Ubuntu philosophy in an innovation driven culture

By August 8, 2018 No Comments

Ubuntu philosophy underpins “purpose driven” organizational culture which drives innovation.


Ubuntu is taken from a Nguni (isiZulu) aphorism: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which can be translated as “a person is a person because of or through other people”. Desmond Tutu said it best when he said, “none of us come into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned from, human beings. We need other human beings to be human”.

Organisations today are faced with unprecedented change and rapid development accelerated by emerging technologies and increasingly convergent macro environment. The type of employee entering the workforce has also changed. Misleading assumptions, unsupported by empirical evidence, about millennials – the latest generation to enter the workforce – have been widely cited in media, blogs and other sources of information we access daily. Analyst, Amanda Kreun says: that “it’s a big assumption to think millennials are distinctly different than other generations.” Non-millennials use the internet and social media to seek news online and communicate with each other. Organisations should not change their culture as a means of attracting and retaining millennials. This transformation should be done to encourage better communication across departments and divisions, to better align teams across various functions.

Ubuntu philosophy is at the center of how organisations can evolve into more inclusive and purpose driven corporations. Examples of this, are evident through the use of open innovation platforms where individuals embrace external co-operation and idea generation to navigate through this fast-changing environment. Another example of the Ubuntu philosophy in action is the drive for Diversity and Inclusion. More and more corporations are adopting D&I policies to attract and retain talent. The organisations we work with at Evolve Executive Search, see these policies as transformative and as a way to differentiate and become competitive in the market place. Studies have shown how Big Data will drive exponential growth when it is used correctly, and it is at the center of organizational strategy. Research continues to show how corporations will be able to unlock discriminatory ways of operating and servicing customers. In the banking sector – banks are adopting more inclusive product offerings which aim “to bank the unbanked” to remain competitive in the market place.

Connectedness rather than association, encourages a social organizational culture that allows for personal growth, a sense of communal achievement and shared aspirations. The capacity to express mutuality, compassion, reciprocity and humanity is the setting for success of online communities. Social networking platforms, blogs, chatrooms, forums have enabled individuals to express this kind of behaviour.

In a recent interview, a Chief Executive of a technology company based here in South Africa, remarked that people do better in an environment where they feel that what they do has meaning and that they are making a contribution. People, not just millennials, see the organisations they work in as an extension of themselves and their values. They want to be proud of the impact their organization’s make in their communities.

At the risk of sounding prescriptive, Chief Executives tasked with transforming their businesses into digital organisations that encourage innovation at all levels, should start to look at culture change from this lens. More organisations have adopted “give back” initiatives that align to their corporate values. African culture and leadership styles, employees’ social values, and good corporate governance are deeply entrenched in ubuntu cultural systems.

A culture of learning is a significant factor in achieving improved organizational processes and performance. Holding rituals or ceremonies enhances bonding for building a solid foundation amongst a group. Leadership research has found that, sharing corporate objectives through holding “deep dive” sessions with all levels of the organisation improves levels of ownership and later reductions in resistance to change. Peer-to-peer skills building in the form of mentorship relationships or collaborative working, have also proved to be factors that contribute to efficient working environments as well as increased productivity. For new trainees, these kinds of initiatives give them a sense of empowerment and ability to not only shape their individual capabilities but those of the organisation. At exco or board level, mentorship relationships enable the exchange of effective corporate governance and successful strategy execution.

As business models change and place the customer at the center of product development, and innovation that leads to inclusive solutions – it is important to reflect on the philosophy that underpins the operations of a business. To interrogate it, review and improve on it, leaders need to be mindful that the business is its people. As Peter Drucker observed: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.











Naomi Molefe

Naomi Molefe

Experienced Senior Practice Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the Higher Education industry. Skilled in Graduate Recruitment, Management, Succession Planning, Social Media, and Training. Strong arts and design professional with a Master of Science (M.Sc.) focused in Strategic Management and Planning from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. My Passion lies in Research and Data and how we can use it to bring forth change and see the things we may have missed in the past. Human Behaviour is at the core of why I do what I do.

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