I am because we are: Charting an Ubuntu-Inspired Roadmap for Inclusive, Responsible Design Leadership
The concept of design thinking has the potential to drive innovation, but it's crucial to ensure that the outcomes benefit all stakeholders involved. This is why the Design at Business initiative is exploring the African humanist ethos of Ubuntu, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people, and how it can shape design focus and human-centered leadership to achieve better results for everyone.
A group of design thinkers from around the world gathered at the opening of the Hasso Plattner d-school to discuss how an Ubuntu-inspired mindset can impact design, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The panel which was led by Ulrich Meyer-Höllings included experts in their fields, such as Phumzile Mmope, Mugendi M'rithaa, and Joern Bruecker, who have all been exploring these ideas in-depth and from various angles.
Leading up to the d.confestival in Cape Town, a group of design-minded thought leaders explored the values that underpin and inspire the creation of a Design at Business Ubuntu Manifesto. The group led by Christine Wenzel and Wiebke Piekarowitz, hosted a series of Ubuntu workshops which concluded into the guiding question "How might we transform ourselves by going back to the core of our being with an Ubuntu mindset to effectively lead with more meaningful impact?" The focus is on the critical importance of inclusivity, responsibility, and sustainability in design thinking, highlighting how these values can be integrated into every step of the design process. By emphasizing the need to create more socially and environmentally conscious designs, the team aims to inspire design professionals to prioritize the greater good and make a positive impact on the world through their work.
Phumzile Mmope, a South African, shared her belief that a different leadership mindset is needed to improve the ways of co-creating, collaborating, and innovating through design thinking, especially in culturally diverse contexts. She emphasized that Ubuntu offers a powerful way to train the leadership mindset needed to enhance their work. Furthermore, she highlighted that leadership should be about people and not just organizations, strategies, or plans, with an emphasis on the leadership of the people who are at the forefront of design thinking.
Mugendi M'rithaa introduced his notion of participatory design, which is informed by African proverbs, particularly the philosophy of Ubuntu. He described Ubuntu as a rich philosophy that goes beyond individualistic thinking and demands community participation. Mugendi's understanding of Ubuntu is "I participate, therefore I am," where engagement with others is essential. Co-creation and collaboration are fundamental principles of design thinking and reinforce the concept of Ubuntu.
Mugendi also highlighted that Ubuntu is context-specific and requires suspending judgment to focus on the present moment. He emphasized that participation is key to becoming a richer and fuller human being, and communitarianism, not communism, is the philosophy of Ubuntu.
Joern Bruecker, a senior business leader, reflected on the relevance of Ubuntu as a principle in the world of business and how it impacts design thinking, innovation, organization, and leadership transformation in large organizations. A series of examples illustrated the importance of Ubuntu in an organizational context and how it should shape the mindset of leaders in how they lead. It pointed out that the previously Eurocentric approach in organizational leadership perpetuated individualism and competitiveness, while the Afrocentric approach emphasized interdependence, collectivism, and leaving no one behind. Realizing that being a human preceds the human doing, and it is essential to be inclusive, participate, and involve others for them to take ownership and achieve a deeper understanding.
The discussion highlighted the importance of Ubuntu in the business world and how it can inform corporate strategy and leadership. The concept of leaving no one behind and emphasizing interdependence and collectivism can lead to more sustainable success and prosperity for both the company and society as well as their individuals. As the world becomes more diverse and heterogeneous, it is essential for leaders to embrace an Ubuntu mindset and lead with self-leadership and inclusivity.
In conclusion, the Design at Business Ubuntu Journey will emphasize the importance of inclusivity, responsibility, and sustainability in design thinking, while an Ubuntu-inspired mindset can impact design, innovation, and entrepreneurship to produce better results for everyone. The insights shared by Phumzile Mmope, Mugendi M'rithaa, and Joern Bruecker were thought-provoking and highlight the richness and complexity of Ubuntu and how it can shape design focus and human-centered leadership to achieve better outcomes for all. The session was a testament to the power of co-creation, collaboration, and cultural diversity, and the attendees left with a better understanding of how they could use these principles to enhance their work and life.
Stay curious and tune in regularly!
Greetings from the team around Ubuntu consisting of Christine Wenzel, Wiebke Piekarowitz, Joern Bruecker, Phumzile Mmope, Baratang Mia, John Wai Lam, Sandra Werner & Ulrich Meyer Höllings!