2015-11-18 | by David Smollan
I recently took part in the CEO SleepOut, a fundraising initiative that challenges business leaders around the world to join a movement which looks beyond profits to purpose. On the 18th of June, I was one of 250 South African CEOs that spent the night sleeping outside on a street in Sandton with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a cardboard box.
Admittedly, there was security, a soup kitchen and hot coffee which added a significant amount of comfort to the evening. Spirits were generally high and a sense of camaraderie existed between those present (and most people saw it as a one night adventure, rather than day to day normal). In that sense, the difference between what we were experiencing for one night and what so many people face on a daily basis was stark. There were quite a few outside commentators that were critical of the so called ‘sheltered’ sleep out. Fair point that it was not a perfect replica of life as a street child.
All that said, I woke up at about 3:00 AM that night, lying on the tarmac. It was cold and quiet. There was no buzz, the fires were out. For a very short space of time I was disorientated and felt quite vulnerable. It was difficult to fall asleep again, and in those quiet moments I imagined that I did not have a fence around me, with a portable loo and water if you were thirsty. I felt quite down reflecting on some of these realities that we face in today’s complex environment.
For me this is more than just a story about a fund raising event. It’s a story which reinforces our need as a business to play a positive role in improving the lives of our people and the communities in which we operate. Throughout our history this has underpinned our purpose, although it is now more important than ever for us to make the explicit statement and continue our progress in “existing to have a profound social impact”.
In the context within which we find ourselves, business cannot continue as usual. Those businesses that fail to play their part in addressing inequality, social ills and environmental degradation will increasingly become disconnected from the reality of the broader societies in which they operate. This is not sustainable in the long term. Positive action is required in order to create a business which deserves to last.
It is for this reason that we have explicitly articulated this in our Social and Environmental Impact Plan which sets out our intention to build a business which in addition to our purpose of delivering growth, improves lives and reduces our environmental impact. I am proud that we have taken this step towards formalising our approach and am pleased to introduce this to you in this edition of the Rockface.
I believe that together we have the ability to make meaningful change and ensure that our business and our stakeholders proudly realise the benefit of this for generations to come.
As always I wish you my best and look forward to seeing you in the trade.