Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela's life represented more than a selfless struggle for justice in Apartheid South Africa; his unwavering compassion, devotion to humanity, courage and wisdom inspired many who remember him today.
As we, in the Arab world, experience political flux, I think we can all draw inspiration from Mandela on how we want history to remember us. Amidst a world where we are often divided by who and what we are against rather than our shared values, Mandela offers many lessons of love, compassion and empathy to politicians and social activists. As satirical news site the Onion has joked, Mandela had become the first politician to actually be missed.
Even the business world stands to learn from this magnanimous man. Here are 6 quotes that reveal ways entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and business leaders can find their inner Mandela:
1. "Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world."
It’s easy to become distracted doing things that are related to, but not core to our vision. The whirlwind of being busy can deceptively leads us to believe we are achieving something. Like many entrepreneurs, I have experienced the feeling of being super busy but going nowhere. Yet time is my scarcest resource and I am learning to scrupulously evaluate every decision I make: will this bring me closer to actualizing my vision?
2. "There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."
Think big. Give yourself permission to excel in everything that you do. Inspire others with your lofty goals and bold visions to trail-blaze in your sector or dimension of choice, even if its a simple business innovation. How could you stretch your business vision and get people to believe in something that's far bigger than yourself or simple consumption?
3. “Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.”
Mandela has described that a leader is like a shepherd, “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” A good leader demonstrates humility—letting other’s shine and feel their value beyond measure.
Bill Clinton once said that, “Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we’d like to be him on our best day.” Doing the same at your company can inspire leadership and a sense of owernship in others that not only brings the business to the next level, but creates a culture of growth.
4. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.”
Social entrepreneurs like Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus catapulted microfinance into the core of the aid and development sector. Acumen founder and CEO Jacquline Novogratz tackles poverty through dignity and market-based approaches. Many social entrepreneurs in the Arab world are also dislodging the traditional approach of charity for more sustainable solutions to economic justice.
Companies that still practice donation-centric corporate social responsibility (CSR) can learn from this by empowering—rather than creating donor-dependency (including taking an approach on the lines of Corporate Entrepreneurship Responsibilty). This can include training and/or employing the marginalized and excluded, capacity building for NGOs in terms of management, financial planning, and marketing, or investing in—and mentoring—women to run micro-enterprises.
5. Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead
Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison in his struggle for justice, said, “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
An entrepreneur’s work is never done. We can always do better. Reach higher. Go farther. Sometimes it feels like we haven’t accomplished anything at all. It’s important to stop and celebrate those small successes and milestones and take in the “glorious vista” along the uphill climb. Remind yourself how far you have come as you look at the road ahead.
6. "It always seems impossible until it's done."
The road to success is freckled with failures. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,” said Mandela.
At the 2013 World Entrepreneurship Forum, Fadi Ghandour described an entrepreneur’s learning process as one of “continuous trying and failing.” Young entreprenuers can keep in mind that it took Egypt’s Azza Fahmy decades to achieve coveted status among fine jewelry brands like Cartier and Bulgari.
Leaving a legacy takes patience, resilience and determination. Keep going. Push the boundaries of what's possible.