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Straight Talk – UBUNTU: Culture and Vision

Straight Talk – UBUNTU: Culture and Vision

Written by Stella Nicholls


“Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual.”

-Stephen Lundin and Bob Nelson – Ubuntu!


A Welsh girl by birth, born just down the road from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, one would think that I am proudly Welsh. And I am but, being taken from my lovely little school, Lansdowne Road and whipped across the ocean on an old mail ship, saw me needing to embrace the culture of a new land.  South Africa, the beautiful technicolour land, where we emigrated so that my Dad could work on the telephone systems over there, became my home.  South Africa has a way of getting under the skin and grabbing your heart. Beautiful African sunsets, wildlife, and the rhythmic sounds of African children singing is like a soothing balm to the soul.

Despite the beauty of South Africa and, despite doing my schooling there and learning the history and culture, I always felt that I didn’t quite fit in.  There was always a small part of me that knew that I wasn’t quite home, that these people were not my ‘kin’.  That’s not to say that they didn’t make me feel welcome; South African people are friendly and warm. But I have always felt slightly outside of the norm.

On coming back to live in the UK and settling in Devon, despite being back in ‘Old Blighty’, I found that I still had that strange feeling that I was missing something and didn’t quite belong.

In fact, it was highlighted even more.  I went to watch the Springboks play the Welsh at the Millennium Stadium, having gone to visit my family in Cardiff for the weekend.  I have loads of Welsh aunts, uncles and cousins, and a lot of them are very patriotic about Welsh Rugby.  I must admit, when I put on the Green and Gold Springbok Jersey intent on supporting the Bokke, a team that I love and have supported for years, my Welsh family were rather horrified that I had defected to the opposition.  

All tongue in cheek of course, but as I, a ‘Welsh South African’, sat amidst a sea of red, singing both the Welsh National Anthem (or trying to…I’m ashamed to say that I only know it from the line ‘Gwlad…Gwlad’) and then standing to try and sing, ‘Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika’ the South African Anthem, I couldn’t help but feel a little displaced and confused.  Where did I really fit?

In Southern Africa, there is a beautiful culture that I have heard about over the years, called Ubuntu. This is the belief that we are one human family, one world, each a piece of the puzzle in a united humanity and we are all on the same journey together.  This culture appeals to me, especially as one who has always felt like the ‘new girl’.  The philosophy goes even deeper than that though. In Stephen Lundin and Bob Nelson’s book, ‘Ubuntu!’, they describe it as a unifying spirit amongst human beings that is stronger than past conflicts, and by recognising the humanity of one another, we recognise our unbreakable bond.

In his book, ‘No Future without Forgiveness’, the South African Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as being, ‘…the very essence of being human’.  He goes on to say that it is high praise to say he or she has Ubuntu.  ‘This means they are generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. They share what they have’.  He goes on to say, ‘a person is a person through other people’. In other words, our humanity is caught up in, or inextricably bound to each other.

So, what does Ubuntu Philosophy have to do with living and working in Exeter, Devon? Well, I love my job at Grow. It is the best job that I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a few).  When I tried to analyse why (besides the obvious; that I get to hone my writing skills), I realised that the owners of Grow are living the principles of Ubuntu without even realising that it is a ‘thing’.

Ubuntu means we are all in this together. Grow is a team. There isn’t one person that feels more important than the other and we all know our worth. We realise and are aware of what we need to do, so we do it!  We are a community of employees with like-minded values and we work as a team to try and bring insight, inspiration and, ultimately, growth to businesses and people in the area.

Our vision is to see the Greater Exeter area grow as a region, with businesses forming a real sense of community and by showing support to each other.  Whilst we all need to earn a living, to pay wages and rent, it goes far beyond making a profit. The ethos and culture at Grow is one of honesty, integrity and transparency; seasoned by treating others with respect, understanding and sprinkled with some fun and laughter along the way.

We love to hear people’s stories, to engage with people in an authentic way and to help nurture growth in their industries. It is about finding that part of you that connects with other people and bringing it to life. I love visiting the city’s independent businesses each month, to hear their stories, highlights and challenges. After all, in the spirit of Ubuntu, as a community, if one of us struggles, we all struggle.

Whilst Ubuntu is a compassionate philosophy, it isn’t soft.  During my research on the subject, I learned that, in African tradition, if the group is threatened by an individual’s behaviour, then that person must be challenged, in a respectful way. I guess this means, that we hold each other accountable too. We are as strong as our weakest link, so approaching that person or situation in a respectful but firm way would also be part of an ‘Ubuntu culture’. It means I can’t lie in until ten every day as much as I would love to!

Whether I’m a Welsh South African, or a South African Welsh person, I realise that I no longer need to feel that I don’t fit into a country’s culture.  I am a member of the human race, where we are all equal and where we should all be promoting the wellbeing of others through trust and respect. Home at last!





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