Thursday, 27 February 2014

Expedition to Port Shepstone

Tuesday and the #IBMcsc South Africa education team of myself and Dan headed out for a trip south to Port Shepstone to attend a meeting of Science Subject Advisers.  These advisers focus on supporting teachers of science in grades 10-12 ( for my UK readers that is equivalent to our years 11-13).

We were picked up from the hotel at 8am and taken to the outskirts of Durban to meet one of our clients from the education department at a garage. Paused here as we waited for one of his colleagues who was to join us but was stuck in traffic so a chance for a couple of photos....all be it squinting into to sun a bit...

From here a short drive across the highway and into the car park of the Pavillion Shopping Mall to meet the now arrived colleague and all get into his car for the drive along the coast.  We passed some lovely scenery along the way with brief glimpses of beaches and a very choppy looking ocean.

Delayed for a while by a police checkpoint that was pulling what appeared to be a fairly random cross section of vehicles over to check driver's licences etc.  Large number of police vehicles parked up on the grass median of the dual carriageway and range of different police and immigration officers chatting with drivers and some passengers on some minibus taxis.  Apparently this is the sort of place that they normally set up these sort of road blocks - no where to turn off when you spot them ahead :-)  Didn't seem prudent to take any photos of the setup thought so you'll have to use your imagination.  After some checks of our driver's however licence we were on our way again.....

Once in Port Shepstone we made our way to what I think was the Suid-Natal High school to join the subject advisers.  I was puzzled that even though we were in term time the school seemed quiet but was informed that it is a boarding school and we were meeting in the boarders' dining room so the children were all down the hill in the main school building.

We had a very useful couple of hours with them where we go to talk about TeachersTryScience and also sit in on  their discussions on lesson planning support for a topic in Grade 12 Chemistry.

Then it was time to reverse the process and head up to Durban ( via a late lunch at the Galleria Mall) to be picked up and brought back to Pietermartizburg.

A really useful day continuing to gain insights into how the school education system works in South Africa - next job will be immerse ourselves in the CAPS curriculum documents.

As has become the norm a group of us headed over to the Mall for dinner in our continued quest to work our way round the various restaurant options.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Relocation and first meeting with clients #ibmcsc South Africa

On Sunday we left Johannesburg and headed south to our home for the next 4 weeks - Pietermaritzburg.  Short bus ride from the hotel took us to the metro station and a train to whiz us to the airport.

All checked in we made our way through security and had time to browse some shops and grab a coffee before boarding our South Africa Airlink plane for the 45 min flight to Pietermaritzburg which looks great from the air with houses spread up the many valleys and hills that surround the town.

Short journey from the airport to our hotel - the StayEasy Pietermaritzburg and a somewhat chaotic checkin with 11 of us arriving at the same time pushing the limits of the process.  Got our room key card and then the task of unpacking a month's worth of stuff and figuring out homes for everything.

Quick walk over to the Midland Mall which lies a short distance away from the hotel to buy some bits and pieces and then a return there in  the evening en mass for dinner together with the whole team.

Monday was an important day for all the teams as that is when we would all meet the people we'd be working with for the next few weeks and start to learn more about our projects.

Suitably smartly dressed for the occasion we all headed to the Premier's office building in centre of town.  In the meeting we heard from each of the project sponsors about what they wanted us to look at.

I am going to be working on the team assigned to the Department Of Education.   There is a website which has a range of freely available materials designed to help support teachers of STEM subjects ( Science Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).  Put simply our project revolves around the question of how this available resource could be applied to improve science education in schools here in KwaZulu Natal province.

Much work to be done to refine the scope of our project including identifying what schools such an approach might work best in - urban or rural, junior or senior etc

Following the general meeting we headed off with our local sponsors to start the work of refining the scope of the project.   For us this included starting to get to grips with how the education system is structured and organised in South Africa and identifying some of the people that we need to talk to.

I don't have too many pictures from these couple of days but can I commend the blog of my fellow CSC team member Andrew to you which is infused with photos..... you might even spot me in some of them...  

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Note from 83–97 Stella Street in Sandton

So what's with the title I hear you ask?  I've just started experimenting with Evernote to capture notes, I hadn't decided what to title this blogpost so had left it blank - this is the title it came up when I saved it and I liked it, so I kept it.  Based I assume on where the GPS in my iPad says I am as I type.  To satisfy my pedantry I'll note that the hotel is actually on Maude street but it's close and there is some tree cover where I am that may not be helping.

We had our first team meeting today for the #ibmcsc South Africa 11 team and a trip to the IBM Johannesburg office to talk with some of the local IBMers about our time here in South Africa.

Great to meet all the rest of the team, with the sad exception of one member who has hit a delay on their visa so hasn't been able to travel yet - hopefully will be able to join us soon.

Super also to have the chance to talk with some local IBMers and a take a "before" photo of the team.    Struck by diversity of the team ( hailing as we do from 7 different countries) and how appropriate that is as we come to the "Rainbow Nation" to work on our projects.
Rainbow Team for the Rainbow Nation
Next we headed for the Apartheid Museum and a few hours of immersing ourselves in some of South Africa's history.  Shortly before coming here I finished reading Nelson Mandela's book "Long walk to freedom".  It's a very long book about a very long walk, a fascinating read throughout and one I would thoroughly recommend for its insight and perspective.  Museum had lots of engaging and moving information on the system of apartheid that was in place and the struggles to remove it.  

As you would no doubt expect it is a very thought provoking place to visit, here are a couple of the thoughts it triggered for me personally.
  • I'm pretty much the same age now as Nelson Mandela was when he was sentenced to life imprisonment.  It is hard to leave your friends and family to come away for a month, I know that on this trip I will miss various events and family birthdays.  Could I hold true to my beliefs if the consequence was being cut off from them for decades instead?  I don't think one can ever truly tell unless faced with the situation but it is what one might term "a big ask".
  • I was a student at Wadham College in Oxford between 1985 and 1988 and was certainly aware of the campaign to "Free Nelson Mandela", the song of that name being played at the end of every student "bop" in the college, a tradition which I believe continues to this day.  As one of the more politically active student bodies Wadham certainly had a good number of people campaigning for his release.  It was not something however that I ever got personally involved with.  Learning more about the topic does certainly make me reflect back on that time.... It's not so much that I ever actively decided not to do something but rather that I never decided to do anything. We are constantly surrounded by campaigns and issues clamouring for our attention that raise complex issues but can that really be an excuse not to get involved? 
 As one of my colleagues noted there are a lot of very wise and inspiring quotes attributed to Nelson Mandela so I'll close with one of my favourites from the many I have seen today.

"To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedoms of others."    
Nelson Mandela June 1999

Friday, 21 February 2014

#ibmcsc South Africa Day 1 - Arriving

After all the preparing and planning I've now actually arrived in Johannesburg.

Coach from Winchester to Heathrow worked well even if an accident on the M3 and resulting jams mean we arrived an hour behind schedule but that's why you allow plenty of time.  

Flight with Virgin Atlantic was really very good.  Decent food and an inseat entertainment system that allowed you to access the film / TV show of your choice from a large list as and when you wanted it.  ( For the record I chose the very good Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks).

Arrived into Johannesburg just ahead of schedule and smooth transfer to the hotel.

Weather good deal warmer than I've been used to of late though similarly damp with some strong showers in the afternoon.

As the day progresses the team has been steadily arriving from our various start points around the globe.

Five of us managed to meet up this afternoon - great to actually put a face to the voices I've been hearing on calls for so many months.  Went for an explore of the local area and achieved one of the important milestones of a visit to any country... finding local supermarket where you can buy some water :-)

Tomorrow we are off into the IBM office and a trip to a Museum to immerse ourselves in some history.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

All set for #ibmcsc South Africa?

After months of planning and preparations the day of departure has arrived.

The bags are packed … and after some judicious shuffling of content and removal of a few things are inside the weight allowance !

I am going to be working on a project in South Africa with IBM's Corporate Service Corps.  Myself and 9 other IBMers drawn from across the business and the globe will be based in Pietermaritzburg.  Split into 3 sub teams we will be working with local organisations on defined projects.

Having never been to South Africa, or indeed any country in Africa, this is certainly a journey into the unknown but one that I am certainly excited to be taking.  As I have spoken with people over the last months about South Africa the resounding response form those who have been there before is that it will be an amazing month.

My intention is to post regular updates into this blog as the month progresses.  If you want to see what my colleagues are posting as well then get on over to this page and look out for and posts for #IBMCSC South Africa

Time to go and sort out those last minute jobs before heading to Heathrow and my flight.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

"Has Corporate Social Responsibility Failed"

A few notes from a talk by Wayne Visser at the University of Winchester as part of the a series of talks on "Responsible Management: Issues, Problems, Solutions"

Wayne suggested that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has evolved through a number of stages.

  1. Age of Greed - Characterised by a defensive approach, doing enough but not changing any culture of greed in the organisation 
  2. Age of Philanthropy  - Characterised by a view that it doesn't matter how you make your money so long as you give it away.
  3. Age of Marketing  - Characterised by a promotional approach where we see the use of media and CSR becoming all about PR.  
  4. Age of management - a more strategic focus where we see alignment of issues with the business. Also likely to see use of some CSR standard as a framework but often this can reduce it to a tick box exercise.
These 4 stages he collectively categorised as CSR 1.0 and then suggested that we need to move to CSR 2.0 the Age of Responsibility where we see transformative power of CSR.

CSR 1.0 tends to fail for a variety of reasons 
  • Likely to be incremental, continuous improvement which improves things but is slow and gradual.    Targets are set by the company themselves and progress tracked against that standard.  If we accept that we live in a world where the challenges are large and urgent then slow and steady isn't going to cut it.
  • Tends to be peripheral sitting in marketing or HR not integrated into the core of what the business does and hence reduced impact on the company than it might have
  • Economic arguments won't necessarily lead to embracing CSR fully, market does not consistently value responsible companies
Much like the Web 2.0 world versus web 1.0, he suggested that CSR efforts need to focus on getting to scale as well as growing collaboration.

So how about some examples of what we are talking about ?

Some very creative approaches - such as "Cabbages and Condoms"restaurant in Thailand whose website interestingly leads with the social programs that they run rather than any images of the restaurant itself.

Scalability can be an issue if the issue of ethical concern doesn't capture most people's interest.  A major retailer taking a position on an issue can however shift things such as Walmart's support for the Marine Stewardship Council standards.  Also noted that sometimes government intervention is needed to prompt a shift in behaviour e.g. ban of incandescent light bulbs.

Glocality- thinking globally and acting locally.  Variety of systems have emerged where buying one product means another is given away to someone who needs it.  The One Laptop per Child's "Give 1 Get 1" program and Toms Shoes are good examples.

Circularity - focussing on closing the loop.  Phone recycling from foneback cited as one example of a business built on this approach.

So lots of examples and in closing we were offered 2 tests for whether an organisation was embracing CSR 2.0

  1. Admission - do they recognise that they are part of the problem
  2. Audacity - are they setting audacious goals to transform versus incremental goals
An interesting evening and some inspiring examples of what some forward thinking companies and organisations are doing.   I've added his book "The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business" to the list of titles it would be good to get around to reading.