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John Steel reporting from Africa

Posted by: , December 12th, 2012, Comments (2)

Installing rainwater harvesting tanks at Kayonza, Uganda

By John Steel, CEO at Cafédirect

“John here, just back from nine days in Africa visiting tea growers in Kenya and Uganda. Although there was a lot to see and there’s a lot to say, there were two aspects that really struck me – the power of triple bottom line business and the difficult job of keeping wellbeing in balance.

The first point was truly astonishing. At Cafédirect we pride ourselves on our unique business model and express it as “Made the Small Way”, but what really made an impression is how much more there is to our way of doing business. I went to Africa to see smallholder tea growers, and what I got was so much more – farmers caring for the environment with projects on wind power, low-energy stoves, rainwater harvesting (see image) and a fabulous focus on family planning to get the average number of children per household down to below 7.2! Farmers there are passionate about investing in community, for example health centre projects, incredible leaps forward in education and facilities shared by all those around them. On top of this is an incredible desire to grow the best quality tea possible for the Cafédirect family. This was living and breathing triple bottom line (financial, social & environment) in a natural – “this is the only way to do business” – way. Contrast this with the so-called developed countries, where the usual way of doing business is about cost reduction, margin maintenance, tax avoidance and anything to keep the business financially afloat and to pander to the roulette wheel of the stock market in 2012. The contrast between Africa’s balanced approach and the UK’s selfish, self-centered approach is striking.

Which leads me onto my second observation from the trip: wellbeing. As sustainability runs its inevitable course we must look beyond it to the balance of economic, social and environmental wellbeing to create a positive, resource-enhancing, balanced world. In Africa, most notably in Uganda, this balance is fragile. In the rural tea-growing region that I visited there was a wonderful social balance; a drive and desire to rebuild rainforests and heighten the environmental wellbeing of one of the most beautiful places on earth, alongside building significant increases in financial stability from a very low starting point. The danger is that as financial wellbeing increases it overshadows the other aspects of a good, positive life – money is driving expectations of a burgeoning youth (over half the population is under 18), many of whom are looking to cities and Western-style material wealth for satisfaction. However, in the West we are experiencing ever-increasing social and environmental poverty, so if history has taught us anything, it is that the West has not necessarily gone about things in the right way…

All in all, what a trip – and this is just a glimpse…”

 

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnSteelDirect

Comments

  1. John Evans says:

    Dear John Steel,
    Your airing of the “triple bottom line” comes at a most important time.
    You will be aware of a concept called “The Balanced Score Card” which was developed in the 1990′s (by Norton and Kaplan) and was vigourously taken up by many organisations ranging from the MoD ( in various forms) through to Halifax Royal Bank of Scotland.
    The financial crisis put paid to any empathy for balance, unfortunately.
    You will know that the OU Business School uses Cafe Direct as a case study for its MBA students…..so I shall be telling all my students to read this….and take note. When Africa takes off, it will be even more important than China!
    What a great message to read!
    John Evans (OUBS Tutor)

    • John Steel says:

      Dear John, thankyou for your comments. At Cafedirect we are passionate about measuring the “triple bottom line” in a way that helps gain clarity on the need for balance. Personally I feel that the financial crisis and global changes are leading to greater inbalance. So the need is even greater than ever before. Interestingly during my trip to Africa I was astounded at the number of Chinese – I think they are only too aware of Africa’s importance and are doing quite a lot about it! good to hear from you, all the best, John

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