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Nurturing tomorrow's leaders through a selfless service mindset

November 27, 2023

A few years ago I had the privilege of facilitating the Global Scholars' Program at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. Our participants were teenagers from affluent backgrounds throughout Africa, Europe, and the United States. Community service was an integral part of the programme. Together, we ventured into townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria, engaging with children at an Early Childhood Development center and elderly residents at a retirement home. What struck me most was the sheer joy and empathy radiating from these young participants as they played with children, painted an entire ECD center, tidied up the retirement home, and fed the elderly.

Back in my school days, where I grew up, there was something called "community service" during which our teachers would teach us about the importance of community service, then guide us through the community to clean up the streets. We were often requested to donate our few cents to some charitable causes, and despite my humble background, it was some of my happiest moments. Fast forward to my nine years of teaching in KZN and the Eastern Cape - community service barely made it into the classroom conversation. The focus was only on education as the ticket to a better life. Even asking students to clean up their classroom was almost considered abusive, let alone asking them to clean up their community. In my work as a non-profit leader, I have experienced several shocking situations where the same young people we invest  in, demand payment for what should be a small act of selfless community service. 

In the middle of our current leadership chaos, there might be a simple yet potent solution -  community service, deeply rooted in ubuntu. As we guide our youngsters into leadership roles, let's ignite the fire of selfless service because it holds the power to change not just our communities, but our whole nation. Children raised in a culture of selfless service have the potential to become civil servants with a genuine spirit of service, rather than individuals seeking self-interest. The erosion of the culture of service in communities not only hinders the development of empathetic leaders but also perpetuates the prevalence of self-interest over collective well-being, contributing to ongoing issues of poor service delivery that affect our society at large.

Research shows that acts of selfless service develop traits like empathy, compassion, and humility, qualities of great leaders:

Leadership Skills: Selfless service lets kids lead projects, make decisions, and organize. It's a leadership boot camp, with heart.

Understanding Others: Selfless service teaches kids to get what others are going through. That makes our neighbourhoods more peaceful and more welcoming.

Problem Solving: When you do selfless service, you face real-life problems. That's where kids learn to come up with clever ideas.

Foundation for a Purpose-Driven Life: Selfless service gives kids a sense of purpose beyond personal success, inspiring them to change the world, one good deed at a time.

It's crucial to reignite the flame of selfless service in our youth, inspiring them to lead with compassion, humility, and a deep understanding of ubuntu. Through the revival of this spirit, we not only shape the leaders of tomorrow but also pave the way for a society where kindness, empathy, and selfless service to others reign supreme.

Let's keep teaching our kids about selfless service. Together, we can make a future where being a good leader is about helping others and looking out for everyone's well-being, not just our own success. And remember, when we give selflessly, life gives back to us.

- Written by Dieudonne Allo, CEO at Global Leading Light Initiatives and part of the FURTHER community

- Image - Red Bull