Building an Interconnected Society

If freedom was the value at the heart of our social-economic system in the 20th-century, then today we must build a new system that deals with the central fact of this new world: interconnectedness… It’s ever-more clear that global interconnectedness, and the overwhelming complexity to which it gives rise, is the central challenge of the decades ahead.  David Mattin, New World, Same Humans

A disease takes on new meaning when people you know are suffering from it.  A friend who tested positive for Covid-19 and after days of fever and fatigue thankfully recovered, shared a series of practical thoughts while still quarantined about how the world may change as a result.  In the shadows of human tragedy, economic disruption lies in wait. Tourism and cultural events have suffered blows that will be mortal to many. Businesses large and small will shutter. Unemployment in traditional industries rises remorselessly, while the digital revolution is fast-tracked to critical mass.  In this chaos, a new world order has a chance of breaking through.

We have disconnected ourselves from our planet, and now experience the whirlwinds we have sown. Our political systems are based on Us vs. Them, disconnecting us from each-other, leading to petty spats and major wars, exclusion and terrorism.  We are disconnected at work, losing any sense of meaning.  And we are disconnected from ourselves, falling prey to overwhelming doubt, a lack of self-worth, growing instability.   We need to re-connect all these loose wires.  To find a new global interconnectedness.

In this time of chaos and doubt, we need to ask what contribution to a better, more sustainable world, can each of us make?  As my afflicted friend discovered, enforced isolation creates precious thinking time.  Dark clouds do have silver linings.

For Impact Trust, an old Chinese wisdom take on new urgency.

If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain.

If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees.

If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.

At the heart of Impact Trust is sustainable development.  A critical mass of people need to believe in, advocate and practise, better ways to live in these disconnected times with planet Earth, each-other and themselves. Beyond all the immediate challenges and responses, a profound shift is needed in society. To grow people who become the agents of change we all seek.

Our focus is on young adults. Minds are open and there’s a long-term payback.  Anyone who believes that youth have no say on the policies of today, has clearly never heard of Greta Thunberg.  A hundred of her can change a nation.  A thousand can change the world.  We nurture changemakers who spread ideas and activations from one community to another, seeding fertile ground.  We develop mindsets that can change the world.

Young adults in Europe and Africa are being overwhelmed with multiple challenges of student debt, joblessness and growing nationalism, with the environment, education and health systems, all under intense pressure.

In response, the Impact Trust has three interconnected initiatives: –

  • Routes to Resilience (R2R)

Conceptualised, developed and activated by the Trust, in a fruitful collaboration with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership in South Africa, Routes to Resilience helps learners, educators and young professionals grow a deep understanding of the interconnectedness between people and planet. The blend of programmes brings learning to life, by combining theory with place-based learning and real-world practical applications. These programmes equip youth with the desire, knowledge and tools to make better, more informed and sustainable, life and career choices.

In 2019, the Impact Trust made a strategic decision to establish R2R as an independent social enterprise, with offices in South Africa and the UK.  This decision was made easier by finding a great person to lead Routes to Resilience. Ann de Passos is establishing strong footholds in Africa and Europe, with well-defined offerings that last from a half-day to nine months.  I have been privileged to share my thinking with some of the cohorts. Each time I am moved by their hunger to learn and joy experienced, as a sense of purpose takes hold.

Whilst the Trust will continue to contribute and maintain its interest and connection in R2R, Ann’s leadership allows the Trust to incubate an ecosystem of related programmes that build a sustainable future.

  • Alert – Access to Learning through Responsive Teaching

Young learners read and learn at different speeds, with different levels of understanding, due to different levels of literacy, cultural contexts and home language environments.  In the traditional methods of learning, the elusive middle ground is sought. Some race ahead then become disengaged, whilst many others are left behind, feeling helpless.

The Impact Trust, in collaboration with educational technology pioneer, Lightsail, is piloting a revolutionary way of using Lightsail’s ‘Content Builder’ to enable more responsive classroom teaching, while growing educators’ capacity.  Our vision is to build individualised learning at scale. No-one will be excluded. Alert is ready for a full South African pilot to commence in the second half of 2020, with an extended roll-out from 2021.

  • Mindset – Developing UQ

IQ and EQ are well understood, measured and evaluated.  UQ – humanity’s Ubuntu Quotient is less explored.  Ubuntu comes from the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which literally means “a person is a person through other people.” Rooted in humanist African philosophy, Ubuntu speaks to our common humanity and spiritual interconnectedness.

Development of UQ creates deep connections between individuals, communities and the planet we share. How our Ubuntu Quotient is assessed and grown, how these deep connections are made, are challenges that the Trust is addressing.  Through 2019, the concept was fleshed out, desk research instigated, and alliances made with corporates and Universities. It is an ambitious project, that is gaining support.  The Trust has never been afraid to venture into uncharted waters.

In all our efforts, we are driven to inspire and inform change-makers; igniting mindful impact. Our own growth and resilience owe much to the Founder and Programme Director of The Impact Trust, Tamzin Ractliffe. Her vision, passion and energy are a beacon of light.  My thanks to her and the Board, who are generous with their time and wisdom.

We say a special thank you to Niall Carroll, who is stepping down from the Board this year, after five years of selfless service, to focus on his global change initiative. Your moral compass and pragmatism have guided us all. At the same time, on behalf of the Board, I welcome our two new members.  Gerry Salole, whose experience and knowledge of public benefit foundations is unmatched, and Simon Peile who brings a similar degree of experience and knowledge from the investment community.  Gerry and Simon have long been champions of our aims, always giving the Trust thoughtful insights and meaningful ideas.   May our dialogues deepen, as we continue in our quest of growing young adults to meet the multiple challenges of today, as well as those to come.

Our thoughts go to all the individuals, families and organisations threatened by Covid- 19.  In these uncertain times, the Pete Seeger song that inspired my youth, once more resonates.

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,

We shall overcome someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We shall overcome someday.

We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand,

We’ll walk hand in hand someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We’ll walk hand in hand someday.


Together, we shall overcome.

Mike Freedman
Chairman, Impact Trust



The end of 2019. The end of a decade. The end of a seven-year period for the Trust too.

Since pre-school, seven-year marks always provide me with a pause moment for reflection. I was lucky to spend my foundation years at a Rudolf Steiner school.  Full of magic and make believe, these early years inspired a sense of wonder and fuelled creativity and imagination.  I didn’t understand why Waldorf education saw seven-year cycles as heuristic tools to describe individual development but I did feel the importance and noteworthiness of these seven-year rhythms; most keenly in the first cycle when one grows into being a “Biggie”, able to climb the tree, finally, without a need for aid (a rule-breaking activity) by age seven.

I have subsequently come to understand more about the root of the concept of seven-year cycles in my study of astrology and of the body’s Chakras, which has helped me make sense of rhythms and flows -both in my own life and development, and in the growth patterns and needs of the organisations we have created.

The seven-year cycle came to mind this last month as I have been considering the events, challenges and achievements of the Trust’s last year under review.  It was whilst reflecting on all that we have accomplished so far that I was reminded that it was seven years ago (November 2012) that I first attended the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership BSP Programme in South Africa, and seven years ago in December that the Trust conceptualised the idea of the Routes to Resilience initiative.

According to Rudolf Steiner (founder of Waldorf education), ages nought through seven reflect the cycle of ‘coming into life’, a time when the child’s body separates from the parents and develops its own presence, personality and personal purpose. 2019 was a watershed year for Routes to Resilience – marking the end of the beginning and the independence of a seven-year-old able and excited about climbing tees alone, able to see the organisational vision unfold.

Initiated as a means of addressing the gap in real world learning, Routes to Resilience (R2R) seeks to provide youth with meaningful opportunities and encounters that will help them gain an experiential understanding of the deep and unalterable interconnectedness between all that is in our world. The R2R programmes and experiences were developed in collaboration with CISL, SA to ensure blending of a meaningful appreciation of the concepts and principles of sustainability, systems-thinking and complexity theory that works to inform, inspire and ignite: to awaken consciousness, nurture confidence and encourage intentional citizen action. The result: young people with the resilience to live better, connected lives – and to nurture the same in others.  The programmes engage thought leaders, practitioners, educators and youth from around the world, bringing the richness of diversity from across all sectors to the engagement with youth.

During the year the Trust spent a significant proportion of its time and resources on formally establishing Routes to Resilience and setting a foundation for the flavour and personality of its offerings, developing new programmes for youth and young professionals and deepening our understanding of what best supported educators. We have acted with a deep desire and purpose to not only do those things we are passionate about, but also do the things that we are good at and that the world needs. Programmes are based on the head – heart – hands model that seeks to develop not only objective knowledge and skill, but also subjective, heartfelt purpose and potential and the strategies and practical actions to achieve mastery of purpose in practice. We are delighted that Routes to Resilience has directly reached over 700 young people and almost 200 educators. Our first year of delivery of the Sygnature Programme reached 75 learners (we had anticipated 60). In January 2020 we already have 160 learners enrolled in the programme, many with an intention to do their Sygnature Service projects thereafter.

Now an independently constituted social enterprise, Routes to Resilience seeks to awaken consciousness, nurture confidence and encourage intentional citizenship action, action that protects people, planet and sustainable prosperity and enables the transformation to a more resilient future world.  Its Sygnature Award programme, developed with vision and support from Sygnia Asset Management and CG Holdings, provides a unique offering for young people and is growing in its reach across the UK and South Africa. We look forward to its expansion to other young people in Europe and Africa in the coming year. The Trust remains a shareholder with an active role as advisors, contributors and supporters of the work. Indeed, our advocacy efforts for sustainable development will continue to develop connections between Routes to Resilience and our various partners in working on the literacies for sustainable development.

We are particularly delighted to be in a position to pursue more vigorously the work we have been doing in the area of basic literacy, with LightSail’s ‘Versioning Project’.  This pilot programme seeks to evaluate the potential of a ‘South African version’ of LightSail’s educational technology: one that is locally relevant, multi-lingual and culturally connected to the multifaceted South African context and most specifically for literacy development in learners whose mother tongue is not English.  This work will also inform and support a new initiative of the Trust – the ALERT project – that seeks to develop and test a responsive teaching intervention that helps to support educators and empower epistemically disaffected learners whose existing position and experience of learning precludes positive outcomes, master the intermediate phase of schooling.  ALERT’s pilot will comprise four years of a class teaching programme so that learners are immersed in this programme as their education, rather than it being an additional programme after school.

Our efforts to understand how to drive future-fit leadership in life and work have increasingly considered how we can advocate for and support the business sector as the seek to understand the needs of, and offer relevant and necessary resilience and future-fitness professional development and training to their workforce. This is increasingly urgent for business and society, not only given the rapidly changing nature of the world of work, but the added and significant ramifications of Covid-19 for business and for individual workers.  The need to find ways for both employers and employees to learn to manage change and ensure optimal outcomes as the world of work dramatically changes is thus more pressing than ever before.  Prioritising sustainability intelligence and a future-fit mindset within human capital development strategies will help business recruitment, retrenchment and/or retraining strategies become more human and future-oriented.  They will also, we believe, add momentum to efforts to define new models for, and measures of, wellbeing and prosperity beyond growth.  It is hoped this research will drive broader prioritisation of a sustainability culture and resilience mindset within educational institutions, and ultimately civil society at large.

The Trust’s research, in collaboration with actors in business and academia, will seek to identify indicators of future fitness that includes characteristics of agility, adaptability, resilience and re-employability.  The intention is to find the ways in which the business sector can take a more proactive role in driving the preparedness of employees for the change they will have to negotiate. It is hoped this message and changing orientation in requisite skill sets will flow downwards to universities, schools and educational institutions, whose focus has to change if youth are to be equipped with the character, qualities and capacities to negotiate this transition and find a place for productive contribution in what is needed for and in the future. We are excited about this work and look forward to keeping you abreast of its development.

The financial statements reflect the predominance of our focus on Routes to Resilience over the last year but also reflect the start of our scaling up on other initiatives. We hope these initiatives will prove beneficial and purposeful to our primary purpose, which is to support the enables of sustainable development and our common future.

I would like to thank Niall Carroll most deeply for all his support over the years as his term of trusteeship comes to a close and to welcome, so warmly, Gerry Salole, the inspirational mentor who has been a friend, advisor, guide since this all started way back in the 90s! and Simon Peile whose support over this last 3.5 years of the seven-year Routes to Resilience journey has helped us immeasurably in getting to where we are today.  Thank you to all of the Trustees for their contributions to our thinking, feeling and doing!

As always, I would like to express a very special thank you to those who make our work possible: our funders, partners, expert contributors and faculty, most especially to Elspeth at CISL-SA and Anton at ACC who have so willingly given their time. Our thanks also go to all the amazing social and environmental purpose enterprises who gave their time at our career showcase and so many others who continue to contribute in ways often unseen but never invisible.

Most especial thanks must go to the Big Give and our champion sponsors this year – the Reed Foundation, Lockwood Charitable Trust, A Leibowitz, Milagro Foundation, Sygnia Asset Management, Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, CG Holdings, Pulling Power Media and Triton Cape Sea Travel.

Finally I would like to dedicate this seven-year mark and its achievements to Tom McLaughlin who passed away last year, without warning and far too soon, but who, for the last 21 years was an unfailing supporter, co-creator, thinking and doing partner, friend and mentor.  I knew him for three seven-year cycles and I am grateful beyond measure for his gift and guidance.


“There is something so sad about all this. Even the little environmental recoveries that the slowdown has produced are sad: The clean waters of a tourist-free Venice and the blue skies of an industry-free China. It reminds us how impossible our way of life really is” (Durrheim, 2020).

Since writing this in December 2019, the world has been utterly changed by Covid-19 and life, as we have known it, will never be the same – in both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ways.  Much of the world is gripped by the latest news of the grim efficiency with which the novel corona Covid-19 virus is wreaking havoc on a global scale. Some have invoked narratives that this is the wrath of God or Mother Earth as agent, sending a plague as punishment for the sins of the people. We prefer to examine how specific aspects of our global carelessness toward the natural world might have predicted the inevitability of such a natural disaster.

There is nothing unique about a virus transferring from animals to humans. Indeed, from the ‘plague of Athens’ 429–426 BC, which killed about one-quarter (75,000–100,000) of the citizens of Athens during the siege by the Spartan army[1], zoonotic epidemics have been a feature of human settled cultures.  A history of documented epidemics lists at least 260 significant events, 160 of these since 1900.  A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that spread from animals (usually vertebrates) to humans.  Well known such diseases spread through infected animal bites include rabies (carried by domestic and wild dogs and other animals), malaria and dengue fever (both from infected mosquitoes).

The outbreak of 2019-nCoV is of a similar origin, this time believed to be bat and/or pangolin. It highlights the hidden virus reservoir”[2] and its potential to affect human beings.  But it isn’t an inevitable consequence of humans and animals sharing the same planet. For millions of years, humans have existed – even thrived – in the natural world beyond all possible imagining.

In the late 20th century, models that recognise the value of intact ecosystems and the trade-offs that happen when we degrade these ecosystems to the brink, have been few and far between.  They have not guided economic decision-making and their contribution to economic value has been underestimated.  The global health crisis we now face is a consequence of this arrogance.  As Richard Calland, CISL Fellow and past contributor to the Routes to Resilience programme noted: “the virus makes the case that climate change has so far failed to prove: that our economic model is unsustainable.  If this doesn’t transform social behaviour and the way we manage our economic and ecological resources, then nothing will.”[3]

The pause that Covid-19 has forced upon us has driven many to examine both our individual and global conscience. It is fitting, perhaps, that a global call for reflection falls in April, the first International Day of Conscience, at a time when billions of people have stopped in their tracks and been provided with perhaps a unique opportunity to (re)consider how we can transform our relationship with the planet in order to create a more sustainable social and economic contract.

Rethinking our relationship with nature and the planet means not only rethinking our mindset around the economy, at the core of which is the demand for growth and the use (and abuse) of natural capital. It requires that we rethink – and even perhaps reconstruct – our mindset about life in its totality: how we live it, how we support it, how we share it.  We believe the timeliness of our research on a ‘meta-mindset’ could not be better, and it will be interesting to see how post-Covid-19 reflections demonstrate and/or inform this work.

Despite the devastation that we all have and will continue to feel at a personal, familial and societal level, despite the mourning that this time will most certainly evoke for all of us, there is something we can all do to drive a change across society that will help us all thrive.  Covid-19 has made us aware of our interconnectedness with each other and with nature, aware of the delicate balance of the global ecosystem and of our collective participation in creating conditions that are driving its destruction. We are witnessing the impact of our collective lack of conscientiousness on the planet.

As we emerge from this global catastrophe, we will have the best opportunity we have ever had to reinvent our economies, societies and behaviours. We have to ask, when all this is over – because it will be over – do we want to continue to wilfully ignore the consequences of our actions, or do we want to learn from the lessons this time provides?  Whichever we choose – and we will have to choose – the decisions we make today can no longer rely on ignorance as an excuse for inaction. We must respond to this wake-up call with a conscious commitment.

Tamzin Ractliffe, Executive Director, Impact Trust

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