Earlier in the year we wrote about the Power of Purpose. At Global Warriors we passionately believe – to paraphrase Simon Sinek – that what you do has so much more impact if you are clear on why it is that you do it.
And while we pointed towards those companies (like Enron and Haliburton etc.) that speak the language of mission and values but don’t honour them with their actions, the good news is that there are thousands of organisations out there doing amazing work from a place of purpose – skilled at what they are doing and passionately engaged with why they are doing it.
In the past year we’ve had the privilege of working alongside one such organisation. A group of truly courageous leaders who are creating real and lasting impact, in the most challenging of circumstances.
Creating opportunity and empowering the community
The Wot-if? Trust work with people in the Diepsloot township, just north of Johannesburg, South Africa – a community where the level of unemployment is estimated to be 50%. They help the 800,000 plus residents to develop their small businesses, further their education and create sustainable green spaces. All of this is based on extensive consultation with community stakeholders. They say that their mission is to “provide enabling platforms, programmes and spaces in Diepsloot that connect our participants to opportunities to generate sustainable income that result in resilient and thriving livelihoods”.
Wot-if? are all about helping the people of Diepsloot to help themselves – to find jobs, build businesses, to co-create a community that supports them and that they have a stake in. They offer computers and internet access, meeting spaces, photocopying and printing facilities, business coaching and mentoring, and access to a business book library. All things which are easily accessible to many South Africans. But for those in townships they are exceedingly hard to come by, and their inaccessibility can be an enormous barrier to financial independence.
Wot-if? isn’t a collective of well-meaning outsiders, reaching a paternalistic hand down to those in the townships. Not only is its office based in Diepsloot, but many of the team also live there and have done so all their lives. They are in the township and of the township.
Hope amongst hardship
The work that Wot-if? does and the dedication of its staff is impressive enough on its own merits – what makes it truly remarkable is the circumstances in which it operates. Diepsloot is densely populated and deeply impoverished. Many of the residents live in tiny shacks assembled from scrap metal, wood, plastic, and cardboard. Some families lack access to basic services such as running water, sewage, and rubbish collection. Crime and violence are commonplace.
Amongst the hardship and the deprivation Wot-if? sees possibility and inspires hope. They hold the vision of a better life for those born without the privileges that so many enjoy. Not only that, Wot-if? holds the firm conviction that the residents of Diepsloot have all the tools they need to create something amazing – they see the brilliance and the potential rather than the lack.
Two of our Global Warriors – Biba Binotti and Duncan Müller – travelled out to Diepsloot in November, along with Cisco’s Ginny Chequer and her husband Brian. Global Warriors and Cisco have been working together for 8 years now and have achieved amazing things along the way. And, in conversations we had amongst ourselves and with our partners at Cisco we realised that there was something more we wanted to do – a part of our collective ‘why’ that couldn’t be fulfilled purely within the corporate world.
An African adventure
While he has lived in the UK for 22 years, Duncan was born in Cape Town. Ginny and Brian have lived in Johannesburg for a period of time. As they discussed with Biba how to spread the reach of our work, it soon became clear where their hearts were leading them.
It was Duncan who first initiated contact with Wot-if?:
“We started to investigate who to work with. I had a client who was head of philanthropy at a big investment company in London who gave me the name of Wot-if? I called them up, spoke to Gail (Styger, the founder of Wot-if?), and immediately knew it was the right organisation.”
When I spoke to Duncan about the team’s work with Wot-if? Gail’s name came up again and again.
“Gail is such a warrior” said Duncan, “She has so much belief, faith, and love, and care for people”.
Apartheid legislation was only repealed in 1991, and despite the first election with universal voting rights for people of all colours taking place in 1994, there remains huge inequality in South Africa. While important shifts have happened, wealth – and privilege – remains enormously concentrated amongst the white population.
What it meant for Gail – a white South African – to choose to dedicate herself to the empowerment of the people of Diepsloot was not lost on Biba:
“Having spent time on the ground with Gail, I was bowled over not only by the work she is doing, but by who she is being in the process. As a woman, and a white woman, she is incredibly courageous to be operating in the heart of Diepsloot. She is a true example of a warrior taking a stand for what she believes in and making a difference to the lives of a whole community. Everyone I spoke to said she was their role model. I saw the look of love and respect in the eyes of her staff and participants. She gave us so much during our time”.
Duncan, Biba, and Ginny spent three days with the Wot-if? team, guiding them through exercises and experiences intended to grow them as leaders and make them even more powerful as a team. And, as is so often the case with this kind of self-development work, the folk from the UK learned as much from the experience as those from Diepsloot.
“I found it surprisingly emotional” said Duncan, “These are amazing people – so much integrity, courage, and passion. I cried once or twice. It was incredibly emotional, and it was really exciting.”
And it won’t end here. The Global Warriors team have returned home now, although there are firm plans to return in the future. Meanwhile, the folk of Wot-if? are still out there in Diepsloot changing lives – participating in and building the community many of them have grown up in. When it comes to working and living with purpose they point the way forward for all of us.