Broccoli project scoops two prizes

The Broccoli Project, the rewards programme for the poor that I wrote about recently, walked away with the 2nd prize in Hit Barcelona’s Global Entrepreneurship Competition this past week. Spanish company Bmat won first prize.

The Broccoli Project also won the award for “best social value” walking away with total prize money of 25 000 euros to fund their activities. Whether they attracted support from venture capitalists attending the event remains to be seen.

Launching their updated website last week (, Marc Anthony Zimmerman, founder and CEO of the project thanked the numerous supporters that had enabled them to get to Barcelona and to win the award.

Trevor Manuel: "I could close my eyes now…"

Imagine sitting in a room in 1991 with a group of South African’s trying to map out what the nation would look like in 2002. At the time we were in the middle of negotiations, the country was racked in violence and uncertainty, we were yet to have our first democratic elections and predicting the future was a risky business.

Nelson Mandela had been released from prison in 1990 promising widespread nationalisation which was the ANC economic policy at the time, and the Anglo Scenarios popularised by Clem Sunter were veering towards the Low Road.

At the time, Pieter le Roux of UWC was offered money from German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung to organise a conference on the future of South Africa. Sceptical about the conferences that had been held to that point, where delegates reiterated their stated positions, Le Roux decided to follow a different approach and run a scenario-planning exercise.

Meeting outside Cape Town at the Mont Fleur Conference Centre, Le Roux gathered participants from all major groupings of political, business, academic and social organisations*. He chose them based on who they represented but importantly asked them to participate on a personal rather than organisational basis, allowing them the freedom to explore all points of view rather than toeing a particular “party” line.

That group of people today looks like the who’s who of South Africa and includes Tito Mboweni, Trevor Manuel, Christo Wiese, Vincent Maphai and Saki Macozoma (for a full list of participants — see below).

The scenario-planning exercise was facilitated by Adam Kahane who had cut his teeth on scenario planning at Shell, one of the world leaders in the process. The group met in September 1991 followed by a period of research until their second meeting in November that year. There they assessed their progress and developed four scenarios. They then started a period of consultation until March 1992 where they finalised their work and started the process of dissemination.

One of the groups that Mont Fleur participants presented to and consulted with were select cabinet ministers. Nick Segal, who has researched all major scenario-planning exercises in South Africa, reports that “after the presentation, Derek Keys** casually mentioned that he happened to have in his car slides of a presentation he had recently made to Cabinet on the state of the economy and asked whether the team might have any interest in seeing them”.

This presentation was very influential as the group realised that South Africa wasn’t the rich country that they had believed but was rather in a dire economic situation predominantly as a result of sanctions and a very expensive war with the frontline states.

Segal goes on to say: “In mid-September 1992, only a few weeks after this episode and at a time when political negotiations had broken down, a wide-ranging interview with Mandela was published in Johannesburg’s leading daily newspaper The Star. Mandela made the following comments on the economy: ‘We want to break the deadlock (in the negotiations), because if we don’t, I fear that the economy is going to be so destroyed that when a democratic government comes into power, it will no longer be able to solve it. The longer it takes for democracy to be introduced, the more difficult it will be to repair the economy.’ ” Mandela’s position was changed as a result of a meeting the previous week with Manuel where they had discussed Key’s presentation on the economy.

The ANC’s economic policy was changing.

The four scenarios developed covered South Africa for the period 1992 to 2002 describing possible futures and how they would have an impact on the social, economic and political agenda. The idea was not to develop definitive truths but to stimulate debate on these topics.

The four scenarios described in the final Mont Fleur document are:

  • Ostrich, in which a negotiated settlement to the crisis in South Africa is not achieved and the country’s government continues to be non-representative.
  • Lame Duck, in which a settlement is achieved but the transition to a new dispensation is slow and indecisive.
  • Icarus, in which transition is rapid but the new government unwisely pursues unsustainable, populist economic policies.
  • Flight of the Flamingos, in which the government’s policies are sustainable and the country takes a path of inclusive growth and democracy.

Speaking about Keys’ presentation Manuel says “Derek sat around and chatted with us, and it was very important, because we were trying to understand the Icarus scenario and the dangers of macro-economic populism. That was certainly profound for me”. It was the start of a friendship and mentoring relationship across the political divide that Manuel and others admit was important in preparing the young team for the task that lay ahead. (From Alister Sparks’ book Beyond the Miracle)

Last year I invited Maphai (currently SAB executive director for corporate affairs and at the time chairman of BHP Billiton) to speak to our strategy students at UCT. Not wanting to miss the opportunity I asked him how much Mont Fleur had affected ANC economic thinking. He confirmed that the scenario exercise had had a profound affect on the participants who later went on to hold very influential positions in South Africa post 1994.

Mboweni, who became Reserve Bank Governor in 1999 stated in his inauguration address “we are not Icarus; there is no need to fear that we will fly too close to the sun”.

In his book, Solving Tough Problems, the facilitator of Mont Fleur, Kahane, quotes Manuel saying: “It’s not a straight line [from Mont Fleur to GEAR]. It meanders through, but there is a fair amount in all that going back to Mont Fleur … I could close my eyes now and give you those scenarios like this. I’ve internalised them and if you have internalised something then you probably carry it with you for life.”

With Manuel’s success as finance minister, following very similar policies to those outlined by the Flight of Flamingos Scenario, the question is whether he will now, in the possibly more powerful position as head of the National Planning Commission, be able to influence ANC policy sufficiently to keep the organisation on the right side of the balance between sound economic policy and macro-economic populism.

That the ANC is bigger than its individuals was demonstrated in the recalling of Thabo Mbeki last year. It is unlikely that Manuel was simply a renegade finance minister who managed a policy which wasn’t in line with broader ANC thinking.

Jacob Zuma’s resistance thus far to give into the labour movements’ calls for more populist policies, bodes well for a theory that it wasn’t Manuel alone that set the course of economic policy over the past years but that it was a widely accepted ANC approach.

ANC thinking is clearly aligned with that of Mboweni, Mbeki and Manuel and while South Africa has yet to demonstrate that sound economic policy rather than macro-economic populism delivers to the poor and not only the rich, a break with this thinking would lead us down a hole from which it will be difficult to recover.

* With the notable exception of the Inkatha Freedom Party

** Derek Keys — former Gencor executive chairman, brought into the cabinet by FW de Klerk as minister of economic affairs in January of 1992 later taking over the finance portfolio and becoming finance minister from 1992 to September 1994.

Full list of Mont Fleur participants:

  • Dorothy Boesak
  • Rob Davies
  • Howard Gabriels
  • Adam Kahane
  • Koosum Kalyan
  • Michiel le Roux
  • Pieter le Roux
  • Johann Liebenberg
  • Saki Macozoma
  • Tito Mboweni
  • Gaby Magomola
  • Mosebyane Malatsi
  • Thobeka Cikizwa Mangwana
  • Trevor Manuel
  • Vincent Thabane Maphai
  • Philip Mohr
  • Nicky Morgan
  • Patrick Ncube
  • Gugile Nkwinti
  • Brian O’Connell
  • Mahlomola Skosana
  • Viviene Taylor
  • Sue van der Merwe
  • Dr Winfried Veit
  • Christo Wiese

Vitality and Voyager-like rewards for the poor

The Broccoli Project, an innovative scheme created by Marc Anthony Zimmerman, offers rewards to the poor in exchange for socially beneficial behaviour. Zimmerman, a successful social entrepreneur was inspired by CK Prahalad’s book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. He explains that while the rich are offered numerous incentives through reward schemes, there is nothing similar for the poor. The project works by linking activities such as taking HIV tests to reward vouchers.

The Broccoli project was nominated by Andrea Bohmert of Hasso Plattner Ventures for the regional Global Entrepreneurship Competition run by the City of Cape Town. The project won that competition and the prize of a fully paid entry into the World Innovation Summit in Barcelona (called HiT Barcelona) taking place from the 17th to 19th June. Along with competing for a prize of 50 000 euros, the project will be presented in front of some of the worlds leading venture capitalists who are looking for enterprises to fund.

The scheme follows well-researched projects like the Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America and more recently New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Opportunity NYC programme. The former programmes have reported a substantial decline in poverty among programme participants.

An issue with these programmes is their high administrative costs which the Broccoli project aims to keep to a minimum using fingerprint technology and barcoded vouchers. Based on the many incentive and loyalty programmes targeting the rich, participants are treated as adults able to make their own decisions about their behaviours. This is a world apart from a handout which has been the traditional way to help the poor.

Vouchers received for positive behaviours such as encouraging attendance of skills-development workshops, staying in school, preventing disease and taking medication can be redeemed at a national retailer for food. In addition to the rewards, anybody can buy and give vouchers which guarantees that a handout at a traffic light turns into a basic food staple such as bread, milk, maize meal or vegetables.

The Broccoli Project is already operational and has been working with a number of organisations including the Desmond Tutu HIV/Aids Foundation. A short news clip from CNBC Africa highlights the benefits of the programme and how it works.

With Zimmerman on his way to Barcelona this weekend, you can support their chances in the global competition by entering a comment which counts as a vote of support for their project.

As Broccoli says on its website “When last did you get the opportunity to make a real, meaningful difference that could literally change the world? And all you had to do was click a button. Vote for The Broccoli Project to win at the World Innovation Summit.”

Intellectual Vandalism

A friend told me about a house he was building. It took months to get it nearly complete. Lots of work by lots of people, creating something of beauty that everyone could admire. A week before completion vandals broke into the property and ripped the place to pieces, just for fun.

Vandalism sits on the opposite end of the continuum to creativity.

This story has many parallels in the world. An employee spends hours working on a new idea only for their boss to reject it without offering any suggestions for improvement.

A child spends hours on a project only for a teacher to dismiss it without proper acknowledgment.

The hallmark of intellectual vandals are those that only break down without offering an alternative. Criticism is always welcome, if constructive. Intellectual vandals seldom offer anything constructive.

Their interactions mostly consist of vigorous attempts to shoot down ideas and make them less valuable.

The destruction of ideas, thoughts and concepts is much easier than creating new thought. Vandalism is much easier than creativity. As in the example of the ‘house-breakers’, the ‘idea-breakers’ use a fraction of the energy of the creative.

Like the child who breaks down sand castles on the beach because they are more beautiful than hers, the intellectual vandal looks to bring all ideas down to a size that he can feel less intimidated.

Zuma’s Wednesday Challenge

South Africa isn’t short of skills, people, resources or imagination. What it is short of is a common vision. Common implies most of us buy into it and will take whatever steps it takes to achieve it. Sometimes we will need to make sacrifices in the short term for the long.

The world has known a few common visions that have worked. Mahatma Ghandi brought the British Empire to its knees with his (it took 30 odd years). JFK put a man on the moon with his (7 years – watch and listen to his inspiring words).

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
(Read the full speech from Rice University on 12th September 1962)

Nelson Mandela galvanized a generation around his vision which took 27 years to emerge:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
(Read his full speech from the dock of the Rivonia Trial on 20th April 1964)

More recently Barack Obama got elected on the simple promise of “We can”.

Companies have been built on great visions too. Henry Ford dedicated his whole life to “consumerism as the key to peace” and his legacy stands for itself (despite most recent woes).

Bill Gates pictured a PC on every desk and got some people to follow him and look what happened. Larry Page and Sergey Brin saw an opportunity to organize the worlds information and Google continues to live this vision.

The word ‘Vision’ has unfortunately in recent years been killed by overuse. Consultants and others have reduced it to a ‘Vision Statement’, lost amongst piles of strategy papers, mission statements, values and principals.

Imagine Nelson Mandela with a ‘Vision Statement’ on the wall of his cell, neatly framed and repeated everyday like an affirmation. It loses some of its effect doesn’t it?

True vision is much more powerful than a plaque on the wall. It describes something which gets our hearts beating faster. It creates a desire to do more. It is compelling. When clear, the last thing I want is to be left behind or left out from that vision.

A compelling vision is also simple. It is not a shopping list or an agenda. It is bold, uncomplicated, accessible and embraced.

Unfortunately over the past years our country has become visionless. We are falling well short of our potential. Mbeki lost the plot once he got into the presidents chair. He became defensive and a petty squabbler. Arguing about the issues rather than raising above them. He fell short of the political leader that he could have been.

South Africa needs a leader who can inspire and unite. There is no place for division amongst true leaders. The leaders above are remembered for their bold view of the future which united people to join and follow them. Paradoxically it is simple and it is hard.

On Wednesday, Zuma will give his state of the nation address. His task is not easy, what is the single vision that could unite South Africa in 2009?

Vision takes time to emerge. Wednesday may however just be the start that we need. I believe that we are hungrier than ever for a compelling vision. Like a CEO taking over a troubled company, the bad times are sometimes easier to make bold moves and to change course decisively.

Dare we dream that it is possible.

The case for optimism

Even if I’m completely wrong.

If there had been two ways that something could work out and I have chosen the incorrect one.

If I had been smoking my socks and there is no validity in what I thought would happen.

If it is now entirely clear that I have been unrealistic and out of touch with the reality of how things work.

I believed something better would happen than it did. My judgment failed me and left me choosing a fantasy rather than seeing the harsh reality of the situation.

When my optimistic view on the issue, which I have held on to, is proven out of touch with what has happened. When my optimistic view has been held up for all its faults.

When, on that day, I am devastated by the consequences of choosing the wrong option and have left dealing with how to cope with a scenario I had not anticipated.

On that day, the day that I am wrong, I will say, “You were right, I was wrong.”

Between today and then however, I will have been happier, slept better, held more hope and had more fun, than the pessimist.

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