Opinion pieces

Reflections on Indego’s 10-Year Milestone

The 1st May 2017, is Indego’s 10-year milestone.  I thought it is something to celebrate as keeping a business, even a sole proprietorship, going for that long feels like an achievement.   The achievement is not mine alone, by any means and that’s why I felt it necessary to acknowledge the role of family, friends, partners and clients in my journey and Indego’s continued existence through sharing some of the Indego story and 10-year reflections.

My dream after joining the public service in 1999 had been to be appointed a Municipal Manager.  My experience as an Executive Director in the Cape Winelands District Municipality put pay to that dream, especially when a councillor informed me that my job was “to do and not to think”.  That was a defining moment for me, and after attending one of Truida Prekel’s Synnovation workshops, I suddenly realised that I needed to change my life’s direction.  My dad came up with the name, Indego – an acronym for Innovative Development and Governance – and Kam Chetty, my MM at the time, drove me to CIPRO to register a company and facilitated my first powers and functions contract with Richard Djantji and

Shanaaz Majiet in the ANC-led Western Cape province.

 

Indego has specialised in the past 10 years in:

  • Facilitating the design and implementation of municipal LED programmes;
  • Preparing LED Frameworks and Training Materials;
  • Policy and implementation reviews e.g. local government response to HIV/AIDs; the alignment (or lack thereof) between municipal planning and implementation; the effectiveness of the social sector EPWP; the effectiveness of the metros in preparing their BEPPs; the capacity of the state as a whole to deliver effective local government;
  • The design of a framework for provincial support, monitoring and intervention to municipalities;
  • Decentralisation and assessing the performance and delivery mechanisms of a range of government powers and functions, such as libraries, museums, primary health care, public transport and national housing programme administration;
  • Undertaking municipal capacity assessments;
  • Developing frameworks for decentralising the administration of national housing programmes; and
  • Piloting a methodology for SANParks to operate within the buffer zones of national parks and developing guidelines in this regard.

Indego has operated in association with other small firms, especially Jacqui Boulle’s NB Ideas and Rashnee Parhanse’s Seteset, client teams, the national panel for housing programme accreditation assessments, and my brother, Stephen Harrison.  Stephen has worked closely with me in recent years owing to his legal qualifications and the fact that much of the work I undertake in the field of decentralisation requires extensive legal input.

If I look back over the past ten years, my thoughts are full of projects, project teams and clients, many of which took me (and still take me) far out of my comfort zone.  Many of my clients are here today, including one who is now my husband.  I met Tim not long after starting Indego after been appointed (together with Jacqui Boulle) by the Dr JS Moroka municipality, the DBSA and the GIZ to develop and assist in the design and implementation of the Dr JS Moroka LED Programme.  The project involved Jacqui and me travelling to Siyabuswa and Marble Hall once a month for about a week, undertaking extensive public participation engagement process, establishing relevant project teams and then working alongside the teams to develop and mobilise resources for project ideas.  Dr JS Moroka is a very rural municipality, where the famous Esther Mahlangu originates from with her internationally-acclaimed Ndebele Art, basically a dormitory town for the Gauteng metros with local residents risking their lives on a daily or weekly basis on the infamous Moloto Road.  The roads within Dr JS Moroka were also quite perilous and I recall an occasion when I, as the driver, had to slam on breaks to avoid an ambling donkey.  A box of workshop crockery crashed to the floor and our reaction was to laugh hysterically.  Jacqui had been comforting a depressed friend on her cell-phone, and all she could splutter out in between her fits of laughter was that we had just evaded a donkey!  Her friends, located in the plush suburbs of Cape Town at the time, appeared rather perplexed!   The Dr JS Moroka contract had some other humorous interludes such as:

  • Me signing up at a local Marble Hall gym to attempt to keep up with some form of exercise during our monthly visits. One night I arrived to find the Gym shut down and the gym owner having set up a candle-lit table with a bottle of wine for us to share.  Whilst sipping the wine, he informed me that he had personally trampled the fermented grapes that I was now tasting.  Nevertheless, I politely spat out the wine and terminated my gym membership!
  • Jacqui and I were unable to book into our usual B&B, the Whitehouse, for our week’s stay owing to a tourism event. We booked into a local, but rather dodgy hotel with swinging doors from a Wild West Movie and were ushered into our rooms along a narrow, walled outside passage.  I remember the orange room as tiny, windowless, with double bed mattresses on concrete slabs alongside an open toilet on another concrete slab.  The rooms were obviously built for quick liaisons rather than extended stays.  Jacqui and I were appalled, retreated, cancelled our booking, and found the only available accommodation left in town on a game-farm in a tented camp uncomfortably filled with men in khaki and drinking copious amounts of beer.

Now, back to Tim – Tim was the GIZ advisor on the project.  We met in Mc Donald’s, the LED Manager, office on the first day of my contract and I was duly impressed!  Tim managed the project very attentively and soon I declared my interest to the project team.  Mike, the municipal LED officer< made some unsuccessful attempts to test the waters on my behalf but none of us were quite sure about appropriate or non-appropriate client/consultant relationships. A few months before the contract end, Tim sent an sms inviting me, along with whoever else, to hike the Portuguese Camino with him.  I made my move and requested dinner where I informed him that I was interested (my ideal kind of holiday) but that if I was to make such an investment, I would need a return.  He caught my drift and that was the start of an enjoyable Indego detour.  Sadly, Mc Donald has passed away but Mike has remained a close friend! Jacqui Boulle was my business partner until a few years back, when we parted amicably.  Jacqui ran NB Ideas for a number of years prior to Indego’s start-up and I benefitted greatly from her networks and guidance.  Her adoption of two children as a single mom and my having a third child after my marriage to Tim, put pressures on both of us trying to keep our small businesses afloat.  Some of my highlights working with Jacqui were the: Dr JS Moroka project, an Atlantis Business Retention and Expansion project that argued the business case for the Atlantis Industrial Park, the Macassar Pathways to Employment Programme, the design of the national Malawian LED Framework, and OECD work in the City of Cape Town. Indego has opened personal development opportunities for me that I would never have had if I had remained as a municipal employee.  I have had the privilege of:

  • Being the economic development team member of a City ThinkSpace project to develop a Sustainability Strategy for the Mthatha town. This project was profound for a number of reasons.  The team spent about a week together over a period of about one year.  At the end of the project, all the female team members were either pregnant or had adopted a child.  Despite the team spending a lot of time together, this was not a consequence of inter-team relationships (bar one).

 

Mthatha is a bustling, throbbing urban centre, driven to a significant extent through informal and illegal economic activities. The local populace is extremely politicised, informed and very aware of what is necessary to improve the current business environment.  A key obstacle to any turnaround in the town’s trajectory is government in its different forms and institutions.  I seem to recall that of the 20 sewerage treatment works pumps in the town, 19 were dysfunctional.   Major developments were approved without bulk or connector infrastructure capacity.  Municipal funding appeared to disappear into a black hole. During a construction sector workshop, a business stated that the only way contracts were awarded in the town was through back-hand deals!  Community members and businesspeople highlighted their vulnerability in the face of criminal activity in the town.  I experienced this first hand when a petty thief was butchered to death outside my B&B window.  I phoned the police in my absolute shock and terror – they said they could only come in an hour and when they did they stood laughing outside my window with the butchers.  It was the scariest experience of my life.  Fortunately, for Mthatha it was the home of Nelson Mandela and so millions were poured into the town in preparation for his funeral.  What will attract government investment now is less clear.

 

  • Returning to my home-town Port Shepstone, through a DBSA contract as the Ugu District Municipality LED Programme process facilitator, was another highlight. This contract was interrupted with the birth of Cailin, and Rashnee Parhanse – both a good friend and more recent business partner – came to my aid.  This project involved travel to Ugu on a monthly basis and spending 3-4 days in the district.  Once Cailin was a few months old, Rashnee handed the project back to me, and my dear ageing parents selflessly accompanied me on numerous trips to act as care-givers whilst I worked.  (I will say more about them at a later stage).

 

Spending time in Ugu was emotional at some level as it triggered memories from my childhood and my young adult years as an activist and community worker in the violence-ridden South Coast.  The project highlighted massive economic potential and stakeholder goodwill.  I worked with a young, talented team of LED officials and together we managed to develop the Ugu Growth and Development Strategy, and use the work to leverage in significant bulk water infrastructure funding. Sadly, over the course of the project I watched the Ugu District Municipality deteriorate from one of the strongest and best-performing districts in the country to a financially and morally bankrupt institution owing to political division and corruption.  The mobile and talented officials jumped ship.   The stakeholder trust that had existed and been built through the LED programme soon dissipated.  My sense is that Ugu is still floundering along.

 

  • Shanaaz Majiet, a client turned good friend, persuaded a pregnant me to sit on a national Panel to assess the capacity of municipalities and metros to be accredited or assigned the function to administer national housing programmes. I joined a team of passionate (and some slightly odd) panel members who supported a young, vibrant team in the national department.  Shanaaz used her vision, commitment, energy and passion to drive the Panel’s work.   The Panel was excited about being part of the first legally compliant assignment process in the country that would facilitate improved housing delivery and quickly exceeded its targets.  Politics got in the way, and the massive housing programme budgets that could leverage equally massive patronage proved to be too lucrative for provincial government to hand over.  We were all bruised in the process, buu life is strange and recently Indego has been sub-contracted to review the Framework the Panel developed in 2012 and there is a glimmer of hope, often doused, that the best interests of the country will be put first.  A real frustration to me has been the fact that the young, energetic officials driving the programme in the department suffered ostracism and even life-threats, that have demoralised and confused them.  The revision of the 2012 Framework feels as though we are in a boxing ring and have just staggered to our feet to receive the final blow!  Hopefully I am proved wrong.

 

  • Largely based on my Ugu and Dr JS Moroka experiences, I was awarded a SANParks’ contract as process facilitator for the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor in the Western Cape. This project has in most respects been a “feel good” project as it is focused on biodiversity protection and promoting conservation compatible economic activity.  Since July 2013 I have worked alongside Willem Louw, the SANParks’ programme manager, primarily as his mind’s translator!  Willem never stops thinking and is always full of new ideas!  Willem has been quite a high maintenance client in that he is extremely demanding and temperamental, but this is luckily balanced with a good sense of humour and an appreciation for my work.  We have had some fun times together – sitting in the back of a 4-seater plane on the way to the Richtersveld with the pilots over-sharing their anxiety regarding fuel availability levels through the radio-system; boating on St Lucia; night game-driving; visiting Washington DC and ensuring that Willem was safely returned to his family as he has no sense of direction; and undertaking stakeholder engagements where he was accused of being an Oreo cookie while I was preventing participants from throwing chairs at each other!

 

The project has involved SANParks working alongside private, public and community landowners in the southern portion of the West Coast National Park’s buffer zone to secure land for conservation and to promote economic activity such as eco-tourism that demonstrates the value of biodiversity and heritage protection.   The importance of this initiative has been amplified with the mining that is going ahead on the Elandsfontein Farm adjacent to the Park in its eastern buffer.  Short-term economic gain for small elites are threatening the country’s ecological services (such as its groundwater resources) at the expense of more sustainable development alternatives. Sadly, this contract has come to an end and Willem will be entering retirement alone!

 

  • Last year I had the wonderful experience of being contracted by probably my fairest client yet, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, to work with country teams to develop the Swaziland, and then Zambian National LED Guidelines. I welcomed this opportunity to learn and share the experience and knowledge I had gained in LED over the years in South Africa.   The key challenge in these contracts was to listen to the clients and get to know their legislative and policy environments and their country political, social and economic contexts.   In the case of Swaziland, this meant going through my reports and documents word-for-word with the project country teams to make sure that I erased: any negative stakeholder sentiment; any word that insinuated low levels of social trust; and any reference to the king and his family and the fact that a tiny elite is keeping 90% of the population in poverty so that they can live in luxury!  Zuma visited whilst I was there as the Nkandla drama unfolded and I fielded many uncomfortable questions and knowing glances.

 

  • A similar opportunity arose in Zambia later in the year, and once again I joined the CLGF client, Phumla Ndaba, as we travelled across our borders. Both Swaziland and Zambia resemble South Africa in their major economic centres owing to evidence of major Chinese investment and the presence of our major retailers in their newly constructed malls.  However, once one leaves these Centres and start to drive along the unmarked, sometimes pot-holed, and un-verged roads that a different reality is exposed.  Trip times double, as the roads become a market-place 24-7 as people battle to eke out an existence off truck drivers and buses.

Zambia is of course much larger than Swaziland, so the stakeholder engagement process involved a week of country-travel.  I was accompanied by John, the driver, and the responsible Director for the project, Kelvin Syabeene.  Our most northern consultation required us to return to Lusaka overnight – a 13-hour drive that we started at 4 PM in the afternoon.   I learnt that to survive Zambia at night one needs to:

  • use one’s right-hand indicator to warn oncoming traffic of the centre-line of the unmarked road;
  • move over immediately to the right when hitting a branch in the road as the next thing you will hit is a broken-down truck (that would have already been there for a week);
  • anticipate being stopped every 20kms or so by Zambian Customs seeking either a bribe or humans trafficked in closed petrol tankers;
  • use the road-side market stalls as lodges alongside tired truck drivers who have already stopped to rest;
  • avoid trucks that have pulled over to purchase bundles of cheap coal that are being sold by people desperate to survive and unwittingly contributing to the alarming pace of deforestation;
  • hope you do not have an accident as there is no emergency service;
  • avoid stopping over in certain towns as unregulated mining activities have meant that international mining companies have withdrawn leaving un-rehabilitated mines with toxic lead levels that have contaminated the air, the soil and the water leaving hundreds of thousands of people (and their future offspring) with every organ poisoned;
  • drink water rather than caffeinated drinks to keep you awake for night driving;
  • avoid taking photos of people as you could be mistaken for a spy or could be regarded as a poverty-tourist;
  • have respect for the women traders that travel cross-border by bus at night with their goods and babies;
  • aim carefully in the long-drop that you will have the privilege of using if you stop-over in a rural village; and
  • be really thankful that you are alive and grateful for having had an experience that you would never have agreed to if you had known what it entailed!

There are so many experiences that flashed into my mind as I reflected on the past 10 years.  Some tough ones related to the actual running of the business – like months of chasing up payments and contracts, tight delivery time-frames, balancing parenting and working, being cheated by a contractor who ran off with my hard-earned money, travelling for hours to attend a meeting to find out it had been postponed that morning for another day – but many that have enriched my life and built life-long friendships.  I have also seen changes within the public sector over the past 10 years that have made the environment more complex and challenging.  Some of my thoughts about present-day consulting in the public sector are:

  • There are so many excellent public servants in government whose potential will never be fully realised given the harsh institutional environments that they work in;
  • Service delivery is not the priority in many instances – personal self-enrichment is;
  • Corruption is seriously undermining the capacity of the state to deliver;
  • The current divisions and lack of policy consistency in the public sector, works in the interests of certain groups;
  • Capacity in the state is being hollowed out as good people are leaving as they are demoralised; and
  • There is huge social and economic potential within this country and stakeholder goodwill – in rural and urban areas – that could be mobilised through visionary and unifying leadership.

 

A final thought is a profound Jewish proverb that bears relevance to work in the public sector reform field: “It is not for us to complete the work; but neither is it for us to desist from it”.

 

At this point, I need to thank people who have made it possible for me to be run Indego:

  • My husband, Tim, who is completely understanding and gives me the space and freedom to undertake my projects. Tim has had to put up with many work-related discussions on our Helderberg Nature Reserve walks about different issues and projects.  Explaining what I do to most people is difficult so it is great to have a husband who truly understands!
  • My parents – John and Heather Harrison – who have been so supportive and enabling. They have provided back-up at home and on the road (often selflessly putting the needs of Indego and me above their own).  I could never have travelled as I have without the comfort of knowing that my children were being cared for and loved by their grandparents.
  • My older children – Ziningi and Andrew – they had to put up with my absences and my work demands and in their older years have provided support services to Indego – Ziningi in the form of social media, website design and Cailin-care support, and Andrew in terms of technical support. As a child Andrew told me he still preferred me working as Indego than full-time in government as even though I had to travel,  I worked in my home office a lot and was available to him.
  • Cailin – who has accompanied me both in-utero and in-arms on business and who has been unceremoniously sent out of my home office on numerous occasions, and who has also come into my office on more occasions to steal a hug, or show me a picture, or tell me something important!
  • My siblings – Philip, David and Gordon – who have followed my business with interest, come to my rescue occasionally, and been useful sounding boards;
  • Our domestic worker, Doris Jonasi, who has kept my office clean, brought me morning and afternoon tea, prepared my clothes and provided child-care back-up.
  • My business partners – Jacqui, Rashnee and Steve, my brother. I have been so fortunate to work intensively and closely with all of them.  I have benefitted so much from their skills, knowledge and advice and look forward to future collaboration and partnerships.
  • My associates – like Truida and Rowena – who have brought me in to projects at different times and have always provided mentorship and guidance. I have huge respect for these businesswomen and value my engagement with them.
  • The teams I have worked with, such as the Mthatha team, the Accreditation Panel and the YeBo team – I have memories of such fun, passion, frustration and learning from working with all of you.
  • My clients – for providing me with the opportunity of working alongside you on your projects and for trusting me. I remember my first meetings with clients – one where a councillor said that he hated consultants and would like to kill them, others where I could see such caution written on clients faces – and then project closure meetings where there was a sense of camaraderie, of having walked a pathway together, of having shared personal life stories, having counselled each other, having achieved something, or not – and many of you for having remained close friends and colleagues!

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