Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Co-Founder of ReimagineSA and Trustee of WomanStrong International recently spoke at the Dhan Foundation’s 2017 Madurai Symposium. Read her remarks about the inextricable linkage of resilience in the inclusive development agenda:
I cannot begin to adequately express my appreciation for the invitation from the Dhan Foundation for me to participate in your 2017 Madurai Symposium. It has been just wonderful meeting all of you and learning about what you are doing. I have also taken the opportunity to visit around your historic city. You have a treasure trove here.
I am here representing the various interests I have been pursuing for 50 years as an activist. The ideal of inclusive development in my own country, in all those countries that I have had traditional and emotional links with, and ultimately in the wider global community remains an enduring passion. I am here as a Trustee of the WomenStrong International, a Founder of ReimagineSA, and a global citizen.
Extractive exclusionary development approaches lie at the heart of our inability as a global community to act as consistent and principled stewards of the environment we are blessed with. We owe it to our children’s children and their children to become better stewards, so they can look forward with greater confidence to continuing enjoyment of a sustainable world.
In this talk I would like to touch on the following points:
- Irrefutable evidence confirms that a focus on women’s full participation has been the missing link in sustainable, inclusive, and largely peaceful democratic governance globally. I will refer to The Athena Doctrine; the IMF study; and the cKinsey Gender Report;
- The Dhan Foundation’s development approach – Kalanjiam - and its focus on women as the pillars of development, is clearly ahead of expert knowledge and practice in the field;
- Opportunities for mutual support, collaboration and shared knowledge management between Africa and India.
Irrefutable Evidence Supporting Inclusive Development
I come from Africa, the cradle of humanity. Africa’s essential contribution to world civilization has continued to be undervalued, including by African people themselves. All of us are Africans – we share a common heritage as humanity.
There is only one race – the human race.
Africa had to develop the wisdom to survive the uncertainties of evolutionary forces that shaped the world we now call home. Our ancestors understood the inextricable links between human beings. The “I am because you are” – is a profound philosophical orientation that reminds us that human beings are wired for connectedness to others. Rejection, marginalization and humiliation inflict deep wounds on those affected. But we also now know that the wrong-doers in such humiliating marginalization processes emerge as wounded people, too. Resilience in tough environments is re-enforced by mutual respect, complementarity and collaboration.
Early African wisdom included the appreciation of the critical importance of securing capital for future investments. Our ancestors identified seeds as essential capital goods for food security and the very survival of the human race. Guess whom the task of keeping, preserving and securing the seeds was assigned to? Women. They could be entrusted with this enormous responsibility because they were known to be reliable, forward-looking, to act in the interests of the common good, and to have empathy.
Women have over the ages been at the centre of the creation of new life, its nurture and sustenance. So why has it taken so long for the world to understand the importance of the feminine in the human story of the cycle of life?
Two men from Iceland, John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, were so appalled by the cavalier way in which Wall Street players, those men and a few women in pinstriped suits, collapsed the global financial system, that they wrote a book: The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and men who think like them) will Rule the Future.
Their conclusion is that leadership based on the competitive masculine instincts is unable to rise to the challenges of a rapidly changing vulnerable world that requires greater finesse. They assert that: “A new breed of entrepreneur speaks of combining ‘Chikara’ (power) and ‘Al’ (love) to succeed in a time when co-operation is as important as ambition.”
They travelled the world to gather data, interviewing 60,000 people in 25 countries. One finding stood out when people were asked what might make the world a better place – “if men thought more like women”! In India 51% of men, 55% of millennials and 53% of all adults agreed with this finding. What are the attributes that interviewees identified as distinguishing the feminine from the masculine? Glamorous, vulnerable, loving, trendy, giving, sensitive, patient, kind, stylish, passive, understanding, good at multitasking, gentle, empathetic, encouraging, sincere, intuitive, socially responsible, perceptive, passionate, flexible, creative, obliging, curious, nimble, imaginative, dependable, affectionate, expressive, supportive, helpful.
When 30,000 were asked to rate these attributes in terms of Leadership, Morality and Happiness, guess what? Feminine attributes score higher on all counts: in leadership, morality and happiness!
The good news is that whether you are a man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine attributes to thrive in today’s world. But a heavier dose of the feminine is the stuff leadership is made of.
For those not interested in soft issues such as attributes, take a look at the conclusions of hard-nosed International Monetary Fund and McKinsey. An IMF study of sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 concluded that gender inequality, including from legal gender-related restrictions, impede growth, especially in those at earlier stages of development. Studies show that, for the Sub-Saharan region, GDP annual growth could be higher by as such as 0.9%, if gender and income inequalities were addressed.
McKinsey Global Institute’s 2015 study was much bolder in its estimates of the opportunity costs of gender inequality. It concluded that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. This could be expressed as 11% in annual 2025 GDP. Regional breakdown of their estimates puts India’s potential gain in 2025 at 16%, sub-Saharan Africa at 12%, China at 12% and Western Europe at 9%.
Ever since I got to know about the Dhan Foundation as a Trustee of WomenStrong International, the level of ambition, thought and willingness to innovate has struck me. It helps that the Foundation founded on Self Help Groups in 1996 has a longer-than-usual track record for a civil society organization. Its operations display its maturity – all of 21 years!
Key success factors that seem to me to be a critical are:
- Quality and style of leadership
- Building on existing assets in the poorest communities
- Building on the rock called, “Woman”
- Patiently building a foundation of trust, before adding and then integrating initiatives into holistic development programs
- Attention to detail in documentation of programs, lessons learnt and outcomes
- Smart partnerships
Quality and Style of Leadership
Vasi has demonstrated a knack for drawing on both the feminine and masculine traits to dare to dream. Vasi has clearly taken the words of wise people to heart:
“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”
But dreams alone are not enough. To tackle development challenges in a society as stratified as India and to cross boundaries of religion, politics, gender, caste, class, age and geography require courage. David Whyte, a marine biologist-turned-poet must have been speaking of Vasi when he said:
“Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.”
Even adding courage is not enough. Vasi has built formidable teams that generate enormous invaluable social capital. The SHG, the backbone of the program, must have been shocked by Vasi’s audacity of engaging with them when no one else thought they mattered. But he has also continued to build complementary, mutually supportive innovative teams. Over the last two days I have seen the predominance of women in leadership positions driving innovative programs with passion and sensitivity. I have seen retired bankers, engineers, agro-scientists, academics and business people simply bowled over by the opportunities to make a difference and by being part of making history.
Building on Existing Assets
The biggest asset I have noted in the Dhan Foundation all along, but one that was brought into sharp relief during this Symposium, is the complete embracing of the culture of participants as lived reality.
I noticed with joy the use of the local language. Language carries culture and its use is affirmation of that culture. Education and the use of foreign languages are often barriers to inclusive social relationships. The sari is for me the most elegant feminine statement of glamour! It makes a major statement without being too ostentatious. Even the most simple sari bestows dignity on every woman.
The celebration of culture that we witnessed over the last few days is also a major asset to affirm and strengthen those living in tough environments. Mental and spiritual resources are unleashed to nourish souls to keep hope alive and to connect with futures they can imagine at the height of emotional stimulation.
Building on the Rock called “Woman”
There is a saying popularised by the famous Women’s March on the Union Buildings in Pretoria at the height of apartheid in 1956. The women were protesting the then planned extension of “passes” – apartheid identity documents to monitor, control, limit the movements of black people, especially in urban areas. The women chanted: “You touch a woman, you dislodge a boulder, you will be crushed!” Dhan’s focus on women as the rock on which to build resilient, inclusive, sustainable development, is a winning formula.
Women as “the keepers of the seed” are reliable, forward- thinking investors in their families, especially their children.
But women’s superior social skills, lubricated by sensitivity, patience, caring and empathy, are the cement that bind the SHG together. Success is guaranteed by a deep-seated understanding that “my success is bound with the success of the group.” The journey from poverty to prosperity is a long one, but with the company and encouragement of group members, individuals become more determined. Those who weaken are boosted by encouragement of others. The knowledge that one is not alone also builds resilience.
Patient Step-by-Step Journey to Integrated Development
Thomas Merton, a famous monk from New York, described his spiritual journey as “A Seven Story Mountain.” Like all journeys there are ups and down. Dhan’s Kalanjiam approach has been painstakingly built on patience. Faith as hope in things unseen is also a major feature of this innovative approach.
Donors often too eager to show results tend to hound development practitioners. But the most important results are invisible to the naked eye. The building of social capital entails incremental steps in mindset change in people whose lives have known nothing other than disrespect, humiliation, mistrust, betrayal. It is remarkable that in the short period since 1996, you have established 8 million groups connecting 95 million poor households in 14 states.
The exciting development, beyond the sustainable savings culture you have nurtured, is the integrated approach you have taken to support the move by poor women from poverty to prosperity, from anonymity to become part of inclusive development. Above all, Dhan is building a strong foundation for informed, critical thinking, active confident citizenship.
Your bold action to tackle Fostering Ethical Democracy and Advancing Micro-Justice in India is the most innovative linkage I have ever witnessed in this space. Your inspired focus on local government is the most appropriate way of building inclusive participatory democracy. Promoting engagement with politics where it matters most is simply the best way.
Yesterday I was touched by a widow who was so nervous in her testimony that she had written her talking points in the palm of her hand. She was nonetheless determined to tell her story. She was proud to have risen from the pain of marginality to become a volunteer paralegal changing the lives of other marginalized people. Wow!
There is much talk about the need to promote the 4th industrial revolution. My observations over the years, confirmed by my participation in this Symposium, is that the Kalanjiam approach is heading for a fast track to the 5th industrial revolution! Your focus on building on the rich heritage of your culture, the strong tradition of learning by doing and learning some more, your excellent performance in the ICT revolution, your leveraging indigenous knowledge, and your focus on inclusive sustainable development put you above the rest. You are unfolding something we can all learn from, as we struggle to reach the Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations has set.
The whole Kalanjiam approach hinges on building networks and connections. Your smart partnerships with banks, especially the Indian Bank, exemplify the capacity to mobilize growing value chains in which everyone benefits.
Financial inclusion in your work goes beyond access to finance. Inclusion extends to networks of support as in the SHGs, networks of services previously out of range, access to inter-and multigenerational resources, and mutual support.
Your smart partnerships include your strong bonds with local and international as well as with global networks of support.
You are a key enabler of the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals, not only in India, but by sharing your experiences and lessons learnt, you are enhancing the capacity of others across the globe. For example, your role in WomenStrong International is seminal. You are learning as you also teach.
You have also developed a discipline to document, monitor and evaluate as you go. This disciple enhances your ability to attract and keep donor partners.
What about Dhan’s and ReimagineSA’s future together?
There are many similarities between South Africa and India.
Our separation by the Indian Ocean is no barrier to collaboration between us and between our countries. The differences between us offer opportunities for complementarities.
ReimagineSA is a collaborative platform aimed at advocating for, connecting change agents and catalysing the reimagining of the South Africa that has eluded us over the last 23 years.
The excitement of the first few years post-1994 is being replaced by growing fear and despair by the majority of citizens who are being left behind.
Our diagnosis of our current state of the nation is that the Political Settlement of 1994 is at serious risk of unraveling because of our failure to follow through with complementing it with Emotional and Socio-economic Settlements.
We have chosen to focus on children in schools and young people in and out of the education and training system because they represent the largest proportion of the population of South Africa. They are in the best possible position to become the change agents as young energetic, creative and open-to-innovation people to complete the journey to the country of our dreams. We also know that parents and the wider community can also be engaged more easily through the shared concerns about the poor quality of education in post-apartheid South Africa.
Our model is a collaborative one that enables us to partner with a number of institutions that have successful track records tested by pre- and post-evaluation data undertaken by external third parties. We bring in the additionality of enabling institutions to strengthen their missions by reimagining and reframing futures that promote transcending obstacles in the present by through conversations that open the way to making peace with the past to free the present and future from bondage.
Both our countries suffer the results of neglecting to heal the wounds of divisions of the past and establish the values of social justice – Emotional Settlement. Our governments have continued the injustices of the colonial and apartheid regimes because they did not make the effort to explore new models of ethical inclusive democratic governance.
John Henri Clarke, an African American historian, had this to say about our situation:
“To control a people, you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when your conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history, he needs no prison walls and no chains to hold you.”
The British colonial conquest is long over, but the deep imprints of control and command politics with state capture for the benefit of the ruling elite is alive and well. Your focus on educating and empowering citizens to become more active stewards of their democracy is exactly what is needed. ReimagineSA is working tirelessly to promote, as you do, civic education in the school curriculums and amongst young people in and out of school.
We are also advocating for mother tongue instruction in the foundation years in our schools to promote local languages and cultures. We are championing African history from antiquity, to reconnect our children to the rich heritage of our continent that has become lost to them. We know it will be a long process, a Seven Storey Mountain, but we have to strive to promote the emergence of informed critical thinking citizens who can shape the future they would like to live in and bequeath to their children’s children.
We have much to learn from, and to support in one another on this journey toward building resilience in our societies, in our continents, and in our global village. The Sustainable Development Goals can only be attained in countries where citizens stand up and claim this space as custodians of the future for the sake of next generations.
This Symposium marks the beginning of closer ties between Dhan and ReimagineSA. It also has enabled me to better discharge my responsibilities as a Trustee of WomenStrong. I have come, I have seen, and I am inspired.
– Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Co-Founder of ReimagineSA and Trustee of WomanStrong International