Social Impact Leaders — Interview w/ Zelna A. Oberholster
Zelna A. Oberholster is an author, life coach, speaker, mother, serial entrepreneur, and community builder with a special interest in the development of young women, using her journey of a multiple rape survivor to a life of thriving to inspire. She is a regular speaker at women’s day and 16 days of activism events at corporations such as Barclays (South Africa), Grace House, local schools and has run support groups for depression, abused women and children and cancer groups.
Social Impact — What meaning do you personally associate with this term?
A significant positive shift in society by deliberate actions, projects and programs.
Social Responsibility — What is your best practice to integrate it into your daily life?
To be accountable for my actions and decisions, mindful that others may not have that luxury to have informed control over their actions and decisions. Integrating it into my daily life is ensuring that I treat and remunerate my employees and contractors fairly, being mindful that their income supports entire families and their wellbeing is paramount to their success. It also means that I recognize talent and upskill them whenever I am able to. Basically, it is the little seeds we plant and water resulting to positive impacts on earth.
For instance, Vongai who is contracted to do housekeeping, showed a keen interest in cooking and baking. At first I taught her some basic terms and showed her the techniques. When she mastered that, I started giving her recipes to follow on her own. Then bought her an oven and some pans with her own recipe book. Eventually I sent her on a cake decorating course. She now bakes queen cakes and scones and sells them for additional income and her dream is to own and start her own bakery, which I am in the process of teaching her how to manage and how to raise funds.
Purchasing Power — What is it all about, and why is it real power?
In 2020 the Purchasing Power Parity (PPU) was 6.9 LCU (the number of units of a country’s currency required to buy the same amounts of goods and services in the domestic market as U.S. dollar would buy in the United States) per international dollar in South Africa. So we are on a backfoot when it comes to especially travel and imported services and goods. It is therefore of paramount importance that we make our money count and spending it on produce and services that are aligned to our values. If we start saying no to low quality, mass produced imports from China, and yes to locally manufactured, handcrafted goods where we are able to confirm there is no child labour and fair trade principles are applied, we start a movement away from accepting inferior goods with unacceptable labour practices and growing the economies that we want and not that which is forced down our throats.” The living soul of man, one conscience of its power, cannot be quilled’- Horace Mann
Conscious Living — Why is it important to live our life consciously? And how do our actions influence and affect each other, and therefore connect us?
Maya Angelou said that we should do the best we can until we know better. When we know better, we can do better.
Conscious living starts with being aware of the choices we make and how it affects others, the environment and society. Sometimes we simply don’t know what we don’t know and need to read up and educate ourselves, often in reaction to some reaction in what has been affected. If we see each person or impact as a teacher, our awareness about ourselves in relation to others, earth, the universe and our Maker, increases. We will experience that everything is relative and how we choose options of living will relate in some way or another on a human, animal, resource, society and our environment. Once we know better, we will be more aware of the effect of our actions when next we have a choice of action.
Conscious Consumerism — Why, now more than ever, it is important to reflect on our buying habits, and research the brands we are consuming?
The 4th industrial revolution is upon us! We are living in an always-on society and consuming goods and services, from faceless entities at a touch of a button. But they are not completely faceless and more information than ever is available online about how products were sourced, how services are provided, what carbon footprints companies have, what labour practices are followed.
Impact on environment and sustainability are important to modern consumers in a society where value for money and how the product or service meet needs and expectation are as important as whether or not the company aligns to personal values of the consumer.
Because I am interested in whole person wellness, nutrition is important to me. There are a lot of food on the market which are genetically modified (GMO) and a move away from producers who are cruel to animals. Labels are being scrutinised and exposed on social media. There simply is nowhere to hide for suppliers of inferior products or products which are not aligned to values. Off course- this usually applies to those who can afford to be picky and unemployed, poor, illiterate people can still be exploited as they are just too happy to receive something to eat.
Commercial — From your point of view, what are the commercial practices that are unhealthy to humanity?
Naturally I am interested in the seven dimensions of wellbeing: Mental, physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental and occupational. An impact on any of these dimensions impacts on an individual and on society as a whole.
The corporate determinants of health that I see impacting on the physical dimension are fast foods that could increase chances to obesity (which also impacts the social and mental dimensions) and heart disease; higher- around-the clock demands on employees’ time and higher productivity demands as people resign or are laid off leading to higher stress levels and may lead to increases in non-communicable diseases, impacting financial & occupational wellness as well as mental health; unsafe workplaces leading to accidents, especially in mines and factories; environmental hazards such as unsafe dumping of toxins in rivers, reducing available safe drinking water, deforestation and burning of fossil fuels leading to low air quality that we breathe. My list could go on-and-on, but it is important to remember that these companies also do good by creating jobs and supplying much needed products and services too.
The Future — What is your personal outlook on the future?
I am excited about humanity re-discovering the good in themselves and see it continuing.
I think there is an increasing collective consciousness. This is good on one hand, but we should also be cautious and do our own digging. “Research’ has become a very en vogue term to describe ‘reading and watching’ of what certain influencers say or do or has ‘researched’ to prove their standpoint. Social media can be very informative, but it also makes us lazy to investigate, read and do proper research on our own.
I foresee that environmental concerns will increase and that producers will charge a premium for products which are planet friendly while consumers’ willingness to pay premiums for more sustainable environmentally products will decline. Supply and demand will determine an acceptable price point. There will be increasing pressure on fashion houses to produce more sustainable clothing, although the true fashionistas will be less inclined to shun their favourite designers forever.
If Covid-mask wearing has taught us anything is to be more conscious of what we breathe in and what we prevent from going in. Clean air and increased demands for clean, healthy drinking water could put pressure on governments to enforce environmental policies on companies.
The enforced social isolation that was necessitated by Covid lockdowns will increase awareness for our need to have a human touch, while governments and corporations will look at artificial intelligence (AI) to increase productivity and contribute less to salaries, wages and taxes. This will lead to mass unemployment, necessitating people to find alternative income sources and handmade, locally produced goods will be in oversupply. Consumers will reject unnecessary goods, and opt for much needed goods, sourced from wholesome faces, putting pressure on companies’ oversupply of AI manufactured goods. It will eventually balance out.
People will ‘semigrate’ from urban areas to farm and rural areas and create jobs in laying down infrastructure in these areas. ‘Living off the land’ and off grid will see increased use of solar and wind power, and water catchment and access devices. Working from home options will increase and homes will become meeting places for those who require the human touch.
Ethical employment practices will become the norm, rather than the exception.
This may mostly sound negative, but consumers (in the context of capitalist countries) will have more impact on organisations’ existence than ever before which is good for society. Innovation, creativity and learning to communicate effectively will be a natural outcome.
Change — What do you personally think needs to change — from a consumer perspective and within the corporate world?
Sometimes being a ‘casual, friend with benefit’ conscious consumer seems ideal as it is less time consuming, for the mere deep delving necessary to get simple facts that should be easily available to consumers. Basic nutritional facts should be easy to find and legible on labels. Company websites should have sustainably sourced information easily accessible.
I would off course love for people to use and apply their own minds. To not trust information from influencers blindly with no previous track record. Academic and consumer research is readily available. As a consumer we have power, but that power should not be used inadvertently affecting a business, its employees and supply chain, without proof and opportunity to respond and correct.
Is there anything you would like to share that we have not asked you here?
Consumerism impacts the social fibre of society which can affect the socio-economic conditions of that society. Abuse, gender based violence, rapes, crime should be guarded with a treasured wakefulness when our decision to buy or not starts impacting the livelihoods of families associated with the companies we choose to not buy from.
Demee Koch about the MEDIUM interview series on Social Impact:
Hello! I am a serial entrepreneur practising conscious entrepreneurship. This is an interview series about social responsibility and the best practices in incorporating it into our daily lives.
Every day, we make an impact consciously and subconsciously. It is implemented through our actions.
A great example of this is the practice of our Purchasing Power where we can actually direct our impact by consciously deciding which brands and companies we nourish.
I interview change advocates about best practices for incorporating social consciousness into our daily lives, and practices in the business world that need to change for the benefit of social responsibility.
With this interview, we invite the reader to reflect their every day actions. We all have an impact, and if we are consciously aware of that, we can be empowered to start the change for a better future.
Thank you for being the change. I’m looking forward to learn from each one of you. Reach out to me via LinkedIn.