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The strength in diversity and its connection to empathetic, compassionate leadership

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The strength in diversity and its connection to empathetic, compassionate leadership

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers logo

13th October 2021

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Among the many lessons that the pandemic has taught us as a country and one of the common challenges that has arisen, is adapting to the relatively unfamiliar online working space. Over the last 18 months, it has become more evident that South Africa, specifically in the NGO arena, is playing catch-up with digital technology to support and enhance our work.

With the immense challenges that come with navigating online tools, significant effort also been required to adapt to implementing meaningful programmes while working remotely. Navigating professional spaces with colleagues you have never met in person and attempting to cultivate a  culture of collaboration and co-creation, despite having never shared a common workspace, has compelled us to learn new ways to purposefully develop synergy amongst teams. More importantly, it has required us to explore more ways to intentionally foster understanding of one another.

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When you look at the Activate Change Drivers and Wessa teams from an outside perspective you see a team that appears to have effortlessly navigated around these hurdles. But what is not seen are the countless hours that have been invested into intentionally adopting a culture of appreciation for the richness in diversity that exists within the team. The team is represented by five different ethnicities, two genders, three provinces, two countries, three religions, a spectrum of generations and vastly different lived experiences. We are a microcosm of the immensely diverse society that we all function within.

Honouring this richness in diversity, from the lens of a growth mindset, has encouraged us as a team to explore the complexities and brilliance that comes with working with this diverse and dynamic group of people.

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When considering the current world we live in, expanding ones knowledge of various cultural contexts and identities urges us to more meaningfully consider the lived experiences of others. This is my advice: If we are open to learning from others’ lived experiences and sharing our own, a sense of trust, comradery and understanding can be developed. With this understanding follows the ability to think critically about the realities of others; and in turn allows us to develop empathy in our view of each other.

My key takeout is this: When we are able to connect with the humanity within others, we are better equipped to connect with the humanity within ourselves. This in turn influences the ways in which we choose to live; how we treat one another; and the decisions we make as leaders and fellow human beings.

So why does this matter?

Recent articles in the media reported that South Africans participate in more than 2 000 protests across the country each year. That equates to more than five demonstrations per day. This shows that people are extremely unhappy with the state of our country and how services are delivered. This high rate of dissatisfaction highlights the immense outcry to our leaders to address the needs of all people, within the contexts of their lived experiences.

As leaders, when we are appointed to the roles we occupy, we are called to serve and represent the common interests of a larger group of society. Often leaders hold these positions because a majority of people elected them under the belief that their leadership will contribute to providing for the needs of the people. But how do we truly understand the needs of people?

We do so by gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the lived experiences and cultural contexts of diverse communities. This includes engaging in conversations with people from all demographics and through participation in multi-ethnic and culturally diverse activities. Willingness to discover more about a wider scope of identities encourages our actions as leaders to be informed and fuelled by empathetic and compassionate understanding.  

By viewing the world through the lens of others, thinking of the lived experiences of others and acting in the best interests of others, our leadership is in turn governed by the well-being of our larger society, as opposed to being led by our own self-interests.

Written by Nelvia Rawheath, National Youth Resilience Initiative (NYRI) Project Manager, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers

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