Prosperity must be more broadly shared in building inclusive economy, writes Professor Shirley Zinn. Picture: ANGIE LAZARO
‘We must collectively defeat populism and recast radical economic transformation as a genuine programme of inclusive growth around which society can be mobilised.

“The role of established business in this programme of inclusive growth must be affirmed. Without it, there is no inclusive growth.” - Mcebisi Jonas, July 2017.

Despite enabling legislation like the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) codes, Employment Equity Act, Skills Development Act and several Enterprise Development Initiatives, it has not made a dent to address stubbornly high poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa. Much still remains to be done.

Over 17million elderly, very young or disabled South Africans are dependent on social grants to alleviate the harsh effects of persistent poverty. With 37% unemployment and 63% youth unemployment, broadly defined, many black South Africans do not have the means to support themselves and meaningfully participate in both the supply and demand of goods and services.

These challenges are inherently unsustainable and threaten the social and economic stability of South Africa.

In recent years, research has shown it is increasingly important for business leaders to learn how to build companies that are simultaneously purpose-driven, performance-focused, and principles-led. The future of the business world has never been as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous as it is today.

Higher educational institutions must help private and public sectors as well as individuals navigate their way through multiple complexities in a fast-paced world.

In building a more inclusive economy, we have to ensure prosperity is more broadly shared, especially among those facing the greatest barriers to opportunity.

Institutions of higher learning should aim to provide access to a degree programme that equips graduates to be effective business and community leaders with specific knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to advance human dignity and social justice.

We have to attract students to this kind of education and make it meaningful for them. For this, we need to mobilise funding and resourcing for disadvantaged students and ensure such programmes are sustainable.

We would need to design the courses and content and find teachers who will bring theory and practice together. In that way we can start developing transformational leaders, so desperately required today.

There are key concepts we need to reflect on as we engage in such discourses. For example, we need to ensure that we foster inclusive economic growth that is committed to community development. Such an approach must contribute to a better life for all. In addition, higher education ought to be driven by vision, values and purpose. If we get this right I believe we can start developing transformational leaders who promote social justice.

Institutions of higher learning have to translate intentions into a meaningful, relevant and dynamic programme of learning that will deliver the graduates that are required to rise to these challenges and aspirations.

I believe that the magic of our collective engagement, collaboration and partnerships in South Africa will deeply enrich and imbue such a programme so that it achieves its intent.

Reuel Khoza in a recent article, “Reflecting on Africa’s leadership challenge”, said aspirant leaders are more interested in creating a future than watching it happen.

To them, maintenance of the status quo is an anathema, innovation is a must. He went on to say the future belongs to those intent on challenging the bias and prejudice of those who seek to maintain the status quo.

Significantly, Khosa noted we should all be able to imagine a future made possible by, among others, changes in technology, global geopolitics, international economic trends, lifestyle and workstyles.

He cautioned that if we don’t develop and unleash a vibrant leadership pipeline, we would be doomed with a paucity of transformational leadership.

As we look at our problems and possible resolutions, we need to believe that through transformational leadership Africa will transform itself.

It calls upon a leadership whose defining features are humility, integrity, compassion and humanity. A leadership that demonstrates competence, tenacity and a sense of efficacy.

A leadership that practices introspection, and self-renewal, and does not shy away from unpopular decisions. A leadership that generates trust, goodwill, and confidence.

A leadership that understands the success of others does not diminish their own success. A leadership that invests in generations of leaders to come.

As business, we care about the development and education of our people, because we rely on our people to make our businesses work. We care about the demand and supply of the skills required to remain sustainable and competitive. We care about the state of our economy because it directly impacts on our businesses. We care about the social issues, especially inequality that impact on our people.

Mahatma Gandhi said there are seven things that will destroy us: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principle; science without humanity and business without ethics.

We ignore these principles at our peril.

* Professor Zinn is chief executive of Shirley Zinn Consulting. She serves on several corporate boards and provides advisory services in HR, transformation, leadership and education. This is an edited version of her speech at Cornerstone Institute’s launch of its BCom programme. Cornerstone is open on Saturday for enrolment in 2018.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus