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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

 Is to make money right? Absolutely yes, but let’s not kid ourselves – there are rules. It’s not as if you can just do what you want to do. The “free market” might sound like a pretty neat idea but that only exists in theory. If markets were truly free we wouldn’t have all the subsidies, incentives, trade limitations etc that almost all companies benefit from or lobby for in some or other way. All markets are regulated to ensure that they serve a purpose. A social purpose that goes beyond shareholder gains only.

Do companies seriously want to debate this? Then give back your subsidy. Drop the demands for more favorable trade rules. Your business is about making money within a set of rules. Live with it even when all those rules don’t slap you on the back and give you money.

Some rules are written into law and you have to comply to them. But some rules are unwritten – the social contract you have with society as a whole.

Let’s put it in another way. We have laws regulating individual behaviour. These laws did not come from nowhere. Before they became written law, they were the unwritten rules we had as a society to organize ourselves and somehow get us to live in some sort of pact – harmony being a dream only. Before we wrote down a law that said – don’t kill, murder etc – we had that as part of the societal contract. It was a societal contract governing our behaviour. One that organized how we lived with and amongst each other and the roles and responsibilities each of us had towards each other and ourselves. We “gave up” our freedom to pillage and burn to gain from living with each other. A societal contract that defines and creates society. One that helped us move forward as a specie instead of going off driving individual gain only. There are and were many of these societal contracts to help drive cohesion. Stealing, murder, property rights, trade etc.

It’s the same for business. There have been unwritten rules of engagement – the societal contract to ensure that they serve a broader positive societal role and not purely out for personal gain. For example – Rule one, don’t sell me snake oil. And eventually that made it into law. Don’t sell me food that will kill me. That eventually became law. All of these regulations are there to underscore the societal contract that existed before the actual law was written.

And like any law, it became more complicated the longer we lived together as a society. Those who don’t value the societal contract will try to find new ways to break it to stay within the written law or even change the written law. But because they are breaking the unwritten societal contract, we need to rewrite and bring in new written laws. Take killing for instance. It was pretty simple, you shouldn’t kill someone else. Well, what happens if it was by accident? Or in self-defense. Oops, let’s expand on that law a bit. And it becomes more complicated each day as people and companies try to find new ways to break the societal contract by finding ways to undermine the written law. (I wonder if these ‘complications’ with writing the societal contract into law were the first example of lobbying as well?)

Business cannot just operate the way it wants. It serves a societal need whether it is bringing the goods we need to us via a retail shop or provide us with the fuel we need to keep us warm or just get around. It does not have the freedom to do what it wants to do for the sake of itself. It must serve a purpose (real or perceived – thank you advertising) and play within the written and unwritten rules. You can’t exploit workers for the benefit of your bottom line. You cannot dump toxic materials into the water streams used as drinking water just because it is better for your bottom line. You can’t knowingly sell a product that will kill people even if it does help your bottom line. You can’t lie to people about what your product does just to increase your bottom line. You can’t use your bottom line as the sole reason why you do something – legal or illegal. That bottom line is not always in the interest of the bottom line of society – to live and prosper.

The unwritten rules and social contract with society is based on trust. People trust that you will do the right thing. It’s why people tend not to like government regulating behaviour – it not only creates the perception that it limits freedom but it goes against the principle of trust. And, of course, government will argue that these laws are there to serve the societal contract and ensure (consumer) protection from those who refuse to work within the spirit of the societal contract. The societal contract is based on trust. But lobbying behind their backs to “get away with it” because of greed or any other reason breaks that trust. The trust is broken when companies lie about their impact and when their impact is not beneficial to society – today or tomorrow. Especially if the company does it on purpose – knowingly. When you break that trust you break the societal contract. Then you cease to have a reason to exist. It’s not in the interest of the societal bottom line.

So, the business of business is to make money but only within the confinements of the societal contract – written or unwritten. The next time you lobby for something that is in the best interest of your company or you hide your true impact or your falsely advertise the benefits or impact of your product or service, do ask yourself if you are breaking the unwritten contract that you have with society.

Do you serve a purpose that is beneficial to society? And please refrain from drinking the Kool Aid. Think before you drink. Consider the truth before you answer. Because you are also a member of our society.

The business of business is to serve a societal purpose. We love it when you make money while doing this and we see this as the reward we provide you because you are one of us and doing something good for all of us. Now go and have a purpose. A real one.

So the next time you use the line of “the business of business is business” or argue against CSR or sustainability – please think again. Your responsibility might lie with your shareholders but your licence to operate lies with us. The people. CSR and sustainability is our way of defining the rules for you. We don’t expect you to like it but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Live with it. Implement it. Embrace it. Or maybe we’ll just have to revoke your licence.

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As you know I lean to the left. Okay, less of a lean than a complete body-and-soul kinda jump and stance… And damn proud of it. Part of the definition of liberalism (according to the Webster dictionary) is “One who is generous”. But not everyone agrees with that. I can’t recall how many times people will tell me that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. And they love using a study by Arthur C. Brooks called Who Really Cares to prove their point. Aah… That study…

No. Arthur C. Brooks isn’t some right-wing nutcase. Yes, he has been a Republican registered voter in the past. But he has also been a Democrat registered voter in the past. And the study is actually pretty good. I can go into some detail on his use of statistics and data but that isn’t the point. But just in case…

“When it comes to giving or not giving, conservatives and liberals look a lot alike. Conservative people are a percentage point or two more likely to give money each year than liberal people, but a percentage point or so less likely to volunteer” (Brooks, A.C. Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide; Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, Basic Books 2006: pp. 21-22)

One slight problem with his data. He uses the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmarking Survey (SCCBS) data to back up is claims. I am skeptical of using SCCBS as the foundation of any argument, mostly because it reports that liberal families make more money than conservatives. He should have used the General Social Surveys (GSS), which are a much more representative sample of the US. The GSS also shows that conservative families make $2,500 to $5,600 a year more than liberal families. Blah, blah, blah… Lies, damn lies and statistics. But that isn’t really the point of my argument. It never is, is it?

But let’s assume that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Let’s just go with it for a moment. And please remember I know that most people don’t fall into either bracket easily. Shades of gray more than black and white. So we are talking more about those at the extremes. Maybe. Whatever. You know what I mean – let’s just agree with the study and that people fall nicely into a pigeon hole for a minute.

Yes, conservatives give more to charity. So what? Who cares? Hum… Conservatives apparently. Seriously though. What does giving tell me? I don’t give much to charity. What does that tell you about me? Here is the difference. I have a great job that allows me to try and be part of making the world a little better. I try to work to make the world a better place. I put my life forward to try and make the world more just. Fair enough, it’s not just me but the whole bunch of great people I work with and for. But this is what I do. To work with others to make it a little better. To bring equality, liberty and freedom to all. I fight for peace. I live to love. I am because we are. I don’t pay for my conscious. I work for my conscious. I speak out and fight injustice no matter where they are. Sometimes loudly and sometimes a little bit more quietly and strategically. It would be easier for me to “just” give. I can make more money doing something else. And then I can give more money than what I can afford right now. But would that make more of a difference than me trying to fight the good fight? I work to give. I give not money. I give my life.

It reminds me of the days back in Apartheid South Africa. It was unbelievable how many people who supported Apartheid went to church on a Sunday. They pray and they worship on a Sunday and then go on exploiting on a Monday. Oh, and on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And they do it again when they watch rugby on a Saturday. But the Sunday cleared them of all their sins. A prayer will make it all right then I guess. No matter what you do on those other days.

Giving to charity does not mean a thing. Not if you are a bigot on the days when you don’t give. You can’t give your $10 or $50 or $100 a month and think that it is okay. Or even a foundation of a million or billion dollars. It does not make you a good person just because you are giving. It does not absolve you from your duties as a human being. You can’t just carry on with what you are doing with the rest of your time. Your responsibility to your fellow Americans and the world goes beyond money. You can’t buy absolution. You can’t buy forgiveness. You can’t buy justice. You can’t buy equality. You can’t buy freedom. You can’t buy liberty. You can’t buy life. And you can’t buy love.

Do you give because you feel sorry for those poor souls who don’t have as much as you? Who aren’t as lucky? Don’t. Don’t feel sorry for them. See them as your equals. See them as the human being they are. See them as people. People who want the same things you have. Not the material things. Rather things like opportunity. Freedom. Equality. Pride. Justice. Liberty. Peace. Life. Love. They don’t want your money. They want you. They want Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Of course there is the little issue of who do you give to? It’s not really that important. I know that conservatives don’t just give to religious groups. They don’t. They give across the whole range. But make sure you are diligent in your giving. Don’t give because it is something you believe in. Give because it is something they need and want. They know better than you what they need. Give to help them be themselves. Not to be you. Give because we are.

Do you know the story of the Good Samaritan? He first went to bandage the wounds and poured on some oil and wine (Must have been pretty strong “wine”!) He loaded him up on the Biblical pick-up truck, the donkey, took him to the inn and cared for him. And then he paid the innkeeper. He took action. He didn’t throw money at the guy. He took action. He did something. He cared by first doing what was right.

But it goes further than that. There is this old saying we all know – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It is even more important when it comes to giving. If you give money you only sooth your soul for a day. If you get involved and help make this world a better place. If you fight for equality every single day. If you spread liberty each day. If you push for freedom every day. If you stand on the side of justice every minute of every day. If you spread peace where ever you go… That is how you teach to fish. That is how you sooth your soul for life. By being part of it. Not by throwing money at it.

Have you noticed that the “heroes” in the movies and books are people who do things and not just throw money at it? But you can even look at real heroes. Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Theresa. They did things. They are known for their actions and not their money. Not their money giving. But for their soul giving. For their work and deeds. They do. It’s an action.

Giving money or giving yourself. It’s the difference between giving medicine to treat the symptom or trying to find the cure. By all means, fight the symptoms, but be like a heat-seeking, radar-driven, laser-guided missile and find that cure. Or else we will never stop giving them bitter pills to swallow. Charity is dealing with the symptom. Involvement and commitment and fighting side by side every single day is finding the cure. It’s systemic. It’s going to the heart of the problem. Not just trying to make the heart go on for a few days longer.

I see too many people trying to buy their way into the good books. Big powerful people starting big powerful charities or foundations. With money that they got how? Run that past me again? And what do you do with your time when you aren’t giving? Who suffered for you to be able to now do the right thing? From the ashes left behind flows a money trail.

It’s like telling your wife or husband or partner that you love them when it is Valentines Day. Or hugging and kissing your children when it is their birthday. Sending flowers on an anniversary. Buying presents at Christmas. Those “special” days. Giving is your special day. It shouldn’t be. Every single day should be your special day. Like loving, hugging and kissing your partner and kids every single day.

Please. I know that I might have offended some people with this. It is not meant to offend. I admire people who give so much. So much more than money. And I admire people who ensure that they gives for the right reason or reasons. I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most admired minds when it comes to giving. And they all give money and themselves for the right reason. A just cause. Doing the right thing and giving for the right reason. Now that is the way to go. It is neither liberal nor conservative. Both sides can do more. One can give more to what is truly needed in this world. And the other side can do more to what is truly needed in this world. Liberty. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Peace. Hope. Opportunity. Life. Love.

It is not about how much you give. It’s whether you give yourself. It is about what you do.

So… Who really cares? Do you? Or do you just give money?

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Note: Don’t stop giving money! Those working at charities across the world still need support. But they want your hands and soul in it as well. There are people out there doing amazing work who needs your financial help to allow them to keep on doing what they are doing. Support them. Believe in them. Hold them accountable. But most of all… Be part of them! Be the change you want to see. Don’t try and buy the change.

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Social media? Web 2.0? This idea that the web will facilitate communications. Allowing us to share information. Make new connections to each other. Yeah… right…

It started off so well. Finding new ways to connect via the web. Brilliant. Facebook allowed me to stay connected to my friends all over the world. To be connected to them in new and wonderful ways. Have fun via virtual touching. I could even follow their thinking and random ideas on Twitter. I can tell them what I like on Digg. And I can blog to just dump my thoughts and emotions in written space. It was good. Really good. Being connected. Being part of each other.

But it also bugged me a bit…

A few things have developed that makes me think we are moving Web 2.0 to Me 2.0. The Me of self. But only “better”. Being obsessed with ourselves. The individual over the group. The god complex coming out to play in virtual space.

I just see too many people disconnected from all of this. Especially my people from Africa. That’s not new. That’s all “fine”. It’s not as if they were connected before. But what happens now is that those voices are not even drowned out anymore. They are just not present. Because they are not connected to the others who have and who are connected. You live in a shack in the DRC? Tough luck buddy – no squatting in virtual space for you. Kid working the farm in Brazil? Sorry, no ideas for you to plant in our little space my friend. Sweating in the shops in Vietnam? No place for you to raise your fist in anger over here.

Oh get off it. I know the stories they tell can be found somewhere on the web. Mostly through the eyes of some do-gooder who are connected. But the problem actually goes deeper than that. It’s not just about them not being here or them being represented by other voices.

The places where we go – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Whatever.com, Myopinion.net, Idogood.org – we filter our interactions. We filter it to the bare minimum of our thoughts. The bare minimum of our interactions with the world. We can carve it nicely into little blocks of interactions for every part of our ego. An application for every self-interest. A site for every self-absorbed soul. Your life and meaning in a 140 characters. If you sweat in the factory or you work on the farm or live in the shack – sorry, you take too much space and I only have 140 characters for you. No character, only characters.

And so we filter away to basic interactions. Random thoughts in 140 characters. Fun interactions with friends and followers. A Digg at the other side. And the “people” who make us are left behind somewhere in between the tweets of virtual space. We update our status and forget who defines us. I am because we are.

I am because we are…

It remains true to Web 2.0. It becomes Me 2.0. We becomes me.

We define the “we” as those who can tweet and follow, update statuses and poke us, Digg us a story of fake depth – those who are connected. The new “we”. The real we being replaced by the virtual we. The faces of the masses drowned out by the faceless numbers on the net.

We started off with good intentions. We paved the road to hell ourselves. This new we that we live with. A virtual space made for our ego to be seduced to me-me-me.

I could still live with the potential of all of this. Because we could use this to spread our words. Be the voices of the voiceless and hope someone will listen when we shout into the dark virtual world of Web 2.0. Maybe find an audience and some new ubuntu friends to tackle the problems in the world. Random friends become us. Ubuntu grows to be more people defined by us.

But it didn’t stay that way…

We’ve always had the narcissist hanging around the net. That’s just fine. But what worries me is people turning into narcissists without even knowing. Without even realizing they are selling their souls for a tweet. Without knowing they are feeding the ego through an update of self. Becoming so obsessed with number crunching their followers. Turning into me-me-me. And that’s what worries me. People changing. And taking control without knowing their impact because they don’t see the mirror anymore.

Good people are turning into self absorbed ego-driven maniacs without even knowing what they have become. Because Web 2.0 has become the drug for the ego. Like a true ego addict they don’t even know they are addicted to the self.

Now we have these others taking over and infesting others with their neo-narcissism. The “me” crowd. It’s all about look how big my following is. Look at what I have done. Self promotion through the web. Decent people are being seduced by this idea that they are the centre of the virtual universe. I just published a book. Look everybody! It’s me! I just got a great idea. Look everybody! It’s me! Me-me-me. Goddam bloody me. People are becoming self absorbed by their own cuteness and their own sharp idea and their own bloody ego. And most of the time they don’t even realize it because this Me 2.0 is like a cancer that slowly eats up the real you and it turns you into something you don’t even see. It’s inside and you can’t see it. And you don’t feel it or hear it. But it is written in between your keyboard hits.

Web 2.0. It was a great development. Getting us connected in new and innovative ways. But it has changed the me into Me 2.0. Where we can drive our own image online and become even more self centred than before. What was hidden because of public “frowning” before is now let loose on the web because the ego goes unchecked. We’ve always lived this dangerous life where we think we know better and are better. It was checked by society. Now there is no one to check it because we can hide our faces behind our screens. The saddest part of it all is that we don’t even notice it. We don’t even know it. And we will fight this idea because it can’t be me right?

I mean really. Do you bloody well think you are God because you have followers? Do you expect these followers to become your diciples? Bow down before the might virtual God.

This is what I fear. That something that started as a new way to connect us actually tears us apart without us even knowing or taking notice because we are too absorbed in our own little virtual world where we are God. Something that makes information democratic becomes just another way for the individual ego to replace the ubuntu. You see it in little ways as peoples “updates” move from conversations to self promotion and ego boosting random self-perceived “wisdoms”. We don’t use Twitter to share random thoughts with our friends and converse with other. We now use it to create followers by the thousands so they can hear our wonderful stories and so that they can feel the glow of our 140 character Bible.

It’s in the nature of people I guess. We create something we think could be good. We start off doing good. And then we get seduced by the power it gives to our ego. We create something good but we don’t know how to control it. Actually, we don’t know how to control ourselves. It’s not in our nature to control ourselves. Even when we think we do and can. We are so easily duped by our own ego. We don’t even know it or see it. And we become like the people we despise. Those people who only think about themselves. Those same people who say they do it for “the people”. We become them. We just don’t see it. But it is hidden in those Tweets. In those updates. In those… hitting of the keyboard sending our ego into virtual space. Like a drug for the self-centered soul.

Me is the new religion of the internet.

Web 2.0 is turning us into Me 2.0.

It’s not social media. It’s self media 1.0.

Don’t update your status. Update your life. Don’t tweet the ego…

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You want to hug a dolphin? Or maybe plant a tree? What about buying a goat for a village in Ethiopia? Or a desk and chair for a school in Banda Aceh? No. Mm-mm, difficult one. Wait, I have just the thing for you – how about supporting the Foundation for the protection of Swedish underwear models?

And you think I am joking about that last one. It might be tongue in cheek, but this cause has over 400,000 signed up members globally. Okay, it is a Facebook cause – but one of the most supported causes. They even managed to raise some money for their nonprofit – after specifically asking for NO money. Yes, this is a nonprofit and their aim is the “promotion of international understanding”. No, I really am NOT joking.

The point I am trying to make is that we now have a cause for every taste and need. And then some. Once you find your cause – which organization within this cause do you want to support? And so on, and so on. The list just gets longer and longer.

This shouldn’t be a problem. People can now match their passions with the right organization. And there are enough charities out there to still have a slight different individual flavor that makes you so much more different from the plebs who support Oxfam (joking people…). Oh no, you support Project Africa – because it is so much more than a goal, it is a mission. A cause that goes with your evening dress and another that goes well as a car refresher hanging from the rear-view mirror.

And it makes life so much easier if you run a company. All you have to do is pick your cause and adopt the charity or nonprofit that is still available. You feel strongly about education for kids? Make your pick – we still have EduKiddiCare and KEDUCare available. (Man, how many times can someone focus on education before we run out of charities or ideas?)

But the growth in charities and causes can have a bad impact as well – apart from the bad jokes (sorry). Firstly, it waters down the important stuff and diverts attention. Instead of tackling the real big issues facing the world – Climate Change, Abuse, Poverty & Hunger, War, Disasters and Health (the Big 5 plus Climate Change) – we tackle every issue that comes to mind. Can we really justify saving the dolphin, battling bottled water, fighting immigration, protesting GM crops and anti/pro-abortion marches (the Little 5) while people are dying of hunger, disease, abuse, disasters or war? Of course all these other issues are important, but more important than people dying right now in this world we all share? I don’t know – your call.

Even more important than the long list of options and diverting attention – the diversion of funds. Two dynamics stand out. Firstly, aid only increases marginally each year – and even then it goes to certain causes that are important, but not really charity for the needy. For instance, where do you think 80% of US federal ‘aid’ go? A handful of countries that are not really on the most needy list – Israel, Pakistan and Egypt. And oh, it includes military aid… And it gets worse because the money is now spread across and even wider range of causes and organizations. Each year another nonprofits comes along that wants a piece of the pie – and reduces the share of the next one.

But the single biggest problem I have with the proliferation of charities? They divert money away from Africa and other places of need. Instead of the funding going directly to the charity in the country suffering, it goes via other charities and donor bodies first. And everyone takes their cut. The money for empowering women farmers in Zambia doesn’t go to Women for Change. Oh, they might get a small amount. But the money first goes to DFID or USAID or GTZ – or whatever government agency. And then it goes to Oxfam GB or US or Germany. And then it goes to Oxfam Southern Africa. And then it goes to Oxfam Zambia. And the leftovers go to Women for Change.

Businesses always try and streamline their value chain. We should do the same with funding. No more than 2 steps before it gets to the actual people that need it and should benefit from it. Cut out the middlemen. Hey, they make money for campaiging in any case by collecting from door to door and in the streets. It doesn’t mean the end of Oxfam or Care or Save The Children and mates. Just the beginning of the nonprofits who can really bring immediate change to the people who need it most. It will force every charity to focus on achieving real change and doing the bit they are best at. And more of the program money will go to the charities who are closest to the real issues on the ground – they are part of the people who suffer in their community. We just need to streamline the charity supply chain a bit.

Of course there is another reason for my little rant. Is it about caring about something or doing something? The caring bit is about you. But the doing bit is about those who need the help. It’s a slight but important difference. You can pick a charity or a cause the way you pick a dress or shoes – something to fit in with your needs and different tastes. But please don’t forget that this isn’t about you. It’s about those who really need you to be part of them and part of the solution. I worry that the causes are so diverse that we start forgetting who and what this is all about. It’s not a clothing outfit to fit with your personality. It’s about people. And what they need.

Mm-mm, maybe I just found the cause that fits my charity. The AA BARF charity needs your support. Really… The Angry African Beer And Rugby Fund never really got the funding or supporters it deserved in any case. And the money will go directly to the cause it supports. I promise…

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I just landed in La Guardia and got into a taxi heading off to Manhattan. I settled in and gave the driver the details of my hotel. I was surprised – he was one of the few taxi drivers in New York with a New York accent. Imagine that. An ex-firefighter he told me. He leaned back in that taxi driver way and half looking over his shoulder asked me where I am from (out the corner of his mouth the way taxi driver do). “South Africa”, I replied, not really thinking about it. He went quiet for a little bit – no small feat for a New York taxi driver. I could see him frowning at himself – thinking what to say in reply. He leaned back and said, “So where is that?” Huh? “Hum, it is a country in the Southern part of Africa”, I replied – not sure what to actually say. Silence again. I could see his eyes in the review mirror and it was clear he had no idea where to go with this conversation. He looked at me in the review mirror and said, “So, who’s the President of Africa?” WTF? How do I answer that one? “Well. Hum”, was all I could initially think of saying. Silence from my side trying to figure out an answer. Do I ask if he has ever heard of Nelson Mandela? Do I explain Africa is a continent and not a country? Do I say South Africa is the name of a country? No wait – I got it. I looked at him and said, “Robert Mugabe”.

I mean really. What was I going to say?

I am from Africa. Here’s the problem with that. If I said I am from America what would you think? US of A right? There is only one America in the eyes of the world. When people talk about America they don’t mean the continent, they mean the country. But in Africa we have the opposite problem. People think Africa is just some uniform place somewhere off the coast of Australia or England. Yeah, many people think we are just a single entity with people who are all the same no matter where you go.

You can find Italian Americans in the USA and French Canadians in Canada, but there is no such thing as an Italian African or French African. Except if they got lost in the Dakar Rally somehow. No. To the world we are just Africans in Africa. All the same. A uniform country where we all speak Swahili or some or other version of clicking noises. (The God’s must be Crazy is seen as a hard hitting documentary!)

I wish we were this uniform. It would make things a bit easier. I mean really. In South Africa we have 11 official languages. And it doesn’t mean that if you knew one that you would know the other. Nope. It’s like Spanish and English – completely foreign to each other. Oh, we have some words we share – lekker and bakkie being a few we share in South Africa. Some more can be found at A-Broader View. Can you imagine 11 official languages? But we do have something in common. We are South African. And fiercely proud of it. Like all other countries we believe that our country is the greatest on this earth. A blessing from God. And we use our own criteria – like all other countries. The US measures it in wealth and the “American dream”. The German on their efficiency. The Brits on fish and chips, and warm beers. We measure ours on our past that we have overcome. That ours are the most just of societies. Where people from all backgrounds, ethnic groups, sexual orientation and religions can hang out together and have fun. Yes our great spirit is never better seen than when we are having a party. Which is most of the time. Oh, and don’t forget that we are the world champions in rugby, ranked number one in cricket for One Day Internationals and a string of players in the Top 20 in golf – and guess who will host the 2010 Soccer World Cup? Yeah! South Africa – the greatest nation in the world! (According to South Africans and a few of the most informed and wisest citizens of other countries.)

You know why Africans always smile and wave at each other? Because we are to sh*t scared of opening our mouths and having to speak to the other person. Which language do we pick? We have over 2,000 languages in Africa. So it makes it a bit difficult to pick one. Okay, we have the colonialist to thank for giving us English and French – most of us can speak one of the two. Badly, yes. But we can somehow communicate with each other. And a beer always helps to make the understanding a bit easier.

Here’s my other problem with people thinking of Africa as a country. I was on NewsBusters to “engage” them. If that’s what you want to call it… Well. Not everyone appreciated my superior wit and intelligence. (Hah – stop laughing!) What I found odd was that they always started talking about Africa and how bad it was – full or wars, Marxists, failed states, poverty etc. Well, they only did this when I pointed out flaws in some of their arguments – such as Obama not being Muslim or President Bush was maybe not a war hero. And then they got even more pissed when I started talking about Africa.

You see, Africa has many failed states. But we also have many good ones. Zambia, for instance, is more Swiss than the Swiss themselves. Yes, Zambia is as poor as you can get. Nothing there but some copper and poverty. They don’t even have a sea – they are landlocked. But Zambia has the friendliest people in the world Never been in a war – inside or outside their borders. And Botswana has been a fast growing economy for as long as I can remember. And Mozambique is growing at an enormous rate since the end of the war and offer so much in tourism. And Senegal has one of the greatest Presidents of Africa and the world – Wade. And…

Yes. There is a Zambia for every Zimbabwe. A Senegal for every Sudan. For every Equatorial Guinea an Egypt. A Botswana for Burundi. We are as diverse as the 52 independent states (60 if you include the territories) in Africa. As different as our languages. As straight or as crooked as our borders. We are black, brown, grey, white, pink, yellow – and any other shade you can think of. We are a crazy bunch who don’t get borders but will defend it to the death. We are mad, sometimes bad, too often sad, but always glad. We might not be a country. But we are Africans. And proud of it. Robert Mugabe or not.

So what does this mean for companies? 

In many places in Africa, people are starting to complain that Chinese companies are exploiting them and not respecting their culture and history. But don’t think that this just occurs in the developing world or in emerging markets. Remember the US stopping a certain Middle East company investing in the ports in the US a few months ago? This is one of the key challenges facing companies in a globalized world. How do you become local and global while expanding your market?

Are you a multinational or a US/UK/Chinese (fill in whatever country might be disliked in the marketplace) company that operates globally? Too often companies claim to be multinational, but they are driven by the culture of their origin. Very, very few companies are actually MULTInational in the way they operate and are managed. To become multinational they need to ensure that both the ‘numbers’ and the people make sense. It is fine to say that 90% of the people in their African/Asian/etc. offices are from the host country, but this still leaves two questions: (1) the 10% left – are they mostly senior management, and how senior are they? (2) Is the head office comprised of mainly western (mostly white males) or do they reflect where they operate?

How do you bring these cultural influences together to make your company truly MULTInational? It may require melding the Western model, which is largely focused on the individual with say an African or Confucianism culture of East Asia. What is the best way to manage the company, and interact with employees, communities and customers? At the moment, companies are not asking these questions as they think ‘diversity’ is a numbers game about ethnicity and not the way you do business. Until we start seeing ourselves as global AND local in the way we run our business, the idea of being a Chinese company, an American company, or an Arab company will continue to divide businesses and customers.

At least in Africa you will have the chance to speak any language you want and no one will understand you in any case…

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