On Tuesday, 12 May 2015, I joined my friends Glynnis and Max of the Pinelands Muse (our monthly community magazine) at another delightful event organised by the Children’s Hospital Trust: it was the annual morning tea for supporters, patrons, donors, and friends of the Circle of Life legacy programme.
We were lucky to have attended previous functions too. Last year, the venue had been Vergelegen Wine Estate out in Somerset West, with a guided tour of the beautiful tranquil gardens forming part of the morning’s event. The year before, we had tea with Premier Helen Zille at the luxurious Southern Sun Cullinan Hotel in town. This time, the venue was the gorgeous ballroom at Kelvin Grove, lit up by sparkling chandeliers; the tables around which we gathered were lovingly decorated with delicious snacks.
We were welcomed by our first speaker of the morning, Liz Linsell of the Children’s Hospital Trust (see their lively Facebook page), which is the fundraising arm of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Liz is also the head of the Circle of Life legacy programme, and she explained what this is about: it encourages individuals to leave legacies and make donations to the Hospital, whether during their lifetimes, or in their Wills. Much of the Trust’s work is only possible thanks to the continued generosity of their donors, patrons and supporters, and in fact, these funds from private individuals are vital for ensuring the future financial survival of the Hospital.
Some historical background
In case you are wondering why the Hospital’s name includes the words ‘War Memorial’, this is the background story, as told by Mr Colin Eglin, who had served with the Sixth South African Armoured Division in Italy during World War II. Mr Eglin was a frequent speaker at events organised by the Trust, having been involved with the Hospital since the very beginning. He was a well-known South African politician and leader of the opposition during the apartheid years; he remained involved with politics and served in the National Assembly until he retired in 2004. Sadly, he passed away in November 2013.
The Hospital was founded in 1956, some eleven years after the end of the Second World War. A group of South African servicemen and veterans, returning home from the War in Europe, decided to create a place of healing in honour of their fallen comrades. They did not want another statue or monument to be built, but instead wanted to leave behind a ‘living memorial’ for future generations. And realising that there was a desperate need for specialist paediatric medical care, as children were the most vulnerable group in society and innocent victims of the war, these soldiers volunteered to donate two days’ pay towards the creation of what was to become the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. On Remembrance Day each year, a special service is held on the grounds of the Hospital; I wrote about the 2011 Remembrance Day service.
An extraordinary lady
Our second speaker was a wonderful surprise!
Liz introduced us to a sprightly 100-year old lady, Georgina Harwood, who had made headline news around the world when she jumped out of a plane on her 100th birthday, in a breath-taking tandem skydive (see: Grandmother skydives to celebrate her 100th birthday). Even more astounding is that this was not the first time she had done so – she had gone skydiving before, on her 92nd birthday! And then, to top it all, after plummeting through the skies and landing safely on the ground, she went shark-cage diving! How many of us can see ourselves doing something like that when we make it to 100 years?!
Georgina spoke about her childhood, growing up in Cape Town, and told us that she used to work as a housing manager, until she married and had children.
She said that she often walked or drove past the vacant area of land opposite Rondebosch Common, where the Hospital now stands. She saw it being built, bit by bit, and remarked that she was very glad the money donated by the returning servicemen was not being spent on erecting more statues, but that it had been used instead to create a living memorial that benefited many generations of children and that would continue to do so for many more years.
She said that she was proud to be a South African and that all her family were still living near her.
When I had an opportunity to chat briefly with Georgina and her daughter at the end of the event, I congratulated her on her 100th birthday, wished her well for the future, and said that I had thoroughly enjoyed her talk. She said that she wanted to skydive again on her 105th birthday, but before then, she wanted to ride a motorcycle around the Cape Peninsula. Her sense of humour and her evident passion for life and living it to the full is inspirational!
The Children’s Hospital Trust celebrates 21 years
Liz then handed over the microphone to Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health, David Beatty.
Prof Beatty is one of the founding Trustees of the Children’s Hospital Trust, a non-profit public benefit organisation, which was established 21 years ago.
By 1994, he said, the Hospital was in a crisis. It was overcrowded, the buildings were dilapidated, the equipment was outdated, there were shortages of staff, they weren’t able to attract a high calibre of staff, government wasn’t providing sufficient funding, and they were facing closure. He mentioned that he had read Clem Sunter’s book at the time – “Pretoria will provide and other myths” (1993) – and realised that the time for relying solely on financial support from government was over, because government had other urgent priorities to meet in the years after the advent of democracy. This led to the founding of the Children’s Hospital Trust.
The Trust’s mission is to increase awareness of the extraordinary work done by the Hospital and to raise funds so that it can continue to help children throughout South Africa and beyond. The Trust depends on charitable donations from generous members of the public. The legacies, bequests and donations have enabled the Hospital to upgrade its facilities, expand paediatric healthcare projects, purchase vital state-of-the-art equipment, conduct critical research and develop its professional staff. The Trust prides itself on the fact that 100% of all donations are spent on improving the Hospital, and that not a single cent is used to cover administrative or operational expenses, which are funded by the Western Cape Government: Health.
Looking back over the last 21 years, Professor Beatty praised the excellent track record of the Trust, which had succeeded in completing all projects not only on time, but also within budget. Their brand-new Centre for Childhood Infectious Diseases (see here) was only one such project.
Since those difficult years of the 1980s and 1990s, the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital has grown from strength to strength. It is currently the only specialist paediatric hospital in Southern Africa, successfully treating very complex life-threatening and life-limiting conditions among children in this region and beyond. It manages around 260,000 patient visits each year. They treat the sickest children from the poorest and most marginalised communities. Astonishingly, more than one-third of the Hospital’s patients are less than one-year-old. They are referred to the hospital from the Western Cape, the rest of South Africa, the African continent, and even on rare occasions from other parts of the world.
The Hospital furthermore provides training for new paediatric specialists, offers postgraduate specialist paediatric medical and surgical training, conducts medical research into childhood diseases, and runs outreach programmes in the communities. The Friends of the Children’s Hospital Association (or FOCHA), whom I wrote about previously (here), which is staffed mainly by volunteers, does wonderful work in the hospital itself, playing with the youngsters, reading to them, and looking after their families and caregivers (Facebook page).
Talking scenarios and flags
And then it was time for the final speaker of the morning to take to the podium: scenario planner, futurologist and keynote speaker Clem Sunter, doubtless one of the most well-known public figures in South Africa. In the characteristically relaxed fashion of a man who is clearly comfortable with public speaking, Mr Sunter spoke to us about the need for good leadership in South Africa, the urgency of increasing entrepreneurship and the importance of fighting corruption.
In June 2001, Mr Sunter and Chantel Ilbury had written and published “The Mind of a Fox”, a book that is still a classic of the scenario planning literature.
The metaphor of the fox and the hedgehog is based on a line of verse by ancient Greek poet Archilocus, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
In the business or leadership environment, the hedgehog represents the conventional way of doing business, i.e. formulating the vision (or the big idea), creating the mission statement, and getting everyone in the company to support this, while ignoring any distractions or detours along the way.
Foxes, on the other hand, regard the future as uncertain and unpredictable; they monitor the environment and look out for various ‘flags’ (or indicators), which indicate that something is about to change, or that a new course of possible action is appearing on the horizon. Unlike hedgehogs, foxes tend to respond very quickly to changes in the environment. Since then, they have co-written several other books, e.g. “The Fox Trilogy – Imagining the unimaginable and dealing with it” brings together ‘The Mind of a Fox, Games Foxes Play, and Socrates and the Fox’.
In a talk that ranged widely across the globe as well as through time, Mr Sunter spoke about various flags that are relevant in the current global context: the grey flag of ageing populations and the ramifications of this; the so-called gilded cage scenario in the United States in response to the spread of terrorism; the radicalisation of religions and their role in armed conflict; the green flag of global warming, which includes the effects of temperature increases, the threat of rising sea levels, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the prevalence of severe droughts, the importance of water management, water purification and salt water reclamation, and an increasing emphasis on renewable sources of energy.
Turning to the situation in South Africa, he said that widespread and entrenched corruption was the number 1 threat to the country. The second most important flag was the decline in the quality of our infrastructure (not only our ailing electricity network, but also water, sewage and road infrastructure, etc.). He also spoke about the lack of an inclusive leadership, and said that we desperately needed leaders, like Mandela, who were able to bring the nation together, rather than dividing it into opposing factions.
On the positive side, he mentioned centres or pockets of excellence, which needed to be supported, such as the Red Cross Hospital, as well as numerous schools, university departments and businesses around the country. According to Mr Sunter, entrepreneurship needed to be encouraged far more than it currently is; in South Africa, we seem to have an ambivalent attitude towards them – “instead of rolling out the red carpet, we roll out the red tape”, he said. Given the changing nature of work, the only way of decreasing the alarmingly high unemployment figures was to increase the creation of small businesses and to facilitate this with appropriate legislation and taxation.
Mr Sunter’s thought-provoking presentation concluded a really interesting morning spent in good company. I wish the Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital Trust all the best for the future – may the next 21 years be exciting and inspiring ones!