End-of-year reflection for 2017

The end of the year is approaching once again. Time seems to be “accelerating” recently.

I strongly believe in the value of debriefs at the end of a calendar year, and at the end of a difficult project which did not go as expected.

The US Military calls these the After-Action Review (AAR) and requires one after each combat engagement. These debriefs are done at both squad and command level. Even Julius Caesar was known to have done them.

Formal reflection or debriefs also provide value to non-profit organizations and social enterprises. They help to accelerate learning. I’ve recently facilitated several end-of-year reviews for my clients, and the sessions have proven insightful. I encourage you to schedule time to reflect before this year ends.

Here are some extracts from my review before I took leave on 15 December 2017 for a much-needed break. It sheds some insights into my work with non-profit organizations and social enterprises in South Africa.

Industry level reflections

The social enterprise sector in South Africa has continued to grow, though the “noise” or “brand” of the sector still exceeds the level of actual activity. Most of the social enterprises I encounter are young, very enthusiastic and making headway on their journey to social enterprise.

The Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship have recently completed South Africa’s first national study of social enterprises. This study ended up interviewing an impressive sample of 453 organizations. I’ve been privileged to have provided technical input into the research design and reporting processes. The results will come out in early 2018 and are bound to enhance our understanding of this sector.

The Economic Development Department (EDD) in National Government has recently entered into a formal partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to develop a Social Economy Strategy for South Africa. I’ve also been fortunate to provide input into this strategy and will hopefully continue to do so. My experience with developing the Social Entrepreneurship Strategy for the Western Cape Government will help me contribute in meaningful ways. The team from EDD/ILO has a hard road ahead of them, given the diversity and politics of the social economy in South Africa. This task is only possible if they can tap into the wiling expertise that already exists within the sector.

I’ve also supported several larger non-profit organizations to develop methods of pursuing other income sources, and think creatively about managing their cost structures, building reserves etc. This has perhaps accounted for 50% of my work in 2017. My work has helped them to find clarity and prevent future pain.

What’s interesting is how so many of these larger organizations start off think that these sustainability strategies are simply an add-on or plugin to what they’re already doing. However, I feel that these must be woven tightly into their central business strategy.

It seems that younger organizations are more agile and tend to identify with the idea of “social enterprise”, while the older more established non-profit organizations are now starting to see the necessity of a formal strategy to help them to develop reserves and diversify their income streams.

The issue of language or terminology used by non-profit organizations in South Africa has always featured and continues to frustrate me. Most notable is the view that income is separate from donations or that social enterprise is a legal form. I repeatedly learn the lesson (the hard way) that it’s impossible to think clearly about a strategy without using correct and precise language. These misconceptions have a nasty tendency to narrow thinking and send organizations down the wrong path. Fortunately, it is very easy to learn the right language and terminology.

My ongoing work with at the Graduate School of Business, Citizen Surveys, Imani Development and Social Enterprise Academy has continued throughout the year. This has provided me with a rich diversity of projects, and kept me on a sharp learning curve.

Personal level reflections

At a personal level, I’ve been busier than ever before, and have struggled to find times to take good breaks. This has led to me feeling exhausted and desperately in need of a holiday. I’ve made two commitments to address this. Firstly, my wife and I have booked a three-week holiday to the Middle-East for next year. Secondly, I’ll be taking a full month of holiday, starting this Friday.

I’ve also just adopted a kitten from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and this is bringing lots of joy to our lives. I’ve been very impressed by how professional the SPCA operation is and extremely grateful to them for the good work they do.

My level of extreme busyness this year has meant I’ve needed to selective about the type of work I do, and strict about “how I work” and the philosophy in which I operate. I’ve needed to turn down a fair amount of work that did not fit with these criteria, and consequently have become more effective at saying “no”.

However, I’ve put lots of effort into creating content for my presentations and website that answers the questions I’ve regularly asked, and issues I regularly encounter in my work. I’ve received positive feedback for this content, and sincerely appreciate it.

I’ve also needed to upgrade my productivity software tools (e.g. using Nozbe) and implement Getting Things Done (GTD) to better manage my workflow. I can’t emphasize how important it is to have the right tools to serve your needs, even if you have to pay for them.

I’ve been working increasingly in teams for my consulting work, primarily with Imani Development and Nicole Copley from NGO-Law SA. This has enabled me to focus on doing what I do best, while partnering with other experts and enabling them to do the same. I agree with the saying that nothing great can be achieved alone.

My partnerships have helped support the attitude of abundance I’ve been cultivating within myself. By letting go and sharing with others, I’ve in return been able to do more, achieve more and provide much better value to my clients.

Podcasts have brought incredible wisdom and encouragement to me throughout the year, especially while I’m driving or stuck in traffic. Some podcasts you may find interesting are by Michael Hyatt, Kevin Kruse, and Invisible Office Hours by Paul Jarvis and Jason Zook. They’ve also helped me to identify which books to read since podcasts frequently interview authors.

The non-fiction book I’ve most enjoyed this year is Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki, and the book I’ve most recommended to my clients has been Necessary Endings by Dr Henry Cloud.

A final mention to the value of exercise in maintaining a clear mind. I’ve been lifting weights about three to four times per week at my local gym for the past year, in addition to taking regular walks in Kirstenbosch and around my neighbourhood. I’ve been consistently amazed about the power of exercise to produce mental clarity and a feeling of upliftment. This is a habit I will continue into 2018.

Work plans for 2018

My intentions for 2018 are beginning to reveal themselves.

I intend to continue mentoring social entrepreneurs – work that I find deeply emotionally fulfilling.

I also expect my work to continue with larger non-profit organizations that need to develop “sustainability strategies” and undergo restructuring. My hope is to build a product that enables these organizations to do this much more swiftly than before.

I will continue to write and design presentations and build content for my platforms. Since I’m an extrovert and avid speaker I will continue to do this wherever opportunity presents itself. I also have an opportunity to write a book on social enterprise in South Africa, something I will seriously consider and need to make time do to.

I will continue to support efforts to develop the ecosystem for social entrepreneurs in Africa, and some visits to East Africa also appear likely.

Overall, I intend to thoroughly enjoy my work as I’ve done this year, and work with many great people to achieve meaningful impact in the world.

Cultivating strategic clarity.

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