Nedbank’s executive head of transformation and strategy, Kershini Govender, told Top Empowerment that the company’s socioeconomic transformation journey began before BEE legislation and identified transformation as a key strategic business enabler. We sit her down for a Q&A session to delve deeper into her thoughts and theories on transformation and empowerment in the workplace.

What are some of the key elements in building a better South Africa for our future generations?
Education is key, but what is equally important is improving the basic living standards for all our citizens. Other key elements include dealing with corruption and restoring the confidence in our country; displaying ethical and values-based leadership and holding our leaders to account; promoting inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth; transcending our thinking through leveraging “digital” and hence building our capability and capacity to create a competitive future-fit South Africa; and basically we need to grow economic, social, environmental and cultural capital.

Does South Africa need more structural intervention or more personal involvement in transformation?
Currently, we have a host of structural interventions such as the National Development Plan (NDP), Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and the Black Industrialist Programme (BIP) as levers to drive skills, job creation and economic participation. Inclusive growth requires broad-based transformation to break down structural impediments to new economic activities, de-concentrating industries dominated by few participants, accelerating the inclusion of millions of black South Africans into jobs and businesses, and returning to a path of rising per capita incomes for all. The changes needed to achieve this are set out in the NDP.

Some of these structural interventions are not understood or supported by the average South African, and structural interventions without active citizenry does not get the job done. Our experience showed that structural empowerment incentives such as development programmes (for example business coaching), when not supported by the right psychological instruments and messaging, could sometimes inadvertently disempower people, as it creates a message of dependency. This then weakens the person’s sense of ability to perform the function, which is sometimes met with a response of increased structural intervention and so the psychological dependency increases. So to answer the question, we need both: increased personal involvement, supported by structural direction.

How could radical transformation contribute to or drive economic growth in South Africa?
A global analysis of democracies in transition showed 28 post-WWII countries with similar characteristics of ethic inequality to South Africa. Of these countries, about a third succeeded with strong growth domain. This tells us that transformation and growth are interrelated. We have to avoid a “Robin Hood” effect, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder and grow the country together. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder and grow the country together. While we do this, we need to ensure that participation is equitable.

Growth alone will not deliver a reduction in inequality, but it is an important enabler, supported by the key elements mentioned previously. As a consequence, we need to seek out transformation activities that support both business growth and national transformation. A symbiosis exists as transformation done well strengthens economic access, thereby strengthening the tax base in the country, creating the war chest that supports sustainable grass-roots change – a virtuous or vicious cycle exists between growth and transformation.

You said South Africa needs a “culture of inclusion”. How do we achieve this?
Diversity in environments of high social distance does not yield the benefits we assume flow through this diversity. Good leaders are able to create a subculture that reduces social distance and enables harmonious working conditions.

We need to encourage South Africans to fully embrace the importance and value of inclusion beyond just diversity. Therefore, with the full participation of the collective we can ensure the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future to have an opportunity to create a better South Africa by having everyone involved in the solution.