displaced, where rape is a weapon of war, and where recovery from war takes decades. Let us not go there.

It’s not where the majority of our people want to go. If you want to save the country, don’t destroy it and then leave this to the next generation to rebuild, because it may never happen.

Business has to decide whether it is prepared to play the new role in shaping the future. As your own mantra has spoken: The conscious business revolution has begun.

Conscious Companies is a South African organisati­on that is focused on building the value of business through business values.

As our founding father of our democracy once said: “A good leader is one with a good head and a good heart.”

 ??  ?? Keynote speaker Jay Naidoo at the Conscious Companies Awards. Naidoo said in his address delivered at the event that business has to decide whether it is prepared to play a new role in shaping the future for this country.
Keynote speaker Jay Naidoo at the Conscious Companies Awards. Naidoo said in his address delivered at the event that business has to decide whether it is prepared to play a new role in shaping the future for this country.

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