Ubuntu as a Tool for Resilience: Arts, Microbusiness, and Social Justice in South Africa

AuthorKim Berman,Janis Sarra
Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
C R Q, vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2017 455
© 2017 Association for Confl ict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21192
Ubuntu as a Tool for Resilience: Arts, Microbusiness,
and Social Justice in South Africa
Janis Sarra
Kim Berman
Ubuntu is a complex concept, but at its simplest is “human-ness,” the
notion that individuals’ well-being is intertwined with that of others in
the community.  is article examines how ubuntu’s multiple meanings
off er a potential tool for resilience in South Africa, both for arts organi-
zations and for micro and small businesses. Artist Proof Studio off ers a
sustained working example of how creativity can make a contribution
towards a more just society using a hybrid arts/business model.  e arts
are particularly important in South Africa for off ering the space to address
deep wounds, using artistic collaborations to contribute to resilience and
wellbeing. Ubuntu can off er an alternative vision to fi nancing micro
and small business to the one currently proposed by international lend-
ing organizations that seek to import Western-style models of shareholder
primacy, short-term profi t, and privatization of public goods. Ubuntu
allows for creative new approaches to business, encouraging hybrid mod-
els that are socially focused and economically sustainable.  e arts have
the potential for a signifi cant role in conceiving of ubuntu as a tool for
resilience of micro and small businesses and as a way of conceptualizing
being human in the business context, helping to envision productive and
sustainable activities that advance greater economic sustainability.
e purpose of an organization always lies outside of itself: it
cannot last long unless it serves some greater purpose.
Reuel Jethro Khoza ( 2014 )
T his article, an inquiry into ubuntu and the arts as potential tools for
resilience of micro and small businesses, represents the start of a col-
laboration across oceans, disciplines, and perspectives. We are two scholars
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
from diverse ends of the research spectrum, one an artist and associate
professor of visual art in Johannesburg, South Africa; the other, a business
and fi nance law professor from Vancouver, Canada—one with extensive
lived experience with ubuntu , perhaps so much that, at the outset of our
collaboration, she speculated that it may be overused as a concept; and the
other with no experience with ubuntu , but with an aspirational goal to
understand its potential as a strategy for a more equitable business model.
Our conversation begins around three questions:
1. What is resilience as we understand it?
2. What is ubuntu ?
3. Can one or more of ubuntu ’s multiple meanings off er insights into
resilience in South Africa for arts organizations and for micro and
small businesses?
In the third part of the inquiry, we use an arts-based organization,
Artist Proof Studio (APS), as a jumping-off point to examine ideas. APS
represents a sustained working example of how creativity and resilience
can make a contribution to a more just society using a hybrid arts/busi-
ness model.  e arts are particularly important in South Africa for off ering
space to address deep wounds, using artistic collaborations to contribute
to resilience and the well-being of individuals and the collective (Figure 1).
We then examine some of the challenges facing micro and small businesses
Figure 1 . William Kentridge, Eight Figures 2010. (Linocut with hand coloring, 1m × 2m.)
Copublished by Artist Proof Studio. Photograph by William Kentridge Studio.
Ubuntu as a Tool for Resilience: Arts, Microbusiness, and Social Justice in South Africa 457
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
and begin to explore whether ubuntu as a tool off ers assistance in building
resilient businesses. APS s ubuntu approach can off er lessons to micro and
small businesses seeking sustainable approaches to their businesses.
Our methodology was to embark on a conversation as close to real
time as possible, given that as scholars, we were physically more than ten
thousand miles apart and ten hours apart in time zones. We committed
to passing our thoughts back and forth daily for fi ve weeks, engaging in
asynchronous but timely conversation. Each time we passed the conversa-
tion/draft paper back to one another, we used diff erent colors for the con-
versation so that we could visually see the development of ideas and add
to each other s thoughts.  e resultant colors were lovely to read through
and allowed both a quick read to discern new thoughts and a slow read
through to understand the evolution of our ideas.  e colors gave us a
temporal sense of the conversation, resembling a silkscreen print, where
multiple pass-overs begin to produce a multicolored image or design.  e
metaphor of developing color layers as in the printmaking process though a
collaboration is meaningful; each layer enriches a new reading of the work,
with the additional layers contributing to a more dimensional reading of
the whole. When coauthor Kim Berman makes a print, she builds it up in
color layers, with the top one defi ning or enhancing the one before, such
as yellow mixing with an overlay of transparent blue to create a surprising
new green. Cross-cultural collaboration requires the establishment of com-
mon ground and chemistry, and this colorful back-and-forth exchange,
like passes through the press, was enriching and one that we believe leads to
a multilayered and rich understanding of ubuntu as one tool for resilience.
Understanding Resilience
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma,
tragedy, or signifi cant sources of stress; it is a capacity to bounce back from
diffi cult experiences. In psychological terms, resilience can mean positive
or negative adaptation after an adverse situation, but in the area of social
justice work, it is often a reference to positive adaption—an individual or
a group s ability to rebound from adversity as a strengthened and more
resourceful person or collective (American Psychological Association 2015 ).
Resilience can refer to a system s capacity to generate greater organization
around challenges, particularly following a disruption, rather than simply a
return to the preadversity state, and the conditions that give rise to resilience
can be understood as features of communities (LeBaron and Cohen 2013 ).

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