When I was 14 and growing up in Germany, my South African mother said to me ‘Judith, you know that the way people live in Germany is not how most people in the world live… it is the exception. It is not what life is really like for most people in this world.’ I was horrified. Even if it wasn’t how most people lived, surely it was how life was MEANT to be like?
How naïve I was. How blind I was. To the chaos, the suffering, the pain in the world… and how far that was from our comfortable, safe reality in Germany at that point. But I was also blind to the beauty, the laughter, the little joys, and strength of so many in surviving adversity. Blind to difference, to diversity, to celebrating many forms of living, working, loving and relating in different parts of the world, in different ‘groups’ and ‘cultures’. In some way, this was the first time I got in touch with my own biases. And it’s been a journey ever since.
I love living in South Africa, nowhere in the world have I ever felt so alive, so ‘real’, so humbled, so privileged, so happy, and so filled with sadness, pain, but also joy and endless opportunity. It has literally opened my eyes, and opened my world.
I have days where I don’t want to look. I just want to do ‘my work’, ideally with an eager group of people in a lovely hotel, eating delicious food, and hopefully impacting their ‘successful’ organisation in positive ways. Sometimes I don’t want to face that often, in our work, we deal with relatively privileged, employed, educated leaders and specialists.
But the purpose of CONTRACT and the CONTRACT Foundation is to ‘inspire a humane economy’. And inspiring a humane economy is seeing more. Looking wider. Understanding more. It is contributing not to the already privileged, but playing our part in enabling people to participate in our economy in the first place, a living a life filled with dignity.
This is one of the reasons we have started to widen our work. We’ve always had NGOs as clients and supported them with facilitation, coaching, change management and leadership development. But there is more to be done by us!
The way I see our approach at the moment is that we are ‘attacking’ things (in a positive way) from an underprivileged and privileged side as a bridge…
In South Africa, we’re running our CONTRACT Academy for the fourth time, we’re contributing to the Amanina project, and will be running workshops for trainees at another incredible organisation doing good things. These are not ‘neat corporate workshops’ that we can run, then leave and hope they will have had an impact. No, it is facing a wider, raw, ugly reality of what the world around us is like. And it’s also seeing the tenacity, strength, beauty and resilience of the human spirit.
In Germany, we’re facilitating many live sessions with leaders virtually. And we’ve come full circle. We are facilitating workshops for our sister company troodi, and have started offering workshops on unconscious bias and on inclusive leadership for German leaders. I think our experience of living and working in South Africa is beneficial to them and widening everyone’s perspective. We’re learning so much about the challenges in Germany today (and not all is comfort, safety and roses either), and having great conversations about bias, about leadership today, about inclusion, about creating belonging in organisations.
Whilst this is only a fraction of ‘looking wider’, it is one step in the right direction. I can’t wait to see what other steps we as CONTRACT and the CONTRACT Foundation will be able to take in the future.
And what do I personally do to keep my eyes wide open, and to act with eyes wide open?
I try to notice when I retreat into my ‘comfort zone’, and speak about it openly and vulnerably. I work on courageously challenging people who are unaware of their biases or privilege. I use my German-South Africanness to make differences visible, and how easily we take things for granted. I talk to my kids about how lucky and privileged they are, and encourage experiences of ‘otherness’ for them so they do not take their life for granted. I seek friendships with people who are different, both for my kids and myself. I find this hard though, and it is mostly here where I notice my discomfort. Luckily I know now that the discomfort is a good thing; and that it’s a sign that I am going in the right direction.
It is a long journey to not take things for granted, but I believe it’s the right journey to take as an individual, as organisations, as a society… and I am forever grateful my mom did challenge me on this over 30 years ago!
Senior Facilitator & Coach