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'Homeless' S African CEOs raise R25m on icy streets of Joburg - Engineering News

Monday, 22 June 2015

Over 250 CEOs from South Africa’s largest corporates traded in boardroom suits for cardboard boxes on Thursday evening, spending 12 hours on the streets of Johannesburg as part of an initiative to raise some R25-million for charity Girls and Boys Town and bring awareness to the plight of the homeless in Africa’s most financially dominant metropole.

The inaugural 702 Sun International CEO Sleepout, which took place in Sandton between 18:00 on Thursday and 06:00 on Friday, challenged Gauteng’s business elite and political leadership to remain exposed to the elements on one of the coldest and longest nights of the year, equipped only with a sleeping bag, basic toiletry bag, warm clothing and individual cardboard street shelter.

Each participant was required to raise a minimum of R100 000, but was encouraged to raise further funding through additional challenges that involved removing items of clothing or remaining barefoot throughout the 12-hour challenge, which saw temperatures dropping to 3 °C.

Participants, including Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and Gauteng Premier David Makhura, were barred from bringing “luxury” bedding item or food and were only provided with soup and coffee.

Speaking to Engineering News Online at the event on Thursday evening, Tau lauded the number of CEOs that had taken it upon themselves to contribute towards combating homelessness, particularly given the degree of inequality in South Africa.

“The challenge of people sleeping on the streets of Johannesburg and around the world is significant and the fact that we are looking at what contribution we can make – both as the public and private sector – to address this is a good statement,” he remarked.

According to Tau, South Africa’s largest metropole attracted over 10 000 migrants every month, many of whom were unable to find adequate work and accommodation and were rendered destitute.

“We calculate there to be around 6 000 people [sleeping] on the streets of Johannesburg every [night] and we have a team, together with several nongovernmental organisations that assist them.

“[But] I think that the fact that the private sector has now come on board and [asked] how they can lend a hand is a great statement for South Africa and the world. We need to mobilise more cities and captains of industry around this cause,” he said, adding that he would spend the entire 12 hours on the streets of Sandton before returning to put in a full day at the office on Friday.

Also adding his support, Makhura said partnership between the private sector and government – as engendered by the CEO Sleepout – was the most effective way to deal with the country’s fundamental social and economic challenges.

“We, as government, are doing a lot to help the vulnerable in our society, but government alone will not succeed – we always need a partnership. Partnership and citizen mobilisation is important to address social challenges and help other human beings, particularly the youth,” he told Engineering News Online.

Among the CEO Sleepout’s private sector representatives, Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland lamented the apparent misconception that CEOs remained removed from the economic struggles facing many South Africans.

“People often think that CEOs are living in their ivory towers and don’t care what happens, but things have changed,” he remarked.

Mining sector counterpart and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) CEO Chris Griffith said his attendance was an extension of Amplats’ broad corporate social investment programme, which had seen the company establishing youth and care centres in areas surrounding its North West-based platinum operations.

“The opportunity to raise awareness around homelessness and money for a charity such as Girls and Boys Town [prompted me to participate], and it’s an opportunity to step back and acknowledge that we are extremely fortunate in our personal capacities.

“I think everyone thinks CEOs are very soft, and I’m sure there will be a bit of complaining when the temperature drops, but I’m sure we’ll all be fine,” he remarked, adding that he, too, would be putting in a full day at the office on Friday, which would include an afternoon board meeting.

Lonmin CEO Ben Magara described the event as an opportunity for those in positions of leadership to give back to the less privileged.

“I grew up poor. I have experienced cold winters like this when I was young, so this has reminded me what it’s like [to struggle]. For me, this is not only a good cause, but a reminder of what poverty feels like,” he told Engineering News Online, adding that the event would contribute towards driving the concept of shared value in the mining industry.

Nissan CEO Mike Whitfield, who raised some R250 000 for the CEO Sleepout, said that, while he regarded his presence at the event as “a small gesture”, he hoped it would raise awareness for an important cause.

“It’s a crazy world…tonight I’m sleeping on the streets and tomorrow I’ll be on a plane at 37 000 ft,” he enthused.

Founded in Australia ten years ago, the philanthropic movement had since seen thousands of global business leaders raising awareness and funding for the homeless during sleepout events in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and the UK.

Thursday’s CEO Sleepout coincided with sleepout events held across Australia and would be followed by future sleepouts in Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth in 2016.

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