Together Apart: The Human Factor

Thabo Limema

Most religions in the world believe in one fundamental principle – ‘Do to others as you would like them to do to you.’ The so-called ‘Golden Rule’. For many years of my life, I was limited to understanding this principle in a narrow and local context.

As the years went by, and I started travelling the world, I started to appreciate the ‘Human Factor’ in every interaction I had – be it with those that I could have conversations with and share a joke or two, or with those that showed kindness and friendly gestures where there were barriers to communication such as language. A smile goes a long way in these interactions.

The last few months have seen a lot change in our world.

From people being left alone in their homes and struggling through the lockdowns without basic human contact and interactions they valued, to fears of unemployment due to the devastating economic impact of this pandemic. The most frightening of these has been the potential to contract the virus, given the mortality rates we’ve seen globally, impacting friends, families, colleagues and other humans.

And it keeps getting closer, when once upon a time it was something that happened to other people and in other countries. The situation was worsened by the increased awareness of systemic racism through the Black Lives Matter protests. There was very little to smile about.

The blessing of COVID-19 is how it has demonstrated our togetherness in the battle against an invisible enemy.

While many leaders have had a different approach to dealing with this pandemic, we have seen a common will to preserve life, and a determination to get back to normal. What that ‘New Normal’ will be is yet to be determined, but it certainly won’t be the same as pre-COVID-19. The other blessing is the increased awareness of racial inequality that has seen unprecedented unity across the world to defeat racism, which is an older pandemic. Forces of Good are rising.

For me, INSEAD has been a great opportunity in many respects. I have made valuable friendships from across the globe, validated the confidence I had in myself on an international stage and appreciate different perspectives better because we all have something to bring to the table.

Right now, we may be apart and engaging with each other and our lecturers through Zoom, WhatsApp and other remote ways of learning/working. We are also engaging with local family, friends and colleagues in the same way, including attending conferences and events. The irony of distance being irrelevant.

I had the privilege of remotely attending the 20th UN Global Compact Leadership Summit, where my country, my continent and INSEAD were well represented. It was encouraging hearing the different voices unite and seeing how the world came together in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a priority. The empathy and support for the Black Lives Mater movement, the acknowledgements that we need to act more aggressively to address inequality and climate change were also inspiring to me.

It is ironic that this global pandemic started with our Dean testing positive for COVID-19, and at the summit, a few months later, he was named the Chair of The Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME).

A lot can happen in a matter of months, and we all need to act as positive deviants and as forces of good for the betterment of humanity and our planet.

We need to do this together, even though we are apart. A key word for me here is ‘Responsibility’, which is a common thread across all SDGs and how we are all committing to them. From Principles of Responsible Investing and Banking, to Management Education. That responsibility starts with you and me.

I am halfway through my Executive Masters in Finance, and I already feel like I’m a different person to when I started back in September 2019. My view has changed to a truly global one, I have a better sense of appreciation of the UN SDGs, I have gained valuable academic and technical expertise, made new friendships for a lifetime and have been humbled by this experience.

Many students are protesting the value they are getting from their schools for the tuition they pay. I have started valuing it more and learned to embrace it, because it is our new normal right now and we must make the best of it. My organisation has reported improved productivity, better collaboration and more success in this ‘New Normal’, an unexpected result for most of our business leaders.

We shall overcome this pandemic, and come out stronger, wiser and more together in our physical separation as a global community. Let’s create this ‘New Normal’ together, it is our responsibility to do that for humanity and our planet. “Do to others, and the planet, as you would like to be done to you.”

Be the change you want to see in the world. Be a Force for Good.

INSEAD Forever