Chasing power – but at what cost?


 The national status quo is not showing any signs of improvement, with the latest revelation that three in every five South Africans are living in poverty. That’s a staggering 30 million people or 55% of our population.However, we as South Africans have it within us to determine our own fate as a nation. We can rise – but equally we could fall, due to our own dithering in remedying the situation.

 That South Africa – and the world – is in bad shape is apparent in the colossal inequality that exists in the global paradox of selfish wealth maximisation and abject poverty.Most startling is the ever-widening schism between moral rectitude and dishonesty. Despite growing exposure of corruption, deceit and greed, and amid the cries for moral regeneration, human suffering lingers.

 In particular we have, on the socio-economic front, witnessed spiralling poverty and unemployment.  Prosperity seems to elude millions of people as a disjuncture between the world’s needs and its ability to meet those needs stubbornly prevails.

 Yet, we are living in the most disruptive and exciting times. The emerging new order of technological advancement is changing the way we live, work and play. This evolving techno-human society, propelled by the sheer pace of digitalisation will, in time, transform our traditional assumptions about our humanity and how we interact with our environment. 

 Human interaction has been reduced to electronic pulses in cyberspace. The unrelenting knowledge race has signalled the end of work as we know it. At the same time the scarcity of jobs, engendered by the acceleration of robotics and mechanisation, further exacerbates an already unequal society.

 How else, then, will humankind fulfil its economic needs in society? Is it possible that, by our momentous forward thrust in human endeavour and advancement, we have simultaneously begun the disintegration of our own human society?

 Against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic outlook, with dire consequences for employment, inequality and poverty, the World of Work Report (2011) highlighted two seminal findings, namely social discontent and social unrest. So, how do we build equitable benefits of these technologies for every nation and person?

 If we do not have introspection, our preoccupation with technology will become the pinnacle of human endeavour and we may forfeit our humanity, higher purpose and fulfilment as the ultimate benchmarks for our development journey. When we revel in technological advancement without regard for the problems of human suffering and misery, we risk the failure to apply our collective intellectual capital to restore our humanity.

 When reflecting on South Africa’s miraculous transition to a democracy 22 years ago, the question of transformation inevitably comes to mind as the economic and social challenges and rising troika of unemployment, inequality and poverty loom large.

 Where technological change is harnessed in pursuit of human development we call it progress and sustainability. Lifting people out of poverty, unemployment and inequality is the transformation that needs breakthrough. It is not the next revolution. It begs breakthrough now.

 The World Economic Forum Council on the Future of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion explores the challenges and opportunities linked to enabling economic growth and social inclusion in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, the inability to address the jobs crisis may invariably lead to rising social discontent. With the prospect of social unrest increasing, the question of whether employment and income measures can drive economic recovery and dissipate unrest and discontent remains unanswered.

 The predictive value of social order, internalised through norms and values, is antithetical to social change. Sociologist Auguste Comte, writing in the wake of the French Revolution, stated that social order is a condition for progress. However, in an economic system of deprivation that favours the few and leaves the majority entangled in poverty, unemployment and inequality, the risk of social disorder is highly probable.

 The world, startled by the effects of inequality and the disorder created by the systematic destruction of the moral fibre of society through greed, unethical behaviour, discrimination and prejudice, is in need of a breakthrough for the good. Throughout human history the dominant belief was that societal problems could be solved through economic productivity. Therefore, economic activity should be organised to bring about social peace and solve socio-economic problems.

 Transformation must serve humanity. To achieve this we need a humanising economy that improves the state of the world and creates prosperity for all. For this to happen business must be the vehicle for economic progress, building wealth and financial prosperity, and creating shared value by pursuing financial success in a way that benefits society. Ultimately, it is about connecting business success with social progress.

 The Nelson Mandela University recently undertook a renaming and re-branding exercise. By transitioning from a geographically based brand to one that directly and purposefully associates with the values and virtues of the first democratically elected president of South Africa, the University and Business School see this as an opportunity for renewal and refreshment in Higher Education generally and business education in particular.

 Inasmuch as humanising pedagogies for social change are aimed at inclusiveness, social justice and democracy, the notion of a humanising economy seeks great business for a greater society. For now, as the socio-economic problems persists, we must endeavour to bring about a tectonic shift in our moral paradigm. We need, in the words of Albert Einstein, a new system of thought: “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

 We thus need leaders with an aptitude for evolving contexts, dealing with complexity and that are firmly rooted in an unequivocal morality. In our short history as a University and Business School we have seen such talent emerge. They are out there. They are standing up and heeding the call.