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A Cry For Hope From A South African Business Leader

People often ask serial entrepreneur, Ian Fuhr why he hasn’t left South Africa and sought greener pastures. In the book Cultureneering: Culture, Diversity and Customer Service Ian shares his lessons, insights, and best practice from over 40 years of mastering culture and obsessive customer service. We share an extract from his book.

My answer is simple: I love this country and I haven’t ever lost hope for its future. I know that might sound a little warm and fuzzy and, given the current circumstances, even difficult to understand.

Over the years, I have questioned my love for this country and contemplated exactly what it is that keeps me rooted here. When bad things happen, like the unbridled corruption that has betrayed our people and destroyed their hopes, my feelings about our future are tested to the limit. I sometimes ask myself: ‘How can this country possibly survive and prosper with runaway corruption, unfettered crime and, added to this, the COVID-19 pandemic hitting us like a tsunami?’ The answer is not clear.

At times like these, I choose to rather visualise a future South Africa. I try to picture what this country could look like if we were able to solve our numerous problems. The beauty of visualisation is that there are no limits to what you can see in your vision.

My vision of a future South Africa:

I see a country where we have fully addressed our historical problems of social injustice and all people are treated with respect and dignity, where every child is educated by competent teachers and given the opportunity to fulfil their potential. I see a country where there is equal access to the economy and unemployment is something of the past and in which government institutions have earned the respect of the people.

I see a country where there is adherence to the law and the police are seen as friends not enemies. A South Africa that is free of unbridled greed and corruption and where those in positions of power have learned to give more than they take. Imagine a country where the rich have come to terms with how much is enough and use their excess wealth for the upliftment of the people?

I see a country where serving others is the purpose of life and financial reward is merely the outcome. This is a country that is free of poverty and where crime is no longer the only way for destitute people to stay alive. I see a country that warmly welcomes visiting foreigners and shows them what can be done when you have created social cohesion and a desire to all pull together for the common good. A land where our leaders have earned the moral authority to lead. I see a country where hope has replaced the debilitating fear that has tormented the lives of so many.

It is this vision of the future that keeps me hopeful and gives me the determination to do whatever I can to make a contribution to its ultimate reality. You might question my naivety and even suggest that I’m living in cloud cuckoo land. And you could be on the mark.

But I’m not ready to give up. This country has all the ingredients to create a better life for all. Interestingly, that was the election slogan for the ANC, ‘a better life for all’, which has sadly translated into ‘a better life for some’ or maybe ‘a better life for very few’.

And yet, South Africans are known by foreigners to be a warm and welcoming people. We have great talent in all areas of society and many of our people have excelled around the world. We have an amazing array of cultures, art, and music and we have the ability to compete whenever we put our minds to something. On the downside, we have failed miserably to close the income and education gap and to create an environment of equal opportunity. Nevertheless, with all this in mind, I’m sticking to my guns and I’m keeping my vision alive.

Linking a personal reason for being to business goals

I have long believed that business has a role to play in achieving this vision for all of us. My personal reason for being is therefore to inspire people to make a positive impact on the world.

I aim to carry out this purpose for as long as my health and my mind continue to serve me well. Leaving South Africa is not even a thought I entertain. I have never compared myself to other people, as I find that tends to leave me feeling somewhat inadequate.

My only consideration is to continue on a path of growth and development. I do not set any specific goals because then I wonder what will happen after I reach them. I prefer to engage in continuous learning and to spend as much time as possible trying to inspire others to do the same and to use their newfound skills to the betterment of our country and its people.

In the famous words of John F. Kennedy: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

So, let me ask you what you plan to do about creating a prosperous country for all our citizens? No task is too small. Deeply ingrained unconscious biases must be examined and changed. If you can simply shift the mindsets of your people towards a more hopeful and positive future, even if it’s only one person at a time, it will be another seed in our future garden of prosperity.

And finally, as we move into the final quarter of 2021, I find myself fighting back my feelings of hopelessness and despair and emerging with a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

This article is an edited excerpt from Ian Fuhr’s upcoming book, Cultureneering: Culture, Diversity and Customer Service. Cultureneeringis a philosophy and framework that Ian Fuhr has spent four decades developing, and which he perfected while building the Sorbet Group, Africa’s largest beauty salon chain. This book takes the reader on a journey of personal development and unpacks the unbreakable link between culture and service. It reveals the tools required to build a company culture that is good for its people, its customers and, ultimately, for sustainable growth.

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