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The Harvard Law School suggests that “unethical behaviour is often a consequence of a long, unfolding process, starting with an ethical dilemma—a tension between competing values.”

Consider this statement in light of a young South African leader: Current role models have done little to provide a standard by which to model ethical leadership. The diversity across our cultures and value systems means that the likelihood of being confronted by competing values in the workplace is almost assured. And, very few South Africans truly know how to navigate the complexity of a culturally diverse, post-millennial society faced with unprecedented global crises and widening societal gaps.

So where does a young leader learn how to navigate this challenging world into which she/he is thrust? The Harvard quote suggests that left alone, it is likely that a young leader will lean into unethical behaviour if they are unable to deal effectively with the tension between these competing values.

As the Rotary Club of Gately pondered this question, it became clear that the young leaders of today need the opportunity to engage with other leaders and learn from them. This needs to include both seasoned leaders and their own peers. They also need the space within which to have their assumptions and values tested, to be allowed, and indeed, expected, to challenge their own thinking. To be given the opportunity to test their newfound knowledge and use it to make a positive impact in their communities. In short, the elders have a responsibility to facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge in a practical, authentic manner, if we hope that these leaders will have the skills necessary to lead our society through the next season of crisis and change.

And so the Find Your Voice Rotary Leadership programme was born.

Now in its fifth year, the Find Your Voice programme is having an important impact.

Consider Catherine’s testimony: “…this course is making a massive impact on my decision-making and leadership skills. Yesterday, I made a mistake at work. I held myself accountable… and immediately tried to find a solution.”

Course participant, Musa, says, “… you should ask yourself if what you are about to say is true, is it fair to all parties involved, will it build goodwill and make better friendship and lastly will it be beneficial to everyone.  You can then respond honestly if all these statements are answered.”

What would happen in your business or community if more young people (and older people!) could say the same? If more people understood the importance of holding themselves accountable and making ethical decisions?

The opportunity which this programme provides for leaders to learn from others enables each one to interrogate their own assumptions and beliefs. This is an enormous benefit, especially in a world that desperately needs not only ethical leaders but also active citizens who are willing to be part of the change which they wish to see.

One of this year’s delegates, Mpo reminds us that “it’s not always about success and finances but the change we can make around us” and Georgina has done some real soul-searching, as she asked herself: “…what am I doing as a leader in being an active citizen in society and how can I make an impact even if it’s only on a small scale?

Find Your Voice alumni, Zoe, shows us just what an impact this kind of soul-searching can have. Zoe says: “Through the programme, I learnt not to be afraid to go out there and give even if it’s small.  Start where you are, with what you have.” As a result of her improved leadership capacity, and her deliberate commitment to being an active citizen, Zoe initiated a sanitary towel project in her home village of Newlands. With the support of her manager, Zoe has linked the Berea Gardens Retirement Centre into the project, which delivers these essential supplies to girls in two schools. This is a wonderful example of how one person with a vision and passion can make a difference. Not only do the young women of Newlands benefit, but the retirees are afforded an easy opportunity to make a positive contribution. Zoe has connected communities. Her project truly is a win-win in a world which desperately needs us to take care of one another.

Mzie was a delegate on the Programme in 2020 when COVID-19 struck. It was a challenging time for him, as the NGO he worked for faced imminent closure. His manager says “The Find Your Voice Programme made a tremendous impact on Mzie. It gave him the courage of his convictions and taught him how to take action. As a direct result of the programme, Mzie was instrumental in the development of a programme that would benefit hundreds of educators and give them the tools to navigate the immense disruption, fear and uncertainty which they faced. Today, Mzie still works for me, in my new company. I almost certainly would not have employed him had he not had the benefit of this programme, so significant has been his growth. He has always been an ethical person. Today he is an ethical leader who takes action.”

As we look towards 2022, we are excited to invite a new group of young leaders to grow in their personal leadership, to explore what it means to be an ethical leader in this disrupted world and to grow into people who will have the ability to lead their community and business into the future.

Do you have a young leader in your business who would benefit from the opportunity to develop their confidence, emotional intelligence and leadership understanding?

What impact might it have if your staff increased their ability to work with others, better understood the impact of their actions on the team and were more conscious of their thoughts, assumptions and actions?

Would you like to be part of growing ethical leaders and active citizens in East London?

To find out how you can participate, contact the Rotary Find Your Voice Leadership office at or simply select the APPLY tab on this website.

To read more stories of how the Find Your Voice Leadership programme has made an impact, click here.

Author: Anne-Lise Bollaert-Davies (BDI Management) | Programme Administration