Driving the transformation agenda

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. April 11, 2011

Dr Mvula Yoyo, transformation executive at Medi-Clinic, was schooled to understand diversity at an early age, thanks to his upbringing. Born in Victoria West in the Northern Cape, he grew up in an Afrikaans-speaking community – an accident of fate that exposed him at such an impressionable age to issues around diversity.

“When coloured people were moved away from our area, conflicts began to unfold because then we were wittingly made aware of our differences, thus the cat was set among the pigeons,” Dr Yoyo says.

This background is important in understanding what makes him such an indispensable authority on transformation. Precisely the reason Medi-Clinic, traditionally a conservative company – my words, not his – appointed him to drive its transformation agenda.

While attending a cosmopolitan high school in the Eastern Cape, Dr Yoyo was able to forge relations with different ethnic groups; this is where his consciousness about diversity was created.

Suffice to say, diversity has always been a part of his life. “The environments I found myself in gave me a platform to think about the other, the awareness of being different,” he says.

Going to Fort Hare University offered further scope for the young man to broaden his knowledge of diversity. It was one of the few institutions of higher learning open to blacks at the time, as such there were students drawn from all parts of the country and continent.

It was there that most of his views on diversity were shaped and packaged.

In addition to spearheading transformation at Medi-Clinic, Dr Yoyo chairs the MultiChoice Fort Hare Inkwenkwezi Trust. Founded in 2006, it gives Fort Hare University students an opportunity to mentor Grade 11 and 12 pupils from disadvantaged communities of the Eastern Cape.

It is a responsibility he is thoroughly committed to drive – thanks to Dr Koos Bekker, managing director of Naspers, who founded this initiative.

“I think the Eastern Cape and Fort Hare in particular were good choices for such a trust. The province faces serious challenges with respect to education, and the Trust gives us a chance to help meet those challenges,” says Dr Yoyo.

“The role that Fort Hare played in turning out leaders for South Africa and the continent over 90 years qualifies it as an ideal location for this idea.”

Highlights of the Inkwenkwezi Trust

Enabling interactions between university students and high school pupils is the cornerstone of this programme. Prior to this initiative, there existed a lack of access to basic information on education by school children in rural Eastern Cape, where Fort Hare is nestled.

“This outreach is empowering university students to interact with high school learners at a personal level, too, besides being reservoirs of knowledge,” reveals Dr Yoyo.

“It is also fostering competition among learners; scholars with best results receive bursaries for their first year.”

At Medi-Clinic, Dr Yoyo’s key task is to drive its transformation agenda. That is a mammoth assignment for anyone to undertake at such a conservative firm, whose decision to base its headquarters in Stellenbosch does not help to dismiss stereotypes.

The challenges of his portfolio cannot be underestimated. In 2006, Medi-Clinic was named a non-transformative company, following which he was hired to change this perception to the outside world.

“As you can image, the biggest challenge is employment equity,” confesses Dr Yoyo.

Since 2007, he has been at the helm of transforming Medi-Clinic, using a strategy that speaks to its black economic empowerment (BEE) Scorecard.

“However, the BEE Scorecard is not the only vehicle for transformation; we look beyond that, at things such as sustainability, skills development – a very important component of BEE – and forging partnerships with universities,” he adds.

“Additionally, we have six in-house learning centres and have formed relationships with the Department of Health.”

State of transformation in South Africa

According to Dr Yoyo, part of the problem with transformation is that it is seen merely as a compliance issue. He begs to differ, and emphasises this point by borrowing the SABC’s TV Licence slogan: “It’s the right thing to do.”

He recommends this refrain as the right attitude to adopt, but is disappointed that corporations are more concerned about the bottom line. It leaves him no option but to believe there is a lack of commitment to transformation.

“Don’t look at transformation in narrow terms, for instance, companies should not hold back from training staff lest they lose them. Suitably qualified workers will benefit the economy at large, regardless of where they end up in the country,” explains Dr Yoyo.

He describes the pace of transformation in South Africa as “very slow”. This is attributable to genuine issues, but he points out that skills development would accelerate this process. “It’s a channel we should use,” he says.

There are obstacles to transformation, broadly speaking, and at Medi-Clinic specifically because it is a diversity management issue. So how does a company handle it much better?

Dr Yoyo believes there are pockets of resistance manifested in many guises, such as the assertion that there was a lack of suitably qualified blacks to fill certain positions when, in fact, companies could rather be looking at the potential of prospective candidates, grooming them and strategising succession planning, instead of hiding behind smoke screens such as a “lack of suitably qualified people”, he says.

“This gives an opportunity to build a broader pool of people, who can then move into senior positions,” he asserts.

On its part, Med-Clinic’s Leadership Development Programme is a product of such lateral thinking. The objective thereof is to ensure there is no limit of opportunities for black people to aspire to. This scenario is not peculiar to Medi-Clinic because the phenomenon is a microcosm of the South African reality.

“But, specifically, one of the barriers that holds back black professionals at our firm is language. Despite a language policy that recognises English as a medium of communication at the workplace, there are hardened attitudes on the workplace floor,” says Dr Yoyo.

Role of universities in accelerating transformation

Are universities churning out enough quality graduates to spearhead South Africa’s transformation agenda?

“No, definitely not,” responds Dr Yoyo. “There is room for improvement. We need graduates to walk into PricewaterhouseCoopers, and that is not happening presently.

“There are no ready-made people coming through; the reason for this is simply that universities develop people for academic purposes.

“Universities of Technology should be better utilised, as they are tailor-made to prepare graduates for the workplace. Otherwise, we are building a pool of people for failure.

“What else can grade 12s do after Matric?” he asks.

Dr Yoyo advises students to heed the call by Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande, to consider enrolling at technical colleges as an alternative to university study.

“We have neglected the foundational phases of our education; our focus is primarily on Grade 12. And in large part, our curriculum is not suitable for preparing students for the future,” he laments.

“We should be paying attention to the quality other than quantity of our school graduates.“

Is transformation of the workplace playing second fiddle to BEE?

“Well, it is easy to reach BEE targets, isn’t it? But there are better options for remedying imbalances of the past, one of which is through broad-based BEE,” says Dr Yoyo.

“Secondly, skills development empowers individuals, whereas enterprise development stabilises fledgling entrepreneurs. We should be combining different pillars of BEE and synergising them.”

He is dismissive of affirmative action, which dispenses with merit. “No, there should be no affirmative action at the expense of merit.”

But, according to Dr Yoyo, the truth is that a set of conditions on the ground favours one group over others.

He takes strong exception to people who mention “transformation” and “merit” in the same breath.

“It’s an insult to equate transformation with mediocrity. By extension, this is an insinuation that transformation has no merit,” says Dr Yoyo, with an unmistakable ring of irritation to his voice.

“Transformation and merit are not opposites,” he says indignantly.

State of transformation at Medi-Clinic

According to Dr Yoyo, a key impediment to transformation at Medi-Clinic is language.

“We have a language policy in place, but Implementation thereof is hard,” he confides.

“It’s a big challenge, but even so, everyone is welcome to work for Medi-Clinic and, indeed, our staff are aware of company policy toward language.

“There is lots of room for improvement before we can safely say we have achieved our transformational agenda. We have not arrived there yet.

“We recently embarked on a structured approach to transformation. Systems are in place. Our hospitals have committees looking into employment equity,” says Dr Yoyo.

Giving back

He adds that the environment outside work also plays a role.

Medi-Clinic staff members do not merely look after the health of their patients, but give back to communities where they serve. They do this through voluntary work at schools, old-age homes and welfare centres.

The company identifies four focus arrears in its corporate social investment strategy, namely: welfare, education, sport and health.

Posted on www.bbqonline.co.za