By Marcus Coetzee, 12 December 2022.
The year is coming to an end as I write this reflection in early December 2022. It has been a year of adaptation as I worked hard to gain traction in Scotland after moving here from South Africa in 2021. I have learned many things in a short period, as one might expect when moving countries.
This year has been as turbulent as the previous and I have spent too much time following global geopolitics. I am grateful to write this reflection from within an open and healthy democracy.
There is value in sharing after-action reviews. You can read what I wrote in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. I developed a template to help you with your own reflection. These reviews help me to orient and reflect on how I must do things differently in the future. Although they are reflections on my own journey, you might find something useful in them.
I am satisfied with my move to Scotland and the home I am building in Paisley. I made the right decision in coming here. I have done meaningful work with charities and social enterprises in Scotland, and with economic development in Africa.
What was going on around me this year?
The Covid pandemic is present but has become a normal part of life in the UK. I finally caught it in July, and it was frustrating but manageable.
Other challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis have stolen the limelight. I have been acutely aware of geopolitics and how countries have been manoeuvring for power and resources or clamping down on their citizens.
Within the UK, I have investigated the dynamics in the third sector, which consists of charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups. They have struggled to recruit staff and deal with the implications of the cost of living crisis, which looks likely to worsen.
There has been a massive emphasis on everything related to climate change. This includes circular economies, carbon sequestration and other strategies to reduce negative environmental impacts. Scotland has committed to achieving carbon net zero by 2045 and social enterprises and charities are engaged in this endeavour.
Scottish organisations have a support structure, and supply of funding and business opportunities that African social entrepreneurs would consider utopian. However, local organisations consider this insufficient for what is required to reduce the poverty that exists in the U.K.
What did I do this year?
I worked on four large African projects with Imani Development. These included: helping with due diligence for an impact investment fund in Zambia; developing a financial model for a solar power enterprise in Malawi; overseeing a survey of non-tariff barriers in East Africa; designing a survey of the ESG practices of corporations across Africa; and improving a supply chain of sustainable cocoa for a multinational chocolate company. The latter two projects remain underway. I also consulted to several South African organisations which included designing an M&E strategy for a well-known South African foundation.
I did two pro-bono projects through the Cranfield Trust which were both enjoyable. One dealt with organisation design and the other with mentoring.
The bulk of my work was with Community Enterprise and focused on supporting charities, and community and social enterprises in Scotland. This organisation does excellent work and it is where I learned the most. My projects dealt with strategy, business plans and feasibility studies. I hope to do much more of this work in 2023.
What did I succeed at?
My biggest achievement is getting all my basics established in Scotland. I am also grateful to have found meaningful and engaging work which involves helping charities and social enterprises with their strategies.
I also made good headway with networking. I enjoyed the SCVO conference in Glasgow and a couple of all-day workshops with Community Land Scotland and Community Shares Scotland. I attended a fascinating talk on the history of social enterprises in Scotland at Glasgow Caledonian University. This revealed how much people want to learn from past successes and failures, and understand the historical context of the sector. I participated in networking meetings with the Glasgow Social Enterprise Network and the local equivalent in Renfrewshire. Finally, I attended about a dozen webinars.
I spent hundreds of hours reading and making notes on the third sector in the United Kingdom to understand the policy context and nature of this sector. Tiago Forte’s philosophy and methods of Personal Knowledge Management helped with this endeavour. His book, Building a Second Brain, is my favourite book of 2022. My copy is full of highlights. There are lots of videos and articles on the subject if you are interested.
I published four items on my website amidst a pile of incomplete drafts. These dealt with following subjects:
- Cost of living crisis and its impact on charities and social enterprises.
- Nine-month reflection of living and working in the UK.
- Volunteering in Scotland where there are around a million formal volunteers.
- Two archetypes of entrepreneurs which I call the ‘heroes’ and ‘programmers’.
I also updated my Strategy and Social Enterprise Glossary for the sixth and final year. This is because it deals with many South African terms and my focus is now on the U.K. This project helped to refine my lexicon (i.e. technical vocabulary) and engage in clear strategic conversations. I may replicate this project in a few years but it’s too soon to tell.
What did I struggle with?
My biggest challenge caught me by surprise. It has been a struggle to grieve and let go of the many things that I had left behind in South Africa. These were the many intangible things such as the hard-earned knowledge of how everything worked, the thousands of little relationships that I had developed around me, the trusted brand that I had built, and the future that I had imagined for myself in the country. It is sad to see the state of the place, considering the hope that I felt when I voted in the referendum in 1992 to end Apartheid and when I launched my career while Nelson Mandela was president.
This year I have strived to set aside my ego, practice humility and patience, adopt a positive attitude, and start learning many of the basics again. My attempts to be mindful of this haven’t always been successful.
My other struggles were predictable and likely shared by everyone who moves countries. I won’t go into them.
How will I do things differently next year?
There is little that I would change about my trajectory, unlike in my previous reflections. I am happy with my current direction.
I want to learn more about the economic history and geography of Britain since my work is often influenced by things that happened hundreds of years ago.
I will continue to do good work and produce useful content to establish my credibility in Scotland.
I want to improve my home-office setup by improving the lighting and sound setup, and decorations, and by getting a decent desktop computer. My current setup is ad hoc. I am a geek sometimes with my technology.
I intend to do much more to connect with people face-to-face and cultivate local relationships. My local powerlifting and strongman gym has been an unexpected life anchor and source of companionship. I am extroverted in a world which has become too comfortable with video conferences. I enjoy networking and drinking coffee with people and this is likely to yield dividends.
This has been a hard but exciting year and one of the biggest adventures of my life.
I am happy that I moved here. It was a wise decision. My wife is much more relaxed here in Scotland and our cat has adapted to our new home and the weather.
For 2023, I will continue to move forward and learn, and find ways to contribute and leave a mark on this world.