Fikile Kuhlase joined the Old Mutual Foundation in December 2019. As the Head of the Foundation, she was tasked with leading Old Mutual’s Covid-19 community response relief programme, focussing on education, health and hygiene, food security and employee volunteerism. Neither she nor Old Mutual had reckoned on the sudden about-turn that their plans would have to undergo.
Kuhlase gave us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the Old Mutual Foundation responded to sudden emergency, and lessons learnt during this unprecedented time.
How did you change your business or foundation strategy?
We acknowledged the urgent need to repurpose our plans and programmes and align them to the most pressing needs confronting us.
Governance and contracting processes had to be made more agile and responsive, while not compromising on accountability, risk management and good governance.
There were some rapid response and turnaround periods where we had to table plans and budgets and have them approved in record time. The Old Mutual approach was both agile and adaptive as the crisis unfolded, with our focus being pretty comprehensive; health, education, food security, jobs, and micro, small and medium enterprises.
Old Mutual was amongst a growing number of companies stepping forward with initiatives across the matrix to save lives and livelihoods.
What stood out to me most was the pace at which we set up governance structures, such as the Old Mutual’s Covid-19 Response Team and how we collaborated so well in the midst of a disaster.
What aspects of formulating a Covid-19 strategy were frustrating or difficult to you?
Difficult aspects were often misaligned priorities. For example, do we ensure continued learning through e-learning and online resources, or do we provide food to the nine million learners that depend on the National School Nutrition Programme? The tradeoffs and difficult discussions internally were sometimes frustrating.
On what basis did you pick programmes to fund?
Crisis management does not give you the liberty of errors in judgment. So, together with the team, we recommended those NPOs that we had utilised before and knew were very competent and so would not let us down with non-delivery.
What key business and development traits did this pandemic teach you?
Risk-taking is a necessity in times of crisis. A national disaster must make Boards more open to mistakes that teams may make while in crisis mode. Also, it’s important to have a sustainability plan to exit the national disaster/crisis management stage. For example, we have moved from food parcels and vouchers to community food gardens and nutrition programmes.
People talk a lot about the ‘new normal’. Was the old normal ‘normal’, in your view?
I agree with Sonya Renee Taylor who says: ‘We will never go back to normal. Normal never was … We should not long to return … We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all humanity and nature.’
So the old normal was not normal. We just got used to the abnormal!
We have been given a big ‘pause’ to rethink our humanity. We now have an opportunity to do better.
In CSI, what is the old normal and what should the new normal be, in your view?
- The old is the lack of collaboration; the new is partnerships and collaborations for greater impact.
- The old is listening to the same voices in the CSI industry; the new is amplifying voices of the voiceless and introducing new, young and different voices.
- The old is CSI not understanding that government has the mandate and they are voluntary players in the space; the new is to respect and meaningfully partner with government.
- The old CSI practitioner deals exclusively with some NPOs; the new CSI practitioner is inclusive, with empathy and a passion to enable new players in CSI.
- The old is everyone being a CSI practitioner; the new is the professionalised and strategic CSI practitioner.
What books are you currently reading?
2 Word Story – Because Everyone Has a Story
Reimagining Myself by Ntsikelelo Mzibomvu
Leading from Purpose by Nick Craig
The Path Made Clear – Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose by Oprah Winfrey