Develop Ubuntu in Your Workplace

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
– Cicero

A number of years ago I decided to run a coffee and health deli. I asked my staff of six how they felt they could best contribute to growing the business.

The consensus was that each Monday morning we would sit down with a cappuccino coffee to kickstart our meeting and discuss our ideas before the shop opened. During our first few meetings one or two of my employees, who had not had the opportunity to be educated, were very quiet and did not offer much. After a few weeks they began tentatively to put forward ideas as they came to realise that I truly valued and was grateful for their input. Some of the very best ideas came from these women, who were employed to sweep and clean, when they were offered an environment in which they could express their creativity.

Without realising it at the time, I was implementing one of the principles of Ubuntu in the workplace. Mvume H. Dandala writes: “Ubuntu is not an abstract term separated from other things in life; it is buttressed and nurtured by life. While Ubuntu finds most vocal expression, and is inherent, in African culture, it is not exclusively African. It is possible for an African not to have Ubuntu, whereupon people might say asingomuntu lowo (that one is not a person), and it is equally possible for a non-African to manifest Ubuntu. The law of averages, however, suggests that, from an African perspective, it is people of African origin who are most likely to have Ubuntu. When non-Africans, particularly whites, show signs of Ubuntu, people might say unobuntu ngathi ayingomlungu (he/she has Ubuntu as if he/she were not a white person). Thus, Ubuntu is not something one is born with but that can be cultivated and nurtured by anyone”.

It is often said that the best deals are made on a golf course, but through developing the culture of Ubuntu within the business environment, the ideas generated by sharing and learning could have similar results.

Life beyond the workplace cannot be divorced from your work environment, and if a business is to thrive then it needs to develop a culture of community and a thorough understanding of the people who work together. Many employers do not know that some of their staff might have had to get up at 3.30 am and walk vast distances to get to work on time. Often this person is the only one in a family who has found work, and by walking to work they are saving the taxi fare for other basic essentials. These people will arrive home well after dark at the end of their work day and still take care of the needs of their family.

On the other hand, how many employees appreciate the responsibility of an employer whose business is struggling in a competitive environment, and he or she is shouldering the weight of keeping the business afloat in order to save staff from being retrenched? When the values of Ubuntu are used in the workplace it softens the rigid, often hostile relationship between employer and employee. Ubuntu honours human relationships and how people relate to one another. It challenges us to become mature, generous and caring, and to embrace the culture of belonging and community within the work environment. Most of us have almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. I am convinced that if we allow gratitude to renew our lives daily, if we foster neighbourly concern, and if we shift from a material-oriented society to a person-oriented society, then we will see the dawn of a revolution of values where the highest priority would be the all-embracing good of all. In that way we would come to the personal fulfilment which many of us find so difficult to attain in today’s competitive world.

“All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.” – Robert Kennedy