At the beginning of May, I was blessed with the chance to take an amazing trip to Cape Town, South Africa to study abroad. At first I did not know what to expect; I was traveling to a country I knew almost nothing about and to top it off, I had never flown in my life. Despite the fact that all of this was new to me, I knew that this trip was the perfect chance to get a couple courses out of the way and that it would be a blast traveling outside of the US, which is something I have always wanted to do. The trip to South Africa really gave me a newfound understanding of how the world differs from us here in the states and showed me just how lucky we are; it also gave me a new understanding of leadership and what that entails.
One of the major things that really stuck with me from the trip, after the amazing scenery, was the importance of the role of leadership in the growing of a nation and a business. The first full day we were in Cape Town, we had a day of classes with Stuart Hendry, a professor at the University of Cape Town. There he educated us on the immense history of South Africa and all of the pain that they had been through because of apartheid. The prime example of the ultimate leader, from South Africa’s viewpoint as well as the world, is Nelson Mandela. After suffering for over twenty years in prison, he was released and did not act on the hatred that had built up in his veins; he chose to push for negotiations with the apartheid government and persevered through many struggles and setbacks to win freedom for South Africa. Mandela did not give in to the obstacles in his way, he continued to push for a peaceful transition into a democratic state and eventually he was successful and was elected to be the president of the redefined nation. It was amazing to see how well everyone came together and worked for the common goal; everyone was invested in it and determined to see it through. It was also very evident that the people of South Africa are very proud of what they have accomplished and they should be. It is no easy task to change something that had become the norm for so long. It is also very inspiring to see the young leaders coming out of South Africa and the University of Cape Town. They are determined to make South Africa a better place and are devoted to its success as a nation. The perceived qualities for a leader is that they have to be confident and strong in their endeavors to ensure success; even though those are important, that is not all that is important. To truly be a successful leader, one has to know their purpose. They have to understand where they are going in life and in their careers. No one can lead if they themselves do not know where they are going; if someone that doesn’t have a grasp on their purpose or their ultimate goal, then they will be leading their followers into an abyss of failure. Along with purpose, a leader must also engage with the people surrounding them. One of the most important qualities that a leader must have is their ability to connect with others. They have to be able to build relationships and show that they genuinely care. Before someone can motivate others to completely buy into the job or task at hand, one must fulfill all of their fundamental needs. According to Max-Neef, if those nine fundamental needs are not equally met, then the worker will not be completely focused on the task at hand and will not be successful. By meeting the needs of their subordinates, a leader can develop trust and bring people together to form an unstoppable team of individual’s hell bent on making their endeavors a success. The term transformational leadership envelops all of the qualities that I have discussed, but the ultimate goal is to lead in a way that creates more leaders. By continuing to create thinkers instead of just doers, you create endless possibilities for success. That is what South Africa is aiming to do and that is what we need to do a better job of here in the US.
Another takeaway from the trip would have to be the difference in the social structure of South Africa compared to the US. One of the first things we noticed after getting off the plane, while riding to our hotel, was the vast amount of poverty. On our drive, we saw large plots of run down shacks that were made of nothing more than ply wood and sheets of metal. These communities were fenced in and set apart, in a way, from the inner city. These places were called townships. These townships were set up during the apartheid rein in an attempt to separate the colored population and the white population. Even though apartheid has been abolished since 1994, the effects of it are still very evident in the cities. There are still very poor living conditions in the townships and in some they don’t even have access to running water. The government is working hard to correct these problems, but is struggling. The closest thing that can be related to this type of situation are the slums and poverty stricken areas in the US, but in reality nothing compares to the sight of some of the townships. The key to bringing the nation out of the deep levels of poverty is the development of leaders; the types of leaders that Stuart Hendry is working so hard to produce. Stuart works with an organization called SASDI – Southern Africa that focuses on sustainable development. They have developed a plan and are focusing on the youth of South Africa by building children’s centers for the townships where children can go to learn and develop a future for themselves. We had the opportunity to go and help with the construction of one of these sites during our time in South Africa; it was definitely an experience I will never forget and was also one of the highlights of the trip. I was tasked with laying concrete for a classroom that day and we were able to successfully complete the project. We also were able to play with the kids and that was also very rewarding. They had a good time playing with my red hair; it seemed very foreign to them. It was a good experience for us to be able to see the work that the foundation was doing first hand. South Africa has a long way to go, but they are working endlessly to improve upon their situation.
There is one last thing that I learned while on the trip and it is expressed with one word, Ubuntu. This word encompasses what I have always tried to show through everything that I do. It means, “I am a person through others, a part of a human community, to value others rather than oneself, and be fair to all.” To me, this is what the world needs. No matter where one travels, there are millions of people doing their own thing and only caring about themselves. They are worried about what the world can do for them and not what they can do for the world. They are so focused on getting what they want and willing to do whatever it takes to get it, even if it is at the expense of others. We, as a “human community” need to care for everyone and do our best to help others before ourselves. If we can come together for the common purpose of making the world a better place then there are no limits to what we can do. The obstacle that stands in the way is greed and the need for individual power. It will not be easy to break the habit of those and it would be completely naive to think that one could abolish them altogether, but if people come together and see the big picture, that its not about them, then the world would be forever changed.
The trip to South Africa was amazing. I am truly blessed to have been able to take the trip with such an amazing group of people. I will cherish and carry this experience with me for the rest of my life. Leadership, the difference in culture, and the fundamental idea of Ubuntu were just a few things I have taken away from the trip, but probably the most important thing generated from the trip were the relationships built with each other. I will never forget the memories we all made. It was something I will never forget! I am definitely ready to go back!