Event #4: Ethics, Education, Organisations and Society

The intention of this article is to capture and share the dialogue from our 4th event “Designing Institutions to Support the Future African City”. This was the first workshop held at GIBS, in their Co-Central Space, which created a really constructive environment for what was an incredibly broad and ambitious topic.

(The below is an extract from our MC for the night, Thabo Nqcobo’s introduction to the evening’s topic which he articulated so exceptionally well I will not even attempt to paraphrase):

The GWS aims to enrich society by encouraging organisations to adopt more human ways of working. We do this by engaging people in public lectures, events and workshops. Our event tonight will take the form of a workshop, where you’ll be invited to share your ideas and help design the ethics that will guide the development of a future African city. Ethics will be the starting point for our design exercise, in other words, what ethics need to be in place to guide how people learn and work in this future African society?”

Why ethics as a starting point?

According to leading systems thinkers and philosophers, the most impactful leverage point we can use to change a system is its paradigms. Ethics forms a large part of this and this is why we believe it’s necessary to think about and begin at this point.

There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty around the 4th industrial revolution. But presently, it seems that our technology is advancing at a far more rapid pace than our ethics and so it’s important to critically review the paradigms out of which our current system and ways of doings things emerge.

An interesting development in this regard would be the recent ‘Fees Must Fall’ movement. It started and was presented to us as people wanting access. To use Steve Biko’s analogy, if education was a table, the students were simply asking for transformation and access to seats at that table, but what evolved from their discussions was a call to reimagine education entirely.

And we saw students begin to question the very foundational ideas that underpin our current approach to education, including the commodification of education, and what Achille Mbembe refers to as ‘the cycle that turns students into customers’. As well as questioning the idea of the pursuit of knowledge as a means to an end, particularly to secure jobs, buy houses etc.

Knowledge as an End

What is increasingly emerging, is that in order to respond to a rapidly changing society, students will have to return to a love of knowledge for knowledge sake. And naturally this leads us all to wonder what kind of society and institutions we’d have to build to enable this and the ethics that would guide them.

This is what we’ve invited you to do tonight, and just like those students we’d like you to start with a clean slate and take a subversive approach to everything we know and take for granted and see what emerges.

To ground the evening’s design session in some incredibly useful theory Fatima Adam, who holds a PhD in Higher Education Transformation, gave us a brief presentation on the relationship between education and society, the role of institutions in this rapidly changing context and what is necessary from a skills perspective to ensure that students entering the workplace are equipped to succeed.

Relationship between Education and Society: Fatima Adam

According to Fatima societies and education have always been connected, however the relationship has changed as societies have evolved at a rapid pace, and educational institutions have remained stagnant, not adapting at the same rate. As a result we now have extremely complex societies, with new demands from its institutions, and conversely we have institutions that are slow to change and are not adequately enabling these demands to be met by its students and graduates.

In addition, according to Fatima, jobs may not exist in the ways in which students have been trained and organisations are not able to find ways to absorb graduates who are inadequately prepared for what the organisation needs from them.

Post School: Fatima Adam

Educational institutions need to start prioritising focusing on developing the right capabilities in students.

In fact, for Fatima, the priority areas are:

Thinking, reasoning and engaging with others:

  • Which is the ability to critically engage with information and knowledge using evidence (judgement, discerning, distilling)

  • Problem solving, which is linked to systemic thinking i.e.: understanding the relationships between cause and effect and the impact of one issue on others

  • Collaboration with others, and a respect for diversity

  • Resilience/Grit and adaptability

Education System Focus Areas: Fatima Adam

In addition, students need to start doing what they are passionate about, not what they think will get them a job.

Education is not here to serve markets and markets alone, it is to develop active citizens.

This country needs ethical citizens- otherwise we’re going to be in jeopardy as a society. There’s a need to develop a love for learning, in a non commodified way. This produces people with the ability to learn, (then the workplace help them to become productive in these spaces.)

In addition workplaces need to take account for creating an environment which develops the right talent, that supports and allows them to develop thinking skills and traits — for a dynamic and constantly changing society.

In order to start re-aligning institutions and society to support and develop young peoples success, in Fatima’s view the below needs to be encouraged:

What Institutions Can Do: Fatima Adam

With these deeply useful insights as our anchor points the participants were divided into 3 groups( schools, universities and organisations), where through a design process, they were facilitated towards thinking about the first steps necessary to start to shift towards this ideal.

The below are the initial ideas that were workshopped:


This group’s area of focus was on developing empathy in our students. The primary question they settled on addressing was “can we start thinking about schools as a community?” Is there possibility to shift how people in schools view one another as members of a community? A possible departure point, which has subsequently been taken forward by the group to expand on, is the idea of exploring a student lead initiative of feeding your peers. In ensuring that your classmates are all nourished, as a collective responsibility, what other benefits will be elicited for the school community?

Tertiary Institutions:

The ideas in this group were around embracing diversity, as well as problem-solving and bringing disparate parts together to solve problems. Their departure idea was to introduce Faculty Sandboxing/ Creating a business case/ or identifying a challenge specific to that department for students in other departments to solve, encouraging cross faculty collaboration for credit.


For their discussion, this group focused on both developing empathy and critical thinking as a priority for starting to shift organisations, enabling people with a capacity for learning to succeed and thrive. 
Some of their ideas involved reconnecting the economy with society, by making everybody that works go back to the community to teach reading. (This is to both address the literacy gaps as well as to ensure that people in these organisations develop empathy for others.)
In addition, they believed that it could be the role of the organisation to ensure their employees were able to be the best parents possible, that by being a part of the organisation they had a responsibility to the children of their employees. Their second question was “Can we make every person that worked who was a parent more aware of kids and their developmental needs, and give them the tools to be better parents?”

*If you’d like to get involved in joining one of the above conversations and being part of piloting ways to implement them, please join our GWS Slack Group.

The discussion from each of the groups was incredibly insightful with a particular focus on what conditions would need to be in place in order to enable these ideas to be sustainable, what mindsets, shared assumptions and relationships would need to be developed in order for those ideas to work were all part of the dialogue.

We concluded the workshop with a social contracting exercise as each participant committed to taking forward an aspect of the night into their current context and the below are some of the manifesto statements that were generated in the night.

If you’d like to find out more about The GoodWork Society please visit our website and join our mailing list to find out about future events and research.