The Ubuntu Connection: A CEO’s Perspective

After seven years of compassionate commitment to a humanistic philosophy known as Ubuntu, I get asked all the time about it all the time.
What is it exactly?
Why is it so important to you?
And how do you and your team implement it into practice?

Ubuntu is a South African philosophy, amongst people who believe that their individual existence its dependent on that of others they share their living space with. Since the transition to democracy in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela presidency of 1994, the term has become more widely known outside of southern Africa, notably popularized to English language readers by Desmond Tutu (1999).
The African Proverb: “I am because we are therefore I am”, dives deep into encouraging to SEE that humanity is in fact not embedded in one person’s being alone but instead that “humanity is a quality that we owe to each other.”

The team at East End Neighborhood House, adopting this proverb as part of their mission, has been following the philosophy with the intent to connect to one another as advocates and social workers. We believe that we could expect that as social advocates, most of us are in the field to serve others in need because we believe all should have equal access to opportunity. But what we have also come to know in the study of Ubuntu, is that we can not serve others fairly and openly if we do not exhibit the same level of care for one another as colleagues and team mates in the work of social advocacy.

Here’s where OUR journey, has been most challenging and rewarding. An attitude usually displayed in work places of “punching in and punching out” could not be part of the culture of our work, if we were to become truly invested in practicing Ubuntu. We’ve had to see each other in the good and bad on behalf of the community. We’ve had to come to consensus decisions not for individual gain or even the majority but on behalf of the whole. We learned to be uncomfortable before we could get comfortable. We still get uncomfortable with change as any other human being, but now we know we can’t stay uncomfortable. We must see each other and keep it real with care. Elder wisdom best describes this space of learning as:

“Ubuntu is Compassion brought into colorful practice”.

In this journey taken with my staff I bring attention to perceptions because I believe these to be critical to understanding how we relate to each other. Perceptions come from experiences that we have as an individual, and those experiences begin to weave the way our individual stories unfold in this world. When I look at this definition of “colorful practice”, I think that the way we deliver compassion to one another will be determined in our practice of this work by the diversity of our individual stories, hence

Colorful = many stories unique &descriptive of our lives, that have the power to evolve together with others

I believe then that what Ubuntu is challenging us to do is to take those stories and merge them into one collective story of Us as humans on this earth sharing space, time and Purpose. Ubuntu makes us check in to our humanness, and our emotions to share these stories positively forward! Hence, our most critical work lies in our openness to share of ourselves honestly with purposeful compassion.

We have to do so consistently, understanding that sometimes because we are evolving, we will make mistakes. Since, 2011 here at East End Neighborhood House we have challenged each other to show up as the best self that we can be each day, because as such we are Purpose. Our purpose of being is the gift we give one another. Then if we ever feel “off purpose”, a human reality, we should be able to come in the presence of another who in that moment will SEE the shift and say I miss your gift of being. I am here for you we are in this together, how can I help? Have I been the cause of your shift? Because Ubuntu also teaches to forgive, after we’ve addressed discord. And if we do this everyday with each other as colleagues, when an individual comes to our door, a client, a neighbor, sometimes during a most difficult time in their life, we will be in our collective purpose of service, as our very best self and SEE them! Ubuntu encourages a collective story of Us because without each other we wouldn’t BE!

That’s my truth on why Ubuntu and why now!



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