Nelson Mandela Day:
This Monday, we decided to set the tone for the upcoming week and reflect on the values that are important in this ever-changing world. The reason is that last week ended with Nelson Mandela International Day on Sunday 18 July, and we wanted to take this time to think about what this day means for us.
So, what is Nelson Mandela International Day and how did it come about?
On November 2009 UN General Assembly declared 18 July as “Nelson Mandela International Day”, in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom. The resolution recognises Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity1. Every Year the day is celebrated to shine light on the legacy of a man who changed the 20th century and helped shape the 21st. It is also a moment to renew with the values that inspired Nelson Mandela2. On this day, the idea that every individual has the power to transform the world and the ability to make an impact, is encouraged and celebrated.
Social justice and human rights are central to commemoration of this day, and the upholding of these values continues to be highly relevant. Since the start of the pandemic, we have witnessed the death of George Floyd and the renewed Black Lives Matter movement in response to it, exposing the continuous systemic racism that has for long been permeating our societies. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities has also exposed the existing structures that perpetuate disadvantage. And last week, we have seen a wave of racist abuse directed at England players, following the Euro 2020 final. However, these are large, sole events that catch the public attention infrequently, serving as short-lived reminders about the injustice around us. What lies beneath, however, are the daily occurrences and systems that remain resistant to change and to achieving social justice. For as long as we continue to be ignorant of these everyday structures that continue to accommodate racism, whether conscious or not, these shocking events will also continue to happen. It is for this reason that we need to start facilitating the change, no matter how big or small.
How do we define social justice?
To understand social justice, we must take a look at how our experience of our social identities is shaped by power, privilege and oppression.
One definition of social justice is that it is ‘’both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are psychologically and physically safe and secure3.”
Whilst achieving full social justice may yet be out of our reach, we can start by focusing on our own environments – our place of work, our communities, as well as addressing the issues of injustice in our everyday actions.
Addressing injustice from within
As a consultancy that focuses on organisational health, we continuously shine a light on the notion of social justice and help businesses to recognise its relevance in competitive advantage and value to stakeholders, whilst helping them to address it.
Businesses are a critical component of any society, and it is imperative that they function in ways that best serve the communities in which they operate. We live in a globalised world, which is increasingly becoming more diverse, and with that, the challenge of achieving an equitable society is also growing in importance. For businesses to continue being relevant to the ever-changing communities in which they operate and to best serve them, they must ensure that internally, they are reflecting the positive change that needs to happen externally. First and foremost, this means focusing on social justice from within, which should be at the heart of a business with purpose.
But what are the specific steps that businesses can take?
Reflecting the communities in which they operate
This step is absolutely critical, as the only way to serve diverse communities is by ensuring diversity from within. This means recruiting individuals from a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds, regardless of their age, disability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or belief. By promoting diversity, businesses are also promoting equitable access to opportunities for individuals regardless of their background or social identity. However, we must remember that it is equally important to ensure that the diversity is reflected across all levels, and that every person within an organisation is given an equitable access to growth and opportunities. This must be actively encouraged by the leadership. Social Justice from within starts at the top!
Facilitating inclusion and good overall organisational health
Having a diverse team is one of the biggest assets of any organisation however, this will not be effective without a culture that nurtures inclusion. A culture that makes everyone feel included, will go a long way in enabling employees to perform to their best abilities, whilst striving towards a common goal. Businesses that are able to achieve inclusive culture and good organisational health, will also be leaders in promoting positive social change.
Encouraging open conversations
Open conversations are one of the key tools required in building an environment that can bring about positive change. Conversations are important, as they enable individuals to understand the experiences of others, and how those experiences have an impact on their lives. Open conversations will enable leaders to ensure that their decisions and choices are reflecting the needs of employees and the wider society. Finally, they are a key for making each one of us more empathetic and understanding of the struggles of others, this way building a more accepting world.
These actions stretch far beyond the internal and are an important first step in bringing a long-lasting and sustainable positive change in the society, in pursuit of social justice, equity and inclusion. Every entity, be it an individual or an organisation, has a role to play and every action, however insignificant it feels, can have an impact beyond the intended. This reminds us of an old wisdom that all change starts from within.
So, as we look back at this important day of commemorating Nelson Mandela in 2021, let us take on these learnings for the rest of the year and going forward.
Happy Nelson Mandela International Day 2021 from all of us at Team Lumorus.
- Bell, L. (2013). Theoretical foundations. In M. Adams, W.J. Blumenfeld, C.Castañeda, H.W. Hackman, M.L. Petrs, & X. Zúñiga. (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge