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In conversation with Femada

In conversation with Femada Shamam, CEO of TAFTA and Magda Pienaar, Eden Guide, Eden Alternative South Africa regarding the Eden Path to Mastery Guide process.

Magda: “We have come to the end of a Eden Path to Mastery Guide process, the first for an organisation in South Africa. As CEO of Tafta, please share with us your experience of this journey?”

Femada: “I think to use one word to describe this journey – I would say that it’s been an incredible journey – it has its highs and lows. There has been so much growth on a professional level and on a personal level. From an organisational point it’s been amazing to watch the leadership team and how the other teams throughout the organisation have progressed from silo service delivery to imagining a different way of being. One of the most amazing things to witness was how different teams have progressed and have worked through their own fears, have worked through their own anxieties and have let go of that which is known to them and bravely taken on something completely new.”

“I think what’s been good about Path to Mastery has been the constant guidance that you get. Whenever you have a new concept, initially there is this excitement around the concept, you want to embrace this, but the sustainability of that becomes the challenge and having the guidance over an extended period of time, meant that we were constantly reminded that these are things that we committed to and these are the things that we need to follow up on. It supported our team members in developing at a pace they were comfortable with.”

“I think it is quite amazing to see the response from our elders themselves. Some people they were quite curious about the name “elders” and questioned us about it. Once we start talking about the wisdom and the experience and how we want to be part of this development, they would proudly take on the name. For some people they attached the whole church elders meaning to it, and they were not too comfortable. It was about having these conversations around that and then it was about what is this new way of working, what does this mean?

In all my dealings and from a personal point of view, when I speak to people about Eden and the culture change within the organisation, people are able to relate to it almost immediately because that’s what they want for themselves. Whether you are speaking to a young person or someone nearing retirement, when you speak about a life worth living; when you talk about elders waking up every morning with a sense that I live an inspired life; people get that immediately.”

“This journey has been incredible because that’s what we are working towards. We are looking at the possibility of what it could be. In some ways I think we started the process of changing the ageing narrative as a time when you age, as a time when there are possibilities. As an organisation we commit to inspiring new possibilities and this Eden journey has given us the tools to be able to do that.

One of the things also – I would quickly say that I found quite interesting about the Path to Mastery and the whole conversations around Eden was that Eden became an excuse for good behaviour in our staff. When our staff did something good and we praised them for it by saying “that’s really a good idea “ their response would be: “ that’s the Eden way”. Out staff were affirmed for their positive behavior but they used Eden as an excuse for good behaviour – and I think that’s just phenomenal.”

Magda: From our perspective, what made this an experience, working with TAFTA, is that there is clearly trust. We have seen how the group has grown over the year and there is not just trust but support. The other aspect that stood out for me was people being open and willing to engage. Not everything was always easy, there were challenges but people asked the questions, they shared and they engaged. That is what is needed in an organisation when you want to get onto the journey of culture change.

Femada: ”Absolutely, but we must not lose the fact that it’s terrifying as well. As soon as we started opening ourselves up to the possibilities of what could be and we talk about issues around transparency, accountability and we support and empower ourselves around those issues, we must be willing to be tested as well. I think the last year our staff have been so fabulous about testing me and testing the accountability and testing the transparency as well. Sometimes I think I make fabulous decisions, but they will hold me accountable and they will say what if we do this a different way or this does not work or can we do this differently. But I agree with you, the trust that we have has taken time to develop and we probably will have situations that will test that trust continuously, but I think the commitment that people made is the glue that bonds us together. There is a joint commitment and everyone agreed to this. At times where everyone is scared and terrified, they pulled together saying we committed to this, I don’t know how – can you help me. And generally there is a spark somewhere that just ignites and that’s a catalyst to finding something different, so that’s new and that’s been good.”

Magda: ”The feedback today, on our last day, is hearing that yes the Elders have benefited but also the staff on a personal level have shared how they have grown. How this has transformed their personal lives. This to me is testimony of The Eden Alternative Philosophy promoting that the Elders and the staff are of equal importance and that both those groups need well-being for the system to be well.”

Femada:”Yes and I think that’s what comes to the fore so well. It is how important our staff are in this entire conversation. Every single person who has been on the Path to Mastery have spoken about, how it has affected their personal lives and how it’s changed the way they relate to people in their life. It’s just been such an amazing tool and every single one who have attended the Path to Mastery are absolute ambassadors of the Eden Alternative. I hear the likes of people from our accounts department speak so passionately about the Eden Alternative and the possibilities of what could be and I look at that and I smile and think – wow that is amazing, it is not just about number crunching, but my number crunching impacts on someone’s life and that’s been fascinating.”

Magda: “Tafta gives us hope, thank you.”            

Date: 24 January 2018, Place: Durban

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