The Power of Mentorship and Partnership

The Power of Mentorship and Partnership

Over the 8 years that I have written this column, I have interacted with many people who have shared with me some of the incredible things they are doing to make this country a better place.

I have been very struck by the passion that people have to make a difference and just how willing they are to make sacrifices big and small each day to achieve this end. Many have expressed their frustration – a frustration I share on a very deep level –  at not being able to do more. To those I remind us of Mother Teresa’s often quoted: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

By far the most common way that people participate in the healing of our nation is through mentorship. This is almost always informal; we mentor our staff in the workplace, our domestic workers at home, perhaps their kids; educators mentor their learners outside of the formal learning process; religious leaders mentor their flocks; Granny’s and Grandpa’s, aunts and uncles – most of us mentor somebody; young or not so young. It seems that being a mentor to someone is very deeply rooted in our DNA; we do it almost instinctively without giving it a formal name.

There are of course reasons for this; we acknowledge that without healthy and functional younger people in particular, the young themselves and society at large is at risk. So, on one level it is about survival – passing on from one to another the necessary skills to navigate the world and life well. On another level it is tied up in our instincts to care and nurture, which is why we react so viscerally when we read stories of the abuse of children; it goes against every instinct we have.

But science also proves the power of mentorship. Research conducted by the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters tells us that when an adult mentor spends 1 hour a week with a child for one year, that child will be 53% more likely to stay in school; 32% less likely to engage in violence and 46% less likely to use drugs. It is for this reason that I maintain that mentorship – perhaps more than any other intervention – is a critical tool for the healing of our nation.

Over the years that I have been involved in mentorship, I have become convinced that everyone can mentor someone. So, for the purposes of this column I would like to broaden the definition of mentorship so each of us can get a sense of the role we can play. Traditionally, mentorship was seen as an age-based thing i.e. older people mentoring younger people. But some of my best mentors have been younger than me; for example, my dear friend Akhona Ngcobo has mentored me in the ways of Zulu culture. She is several years younger than me. So, mentorship is more about experience in one area or another, than age.

The other perception we should change is that mentorship only benefits the person being mentored. This is perhaps the biggest misconception created by the fact that mentorship relationships have typically been based on an unequal power ratio.  Everyone I know who has enjoyed a powerful mentor-style partnership (whether adult-to-adult or adult-to-youngster) has reported that they grew just as much from the relationship as the mentee did – if not more. This means that we should start viewing and defining mentorship differently.

In South Africa we have phenomenal programs that work on this basis; co-mentorship or what some refer to as “thinking partners”. These programs create partnerships that are totally reciprocal and impact both parties equally. One of the most powerful of these is Partners for Possibility which I have mentioned before. They are leaders in this type of thinking as their program partners school principals from some of the poorest schools in South Africa with a business leader, in a mutually beneficial, generative, adult-to-adult relationship. Some of the leaders are active in business currently, others are retired; some are in small entrepreneurial ventures, others in multi-nationals. They come from different departments within businesses, but all share the same passion; to partner with a school principal in a way that facilitates their respective growth as leaders. This last week, Partners for Possibility achieved the remarkable success of being the only South African NGO to be ranked in the top 500 NGO’s in the world in the 2018 Geneva Rankings by the independent group NGO Advisor. They came in at 97 demonstrating the uniqueness and efficacy of this approach.

For those of us not involved in business or schools there is our local mentorship program, Bright Stars. This assists adults and youngsters to effectively partner with one another. These youngsters may be ones that you are already in relationship with but that you need support with. You might not be in a partnership with a child currently and would like to be. The program offers comprehensive training and support to both adult and youngster for the length of your partnership – usually 1 year.

I extend an invitation to all of you; make 2018 a year in which you partner with someone regardless of age. The contribution you will be making – to yourself, to them and to our nation at large – will be enormous.

For more information about Partners for Possibility e-mail pfp@symphonia.net and for Bright Stars e-mail jo@peaceagency.org.za

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.  His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

The Great Matric Lie: A Glimmer in the Darkness

The Great Matric Lie: A Glimmer in the Darkness

“Dear South Africans, why are we so gullible?  Here goes Minister Angie Motshekga once again leading you by the nose.” Former University of Free State Vice-chancellor Prof Jonathan Jansen responding to the release of the 2017 Matric results.

Each year at this time, we the public face up to the spectacle that has become the announcement of the Matric results; a proxy for the state of basic education in the Republic. It’s become a bit of sport. Forget the boxing day test match; its more like the Matric results tennis match with the Minister serving up ever more creative ways to spin the announcement of the Matric results, and commentators and education gurus like Prof Jansen and Stellenbosch University academic and educational economist Nic Spaull replying with winning returns to prove that she is smoking her socks. It would be rather entertaining were it not for the fact that it’s our children’s lives – and de facto the future of our country – that they are talking about.

The devil is in the detail. The Minister tells us that the Matric class of 2017 achieved a 75.1% pass rate. This is true. However, the specialists will reply that this is a desperate attempt to cover up the reality of education in South Africa; there is a crisis of epidemic proportions in our basic education system and we aren’t fixing it quickly or decisively enough to deal with the knock-on consequences including unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is not stretching the point to say that the story behind the Matric results is the story of how and why we are failing to deal with this triad of evils in this country.  This is why Prof Jansen is quoted as saying: “Any government that prides itself on the few that succeed and ignores the many that fall out of the school system has clearly lost its moral bearings.”  He is prompted to make this statement by the fact that over 50% of children who start Grade 1 will not reach Matric; over 645 000 pupils drop out between Grades 1 and 12. What happens to these children? And just as terrifying is the fact that 50% of those who qualify for university will drop out before completing their higher education.

What is causing this crisis and what can we do about it? Time and time again it is proved that schools that have strong, passionate, disciplined and principled leadership succeed often in the face of overwhelming hardship. You would be literally blown away if you were to hear the stories of school Principals I have sat and spoken with who defy all odds to produce astonishing results from their kids. But here’s the challenge – how do we create such leaders?

The answers may not be ones that we want to hear because it may require something of us: We need to acknowledge that the government does not have the answer here. It is failing. Period. This means that – whilst we must hold government to account – we the citizens of this country must step up in the interests of our children and our nation at large.

There are a number of ways we can do this, but I would like to focus on one in this column because it has been proved to be instrumental in fundamentally altering the future of schools and children in our country. It is simple: partner a business leader with a school Principal for a period of 1 year. This hands-on and very simple leadership development approach has been proven both locally and internationally as one of the most effective ways to transform schools and hence the basic education system.

In South Africa, the NGO Partners for Possibility is acknowledged to be a leading light globally in this field. Since its launch in 2010, 684 business leaders across the full range of industries and business sizes, have partnered with school Principals for a year. This leadership development exercise at the top of a school has impacted 20 520 teachers and over 547 200 learners nationwide. This extraordinary impact has led to Partners for Possibility being a strong contender for listing in the prestigious “Top 500 NGO’s in the World” ranking due to be announced next week.  

I want to go at this thing hard because it is a remarkable program that changes lives – and not only the lives of the Principals, teachers and children it impacts, but also the lives of the business partners. If you are a school principal or teacher reading this; if you are a business person who wishes to play a significant role in our country and in children’s lives by using your skills in business, then Partners for Possibility should be top of your new year’s resolution list. (And incidentally, it is not a huge commitment in terms of time.)

Partners for Possibility has information sessions coming up in Durban on the 25th January and in Pietermaritzburg on the 26th of January. For details contact Diane@Symphonia.net.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

Mass Action Against Zuma United SA Citizens

Mass Action Against Zuma United SA Citizens

“My sole aim was to ensure that my self-respect as a proud South African is restored, and that one way of restoring that was to ensure that the people responsible for large-scale thievery and exploitation are held to account.” Suzanne Daniels – Eskom whistle-blower.

Suzanne Daniels is one of the collective honored by the Daily Maverick in their 2017 Person(s) of the Year. The publication used her story and her face – along with Trillian whistle-blowers Bianca Goodson and Mosilo Mothepu – to honour the many brave South Africans who risked everything to expose corruption in 2017.  Some of these whistle-blowers will likely never be known publicly – like the #Guptaleaks whistle-blowers. Many are still fighting their own battles legal, emotional and physical.

It is because of citizens like this – brave and passionate about what is right – that 2017 was without doubt the most important year in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. Without them we would be none-the-wiser about the breadth and depth of corruption in South Africa. The journalists and editors who exposed the stories must take major credit too, but the real risk will always be to the whistle-blowers.

This begs the question: Did 2017 and the torrent of putrid, rank evil that spewed forth over the course of the year, just happen, or had the right context been created for a year that would end somewhat poetically with Jacob Zuma’s demise as ANC President?

Sometime ago, I wrote an article in which I considered what I think is Jacob Zuma’s greatest legacy: for the first time since the early days of democracy, we unified in our disgust for what Jacob Zuma himself and those associated with him, were doing. We forgot our differences racial, political and economic and we took to the streets in our numbers, united against a man – and indeed a system –  that we knew would wreck our country if we did not act together to stop it. We heeded the battle cry of people like Pravin Gordhan to do what we could to stop the rot.

Whistle-blowers spoke but also writers wrote, lawyers built cases, the public prayed, marched, phoned into radio stations, wrote letters to the papers and excreted all over social media. 2017 saw anger rise in unprecedented ways; we had had enough and mass social action was the result.

This was the context, created by none other than Zuma himself: He forced us out of our comfort-zones, off our backsides and into the arena; he caused us to reevaluate our psychological relationship with leadership; he made us participants in the building (saving?) of our democracy; he forced us to grow up beyond our 23 year oldness and accept that unless the citizens of a democracy work between elections – do more than just bitch and moan – then we cannot expect a different outcome to the one we have just got from him. Zuma caused us to come together and mobilise around a common goal, barriers that had previously existed between us were broken down: We were united against him. Hundreds of thousands, millions of us. I wonder if he knows the gift he gave us?

And now Cyril Ramaphosa. The clear risk we face is complacency; a return to our pre-2017 safe, happy, inactive selves who believe that the bad guy(s) is gone so we don’t have to act anymore. There are two facts here: at the time of writing this, the bad guy(s) were not gone. Secondly, when they are gone there will be more bad guys. That’s life. Ramaphosa cannot save or build South Africa. Only South African’s doing their bit however small, can do that. People love to outsource their citizenry to leaders in high office. But globally that game is up and the “small people” the whistle-blowers, marchers, bloggers, activists, #’ers, talkers etc. – these are the people who are changing the world.

We have about 18 months until the 2019 National elections. That election will be our rite of passage into democratic adulthood – if we make it so.  We need to redouble our efforts as the citizen population during this time. We must put the screws on those who are destroying our nation in a way that makes 2017 pale. We must turn the volume up further on corruption and state capture. We must do this even if it is painful; even if our own friends, colleagues or loved ones are involved. We should hit the streets again and demand that Zuma be removed from office and tried for his crimes and we must do the same for everyone who has propped up the system of corruption that has brought our country into such disrepute. We must use this time to heap pressure on the ruling party so as to force a radical re-examination of itself – for the sake of the country and all who live in it and regardless of political affiliation.

We have a golden moment in time now given to us by virtue of us being between regimes and less than two years away from national elections. Let’s not waste it by taking our foot off the gas.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

Losing Hope for South Africa?

Losing Hope for South Africa?

In his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl describes how the smoking of cigarettes came to denote a loss of hope in concentration camp prisoners.

Given the lack of even the most basic necessities in World War 2 camps like Auschwitz which Frankl endured, cigarettes were a luxury reserved for the SS captors and the “capos” – SS appointed prisoners who headed up labour squads.

Being this scarce, cigarettes became part of camp currency and prisoners could be rewarded with a few sticks for performing especially taxing or unsavory tasks. But the prisoners didn’t smoke the cigarettes; they would use them to buy soup or a mouthful of bread to sustain their lives. Cigarettes of themselves had no use beyond a means by which to barter for life-giving items. So, when one witnessed a fellow prisoner smoking, it was an ominous sign. You knew that all hope had been lost and it was only a matter of time.

You see hope is not a nice-to-have. It is essential to our well-being and even survival. We simply must have something to believe in; a purpose or faith in the broadest sense. Some call it a “why” we live. Frankl quotes Nietzsche who said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.

I think we can all understand why a prisoner in a World War 2 concentration camp would lose hope and smoke their cigarettes. But what about us? How quickly and easily do we lose hope? The answer to this question recently came at me in the form of a good many responses to a column I wrote about the great hope that can be found in South Africa right now. Many people just didn’t want to hear it. One person’s words were particularly startling: “If you are still hopeful about this country then I feel sorry for you.”

Now let’s be blunt here; we are not comparing our loss of hope to hope that finally slips from our grasp like the smoke rising from the gas ovens that we have witnessed for months and even years. This is quite simply the hope that is given up because we – and I include myself in this – don’t get our way. As soon as things get too hot in the kitchen (i.e. we are downgraded to junk status, our political party doesn’t win, our political party doesn’t look like it used to, we get the wrong Councillore, our President doesn’t get arrested on our timeframe, we discover that corruption goes beyond us paying cops the odd bribe, our roads get potholes, our currency devalues, our pension is eroded  etc.), we threaten to leave; we refuse to vote; we engage in anarchic and disruptive violence like the flinging of poo; we kill one another; we turn on our country and her people by engaging in negativity and racism. In Frankl’s terms, we sit down, light our cigarette and declare that all hope is lost. Really?

Where is our resilience, our much-praised South African spirit and work ethic? Where is our willingness to fight for what we believe in as so many before us have done? How can we expect anything to change if we are not willing to do the changing? If we don’t change it, guess who gladly will: the corrupt and the criminal – to suit their greedy needs.

How do we even begin doing this when all around us is doom and gloom? According to Frankl the only freedom that camp prisoners had left was the freedom to choose the attitude that they had to any given situation.  And of course, this is ultimately true for all of us: what attitude will I adopt in this situation – in South Africa nearing the end of 2017? Will I choose to give up hope, or to grab every hope I can and make the absolute most of life in this incredible country? And having adopted a positive attitude, what actions can I take to better the situation for me and mine and for us all? Positive actions – however small – are catalysts for hope to grow. And as hope grows so our desire to do more hopeful stuff follows.

For all humanity the learning is clear: if people like Frankl and millions of others could find hope in the worst possible conditions, then we can all do it.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

 

Welcome Home to the Turmoil and Hope

Welcome Home to the Turmoil and Hope

A letter to my sister who is about to return to South Africa having lived in Britain for the past 4 years:

Dear M,

I hope you are well and surviving that UK weather. I wish you could send some rain to the Western Cape. The drought down there is horrific.

What do you make of what’s happening in Zim? If you had told me last week that in a matter of days Mugabe would still be alive but out of power, I would have laughed at you. It gives me such hope for South Africa, though we must do it peacefully and democratically (and preferably in less than 37 years!)   

Your decision to come home is such a great one – not that I am biased! It’s a very exciting time to be in South Africa, though it’s not for the faint-hearted.  So, as you make plans to come back home for good, I wanted to give you my thoughts on the “state of our nation”.

From all you will have heard and read, things will appear significantly worse in South Africa. To some extent they are. But you should know that the most important difference between where we are now and where we were say last month or even last year, is that the rot is pouring out into the open in a way that it has never done before. This is thanks to people like Jacques Pauw who wrote The President’s Keepers, NGO amaBhungane and The Daily Maverick who exposed #GuptaLeaks, Adriaan Basson and Pieter Du Toit who wrote Enemy of The People. The list of people bravely exposing Zuma, the Guptas and the stench of corruption and state capture is long and growing.

New revelations emerge daily and whilst this is extremely angering and even frightening for many of us, it is good. The exposure of the sheer magnitude of criminality within government, our state-owned enterprises and institutions like the State Security Agency is the necessary bursting of a boil that has been festering under the surface of this nation for too long. We naively believed that Nkandlagate and revelations of the looting of State Owned Enterprises represented giddying high points in corruption and the capturing of the presidency and the state. But we now know that they are individual cases of a plague that has swept our country. We now know that abuse of power and sheer greed run right into the heart of the democratic apparatus of our state.

So, I’m not saying things are good. They aren’t. They are appalling.  But ironically, the fact that we know they are so appalling should give us a sense of hope; a sense that we are better off now than we were yesterday. For without knowledge of the enemy we are fighting, how can we possibly win? And every day we learn more and this must inform our fight.

Which brings me to my second point. Time and again history has shown us that it only takes a handful of good men and women to turn the tide on evil and we have more than a handful. There are so many people in this country (and indeed outside the country) who are risking everything to expose corruption and lead in ways that honour the legacy of our democracy’s founders. I mentioned Jacques Pauw et al but there are dozens of people who are speaking out daily. This extends from our often-fearless press, to individuals like Pravin Gordhan, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Zwelenzima Vavi, Makhosi Khoza, David Lewis and his team at Corruption Watch, Sipho Pityana, Vytjie Mentor, Lord Peter Hain to opposition parties, civil society groups and NGO’s to the man and woman on the street. I think of the many police I have interacted with who will not solicit a bride. I think of the many friends and family members we have who will not pay a bribe or a kick-back.

History has always proved the adage that “good will ultimately triumph over evil” and South Africa will be no exception. This is simply because the good men and women of our time are taking a stand big or small. They are resisting the temptation to join the feeding frenzy and exposing lies and deception whenever they can, and hope remains.

My honest belief is that you are coming back at a very good and very necessary time. There is no doubt that it is a time of hope, rebuilding and restoring; it is time for a new struggle that involves all of us. As the good book puts it: “I (God) will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.” The image of locusts is spot on. If I was a cartoonist I would draw Zuma, the Guptas and all the rest of them as locusts destroying everything in their path. But ultimately – like every other plague in history – the locusts will not prevail.

I began this letter by saying that South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. But South Africa also isn’t for the complacent, the lazy or the negative right now either. If you aren’t willing to actively participate in a better future, then you will probably be over-whelmed by the scale of the rot and want to jump ship. It is only when people make the decision to remain hopeful and seriously invest in a nation – time, energy and money – and stand up for their ethics and values, that they become a positive and active contributor to the solution.

I hope this gives you some perspective. We can’t wait to have you home.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

#FearMustFall

#FearMustFall

If you know the greater Johannesburg area, you will be familiar with a sulphurous smell that permeates the air at certain times of the year and reminds one of being on a long road trip with a windy family member.

Theories abound as to the cause of the smell; when we were kids we were told it “came from the mines”. But everyone has a theory; some rather randomly say it comes from Modderfontein, others blame factories, landfills and sewerage. 

I was in Johannesburg recently and caught a familiar whiff. Suddenly, I was in Parliament and it was the 8th August 2017 and I was listening to the results of the motion of no confidence in the President. As I listened the smell seemed to get stronger. Next thing I knew, it is three weeks later and the smell which is usually gone by morning, is still hanging heavy in the air. It just won’t go away and although it isn’t nauseating, it is just – there; constantly.

I have tried to understand this smell that won’t go away. Of course, the easy answer is that it is the stench of avarice; greed upon greed upon greed; corruption breeding with itself to produce a deformed and grotesque fart bag. But that is too easy an explanation because we have lived with that smell for so long we hardly notice it anymore. (Note to self: When citizens become numbed to the crimes being committed by their leaders, the nation is on very rocky ground.  Wrongly, I have stopped reading anything that has #Guptaleaks in the title. It’s become like ambient noise that I just tune out. I must wake up, read everything and allow indignation to rise again.

But this time it seems different. The stench I am smelling is, I think, a rather toxic blend of fear mixed with helplessness. Many South Africans from all walks of life had been unrealistically hopeful about the motion of no confidence. Some even believed that it would succeed in removing the President. When it did not, we seemed to collectively drop down onto the pavements of our country, our banners limp and impotent, and quietly give up. The dominant collective mindset seemed to say: “Well, we have him until 2019 now – lets ride this out and hope we don’t get someone even worse.” And then the fear kicked in as it began to dawn on us just how long two years is when you are being led by a Jacob Zuma.

But surely if the smell is fear and helplessness, then the smell is coming from us. After all, these emotions don’t come from outside of ourselves; they come from within.  And if we have quietly resigned ourselves and hence our country to the fates, then are we not to blame if we get more of the same?

But I sometimes find myself asking: “What more can we do? We have marched, prayed and railed. We have signed petitions and e-mailed MP’s. What is left for us to do?”  

The answers to some of these questions came to me this last week as I facilitated a 2-day workshop for the organisation Partners for Possibility. Their ground-breaking and internationally acclaimed program pairs a business leader with a school principal for 1 year to help the principal develop and refine his or her leadership skills. This workshop was all about how to build authentic community in and around a school and indeed, in one’s businesses and neighbourhoods. Half way through day 1 a couple of things occurred to me: the first was that these school principals – who have every reason to be negative – were anything but; they were positive, eager to learn and passionate about their schools and the kids. The business leaders were equally as positive; they sought solutions and were eager not to pass the buck onto government or anywhere else for that matter. The positivity in the room was infectious and as a result, the community of this group built quickly and discernibly.

The realisation was two-fold: when we surround ourselves with positive people – and are open to having our minds changed – fear falls and hope rises.  Secondly, when people come together to discuss possibilities rather than problems, solutions emerge. This feeds the positivity, and the fear and hopelessness are further eroded.

Another thing became very clear to me for the umpteenth time since I have been involved in community and NGO work; as we get involved by volunteering our time and skills, something shifts in us. We stop focusing our attention solely on what isn’t and begin to build on what is.  

This of course does not mean that we will suddenly be rid of our corrupt leaders. But what it does mean is that we will triumph over our own fear and helplessness; we will find ourselves in a position where we are able to celebrate what is great about our country. And when the moment comes when we need to once again rise, lift our banners and take to the streets, we will have the energy and the zeal to do just that.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.