Keeping it real

Last year when I commissioned the Tutu Foundation to do some work for Leadership for Equality, I have to admit that it was the Archbishop’s good name and work internationally that attracted me to the project.

The CEO of the Tutu Foundation, Alex Ankrah, wrote a fabulous proposal, espousing the benefits to all of Ubuntu and how their ‘conversation’s for change’ strategy would improve relations in the community as well as for staff in the NHS. For the uninitiated, ubuntu is an African ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other. The word ubuntu has its origins in the Bantu languages of southern Africa. Interrelatedness and connectivity are the very essence of ubuntu theory.

The proposal came at a time when David Cameron was talking about Big Society, community values and behaviours, therefore the proposal played to the national big picture as well as the direction of travel we are taking in the NHS in terms of community involvement.

Last week, I took part in one of the programmes the Tutu Foundation developed as part of their ‘Conversation for Change’ strategy, and guess what? A 120 watt light bulb went on in my head in terms of what Ubuntu really is and what the Tutu foundation is trying to achieve.

Interestingly, I had previously attended the launch of the NHS/Tutu Foundation venture as the keynote speaker at the House of Lords, the What is Ubuntu training session and the prestigious mediation training programme run on behalf of the Foundation by the college of counselling and psychotherapy in Regents Park (all of these programmes as well as an on line coaching programme  have been made available to NHS staff through the NHS Leadership Academy) but it wasn’t until last week when I went to Cumbria to take part in the ‘Train the Trainer’ programme that the penny finally dropped about what Ubuntu really means.

The Archbishop says:

‘A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of what others, does not feel threatened that others are able or good, based on a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated, tortured or oppressed’.

On the surface, I’m sure everyone would agree with that sentiment. Living it is something different.

The programme I took part in last week totally blew me away. Why? Because I witnessed, saw, felt and was immersed in Ubuntu. My fellow participants were service users or community volunteers and workers. I was the only NHS person there. I have to admit to learning more about our society, about human nature and what we need to do to shape the future of the NHS than I have learned in a long time. This is not to be disparaging about colleagues in the NHS, it’s more about learning, training and being with ‘ordinary’ people, it really does keep you grounded and keeps it real.  It reminded me of what I came into the health service to do.

In the group there was a person that was a wheelchair user, several were recovering from depression and/or anxiety, other people were volunteers and some had substantive posts in community organisations, all of us were bound by our common humanity our desire to improve things.

Everyone had a genuine desire to do and be good, to improve the lives of the people around them. I was truly humbled and inspired at the same time. The facilitator made the environment for learning conducive. She commenced with an exercise that was levelling, that is we were not asked to introduce ourselves by title or status but by where we lived and what we liked about it, we were then asked to describe our favourite film to the group. I have never experienced such instant group bonding, by the coffee break we all felt like old friends. The purpose of my attendance was twofold, to ensure the NHS was getting value for money with the programmes we’d commissioned and of course to learn about the work of the Foundation. My experience left me more uplifted and enthused about what we can do to improve community relations for the benefit of the NHS than I have been in a long time. Working with communities, in communities is absolutely the right way forward. I believe that all NHS senior managers should take part in a similar programme to the one I was lucky enough to be part of. I witnessed true compassion and support between participants. An example was Stephen, a lovely gentleman with lived experience of mental health issues, now a community worker and advocate, he came to the hotel each morning to pick up a group of people (myself included), none of whom he had ever met. The programme was held in a community venue in Barrow in Furness, the workers were welcoming, warm and enthusiastic. It was heartening and humbling to see what they had achieved on very little resource but a lot of good will and belief.

I learned and gained so much from being with and learning with the wonderful individual’s on the programme and would like to thank them all for opening my eyes and my heart to what ‘good’ community engagement and participation looks and more importantly feels like.

John, Marcia, Maha, Dave, Sol, Sharon, Delores, Jennifer, Stephen and Lynn, thank you.   My thanks also go to Shelley our facilitator and Alex, the CEO of the Tutu foundation UK.