If you find other cultures interesting, or believe that we can learn from other cultures, then you probably enjoy attending seminars, reading books, or watching movies which highlight the uniqueness of each culture. As one who loves to learn about the essence of how people live together and create a society, I was glad to attend the annual symposium of the Servant Leadership Center for Research and Education (SERVUS) titled Servant Leadership and Social Capital. The symposium explored cultures with high social capital with the intention of incorporating the strengths of these philosophies in the leadership style of servant leaders. Social Capital is defined as
‘collective value of all “social networks” (who people know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other (“norms of reciprocity”). (Harvard Kennedy School)
The symposium mentioned three examples of social capital in various cultures and provided workshops for exploring these concepts and practices more deeply – Guanxi in China, Wasta in the Middle East and Ubuntu in Africa. I attended the workshop on Ubuntu with Stacey Links, who is currently studying at Utrecht University.
Ubuntu is an ethical concept of Southern African origin. Stacey’s interesting talk helped us to understand how Ubuntu is practiced in daily life as well as in politics, as this was an underlying philosophy during the Truth and Reconciliation period in South Africa. The concept “I am because we are; and since we are, I am” has a broad implications on an individual’s decision process as one would consider the impact of each decision on the ‘we’ before on the ‘I’. Ubuntu also means interconnectedness, and Stacey discussed the implications of Ubuntu on global challenges. Imagine if all political and business leaders were more responsive to societal challenges and changes by considering the impact of their actions on others in terms of global warming, diplomacy, environmental issues, etc. In the end, this is also the essence of Servant Leadership, serving others by considering their needs and the impact of your actions.
For more information about SERVUS, programs they offer, past research and other interesting events, visit their website.