For this women’s month issue, I wanted to place the spotlight on someone who I believe is an amazing leader and influencer in the social entrepreneurship and social impact space: Laura Bergh.
Laura Bergh describes herself as having the mind of a philosopher, the heart of an environmentalist and the curiosity of a detective. All incredibly suitable characteristics and skills for her to perform her strategic leadership role as chief enabler at the Greenlight Office, which supports the Greenlight Movement with 131, and counting, member organisations.
The Greenlight Movement (www.greenlightmovement.org.za) is an exciting growing movement of organisations who recognise that to move the needle of transformation, a joint effort is required by those seeking to reach a better quality of life and the organisations that support them in their efforts. This group of organisations is unafraid to look in the mirror, asking questions about what tangible social impact they are having.
The approach they are using to assist them in their efforts is called the Greenlight approach and it measures aspects of multi-dimensional insufficiency (poverty) in the households of the beneficiaries, clients, and employees whom they serve and work with, so that they can target, prioritise, and develop initiatives that speak to real needs and true social impact. Within the Greenlight approach, the Greenlight metric is an unusual survey that uses visual and text elements to engage people in communities in self-diagnosing their quality of life.
The metric uses the same colours of the conventional stoplight (red, yellow, green) to enable socio-economically challenged individuals and families to see and understand the ways in which they are stuck, struggling, or doing well. Red indicates extreme poverty – a self-diagnosis for being stuck for that indicator and that they require information for assistance to help the family or individual. Yellow indicates poverty – that they are struggling for that indicator but trying. And Green indicates that they are doing well for that indicator and believe they have independence and dignity for that area.
Since 2015, 41 000 surveys have been completed and 84% of the households/individuals that have been surveyed have indicated that their quality of life was improved within one year.
The aims of the Greenlight Movement are to −
- Have a collaboration space for organisations working to co-create a journey from impoverishment and dependency to independence and dignity in Africa
- Establish a community of practice, where all can share and learn from each other, seeing each other as collaborators and not competitors
- Aggregate data which offers a better perspective of the real issues at hand in communities, provinces, and countries
- Challenge and influence policymakers to understand and act on what is working and what is not in the social economy
- Have referral pathways that will inform stakeholders of priority areas for engagement, and
- Enable organisations to collectively engage in the evolution of a social methodology and metrics that are gaining traction in Africa
The Greenlight Movement is supported by the Greenlight Office. The aim of the Greenlight Office is to assist in improving the success rates of organisations delivering social impacts through poverty-related and enterprise development programmes. The Greenlight Office holds space for the Greenlight Movement.
The Greenlight Office aims to −
- Raise interest and awareness within organisations about the importance of people being engaged in their own upliftment and to participate and own their journeys to a better quality of life (people-centred development, helping people to help themselves)
- Provide a platform to equip and enable the adoption of new approaches that reflects this philosophy – such as the Greenlight and ABCD approach – and a common set of indicators against which organisations can measure their performance against own objectives of social impact
- Use both quantitative and qualitative data to catalyse a change in basic assumptions, based on insights arising from authentic information voiced from the people we serve
- Hold space for the Greenlight Movement (all the organisations in Africa using the various Greenlight methodologies, metrics, and tools)
I not only wanted to highlight the Greenlight Movement and Greenlight Office, which are amazing vehicles for social impact, but also some of the lessons on leadership that we can learn from Laura.
Below are Laura Bergh’s profound and noteworthy answers to four of the questions I posed to her.
What are your values in leadership and how do you live them daily?
As a leader I value excellence, responsibility, and kindness. I foster curiosity, fairness, independence, and courage. From my team I want integrity, well-being, and gratitude in service to others.
What advice would you give to younger women about their careers and the best ways to develop their leadership?
People say listen to your heart, and that’s good advice, but I have found that listening to my gut has been the game-changer. My gut says a path is only a path and can lead in many directions and may take many different forms, none of which is important. The question I ended up asking myself was: ‘Does my current path have heart?’ I realised that a path without heart actually weakens you and puts you to sleep, where one day drifts into another until you lose touch with what really matters.
I so wish that someone had asked me that question when I was in my twenties: ‘Does my path have heart?’ I am not sure I would have taken it seriously, but it would have made me think and reassess my planned journey and some of my earlier choices.
I would challenge young women to think about:
- What is it that you want for yourself, for tomorrow?
- How do you want to live?
- Is society better off because of what you do?
- Are the organisations that you work for doing harm or good?
- Are the communities that your organisations serve better off because you are there?
I ask these questions because, here and now, it may not be appropriate for you to live the same kind of lives that your parents lived, and that (and this is awfully hard for me to say) here and now, may not be the time and place for you to have your dreams. Instead, it may be the time and place for you to make your mark and show your face; to step outside the line and embrace a new way of being. We, the older generation, need you to be brave enough to see that humanity cannot continue as we have for the last 40 years – it is just not sustainable. We need you to make different choices to those that we made; choices that will bring prosperity and happiness for ALL the earth’s inhabitants, not just a few.
It is the time and place for active citizenry and sense-making. The most important choices you make in the present depend on your understanding of current reality and the assumptions you hold about the future. Never doubt that what you do makes a difference … but here’s the stinger – YOU have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. There is no longer any justification to sitting on the side-lines and waiting for others to lead the way.
And while I mention leadership, let me add that it is very interesting to hear what our planet’s thought-leaders are telling us: that to live and succeed in a time of uncertainty requires different leadership qualities to those that have been acceptable in the past. Current research is questioning everything you have read about in your business and human resource textbooks when it comes to leadership, because the current way of doing business and living is only really benefiting a minority of human beings.
What is your definition of leadership?
Leadership is about mobilising people. The question is no longer ‘how to lead’ but ’in which direction’:
- Where will you choose to lead your business teams, your families, your communities?
- Will you show self-awareness and reflection? How is your curiosity and desire to engage?
- Will you be willing to ask difficult questions; to test your edges and feel discomfort?
- Will you go slow to go fast?
- Will the results of your leadership display an understanding of the inter-connectedness of everything?
The world out there is a vastly different place to that which is described in the textbooks and it’s changing faster than most learning institutions can keep up with. Big business, as we know it, is dramatically under threat regarding access to resources, profits, and sustainable growth. We are on the brink of transitioning to something else. The competitive edge is no longer about differentiation and outperformance. It is about collaboration, partnerships and being able to justify your organisation’s reason for existence. It is the time and place to transition to something else, something that serves us all.
As a South African woman, what have been the biggest challenges you felt that you have faced?
My biggest challenge has been understanding my purpose and finding my tribe.
What advice would you give to an emerging young leader?
I would ask them a few questions: What do you think is your greatest strength? What is the single most important aspect that holds the key to your success in any given field? Is it your qualifications? Your shared desire for knowledge and skills? The need to improve yourself? Or is it your background, your culture?
Your biggest strength comes from what binds us all − it is the friendships and relationships we have built with each other. We may not realise it, but from this time in our life’s journey, the people who we have encountered, who have shared our journey, who have challenged us and made us think, who hold us accountable for what we are doing − these people will be there to partner us in the future. And that is what the future of humanity needs.
Annie McWalter, The Hope Factory and SAICA ED