When I first heard about the 702 CEO SleepOut – getting CEOs to pay to sleep on the ground for a night – I loved the idea.
Okay, perhaps the bit about being outside in the freezing cold all night with just a cardboard box for a bed wasn’t overly appealing, but the concept struck me as a clever way to highlight the challenges facing so many people in South Africa.
On top of this, Girls and Boys Town is a great charity – it’s a cause close to my heart, as I’ve had the privilege of supporting a number of orphanages around the country and my wife and I have also established our own place of safety at our former family home.
For me, the only problem with the event was that the date coincided with the start of Ramadan. The holy month is a special time that brings families together and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was on the verge of giving my apologies, but then thought about the true purpose of Ramadan, and realised it was a perfect fit.
We often refer to Ramadan as a time for reflection and reconnecting with our faith. I certainly find that to be true, but I also subscribe to the view that it is a great leveller.
Some of the key principles of Ramadan are sacrifice and having empathy with those less fortunate. The practice of fasting brings people from all backgrounds together with the same experience of going without.
I don’t for one second think that having one night on the streets is in any way comparable to what many people deal with day in and day out, but I do think that taking 250 of South Africa’s business leaders out of their comfort zones to make this small sacrifice has the potential to start a shared understanding of the need to do more to address poverty.
The event also perfectly mirrors the Ramadan spirit of giving back to the community, and more than R20 million was raised.
Does the CEO SleepOut address all the challenges in South Africa? Of course not, but I do think it had a profound impact on those participating. And from this change, I’m hoping big things will grow.
* Shameel Joosub is CEO and executive director of the Vodacom Group