The Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin at Zeppelin University has been collaborating with the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership (ALCRL) at the University of Pretoria since 2017/2018. Numerous mutual visits have marked the excellent academic cooperation between the two institutes, both in relation to their joint research project and via student exchange. Prof Derick de Jongh (DDJ) and post-doctoral research fellow Dr Yolande Steenkamp (YS) sat down for an interview with Evelyn Pachta (EGP) from LEIZ during their stay in Friedrichshafen in November 2019.
EGP: Professor de Jongh, you first visited Zeppelin University in 2017 to give a keynote speech at the Transcultural Leadership Summit on Sub-Saharan Africa. You are now here for the Relational Economics Conference and you feel quite at home here, you told me. What has happened in the meantime?
DDJ: Perhaps we may compare our collaboration with any relationship between two people, or even a marriage. You meet, you get to know each other, and then there is the wedding. Given Josef Wieland’s role in setting up LEIZ at Zeppelin University and my role in setting up the ALCRL at the University of Pretoria there was an obvious meeting of minds and a clear joint interest in exploring what is required of leadership in the different contexts of South Africa and Germany.
After several reciprocal visits we started formalising our collaboration on this research project. We are now almost in the engagement phase, having reached a common understanding regarding our research in order to making the world a better place through leadership. Me feeling at home means we know, appreciate and respect each other as collaboration partners. Furthermore, we appreciate that Zeppelin University can contribute from a very German perspective, just like we can do from a very South African perspective. So, hopefully next year we will tie the knot and make it more formal.
EGP: Why Zeppelin University and the LEIZ? What do the two universities have in common and how do they complement each other?
DDJ: I especially like the fact that ZU is a small university with a very unique approach to doing research. I also appreciate its curricula, it being a liberal arts university with a transdisciplinary focus. I am really interested in the philosophy on which ZU is built, encouraging students to critically think about important matters such as the purpose of the firm and enabling them to have a critical understanding of economic theory. You would only find this at a smaller university that is based on the liberal arts. I consider it a luxury that you can select students; also that the students come here because they are interesed in those topics and want to be equipped with a broader understanding, rather than just wanting to earn a degree.
YS: There is a difference between being trained and being educated.
DDJ: Yes, here they are being educated and my understanding is also that graduates from Zeppelin University are much sought after as employees later on.
EGP: What is the difference between the two universities?
DDJ: The main difference is in terms of size, and at the University of Pretoria its much larger size results in a more silo-orientated approach with less opportunity for cross- and interdisciplinary teaching and research. The academic programmes and research projects of the broader school of humanities, for instance, almost exclusively relate to that particular discipline. Students from Zeppelin have the luxury of being only 25 to 30 students in a class. At the University of Pretoria this can go up to 500 or even 1000 depending on the course.
EGP: Do you also have students sitting outside and watching lessons online?
DDJ: No we have big lecture halls, and auditoriums that can seat 1000 people.
EGP: So direct contact between professors and students is not easy at such a big university?
DDJ: Exactly! You are in what I would call a luxury position of having close contact between the lecturer and the student due to smaller classes where lecturers can engage students one-on-one. In our case this is not possible. Unlike ZU, the configuration of our university does not really allow for a truly interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach. That is what I like about ZU, which is a little like a text-book example of what I think universities should be like. You have far more personal interaction with the students – building and developing students to become much more rounded individuals with a holistic view of the world. With over 500 students in a class, this is impossible for us.
EGP: The size of the university also affects the curriculum? Could you give us more detail – such as, for example, the focus on sustainability in an accounting course?
DDJ: Precisely! We do a lot of that – what we call ‘integrated reporting,’ through which we attempt to get accounting students to think not only about reporting on finances but also on the environmental impact, the social impact, ethics, and so forth. So we do bring these elements into teaching accounting, but in a limited way. What ZU stands for is like an add-on or a unique selling proposition or USP that other universities are able to do only over and above their regular work. The priority remains the conventional curriculum, i.e., conventional accounting, and if there is time, you would add interesting contemporary matters such as social-environmental accounting to that curriculum. I am just using accounting as an example.
EGP: Do you think it is possible to have more universities like ZU when you think about the task a public university has, namely of providing education to everyone?
DDJ: Of course, in theory, yes. All universities should be like that, but it is too expensive. The benefit of the University of Pretoria is that, as a large institution, it is able to offer high quality tertiary education to vast numbers of students who otherwise would have no access to it. As this includes high and rising percentages of students who come from previously disadvantaged communities based on the racial biases of the Apartheid regime, the University of Pretoria plays an important role in restoring justice and making opportunities available on an enormous scale. The powerful effect of this in a country like South Africa should not be underestimated. However, this also means that one sacrifices in other terms, such as personal contact between students and lecturers, for example.
EGP: How do students here compare to students at the University of Pretoria?
DDJ: My impression of the students here is that they look relaxed, confident, and are well-spoken. Students at our University experience challenges on multiple levels. Many have problems financing their studies. Because many of our students will be the first in their families having the opportunity to study, as soon as they finish their degree, they have to look after extended family members. The family and extended family therefore rely on that student to find employment look after them. Most students who enroll for a PhD also have to work full time in order to finance it. Hunger is also a pertinent problem for many of our students, as limited financial often means having to choose between paying tuition fees or providing for their personal needs.
EGP: What is the main purpose of the collaboration between the LEIZ and the ALCRL, and what is the aim of the joint research project?
DDJ: These are two totally different institutions, with different cultural backgrounds, different cultural identities, and different institutional mandates and logics. This difference is the benefit of our collaboration. Through our joint research project we want to understand leadership better than we do at this stage, specifically in the context of multi-sectoral partnerships to address major global challenges such as gender or inequality, climate change or food security, water or sustainable cities, and so forth.
If we consider the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a moment – remember that there are 17 goals, 169 objectives and 209 targets – we see that partnership is a major means of implementation outlined by SDG 17. The essence of our study will therefore be to understand the requirements of leadership amidst such multi-stakeholder partnerships for reaching the SDGs. We will write up case studies on such partnerships in South Africa and Germany, analyse the data and see how what emerges can advance and expand the theory of leadership.
EGP: Thank you both very much for this interview!
LEIZ Communication Management
The Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership aims to develop a new generation of responsible leaders, shaping local and international business practices and policies in support of social and environmental justice.
Its strengths lie in its ability to harness the academic integrity of a variety of academic disciplines cutting across areas such as economic and management sciences, environmental sciences, natural sciences, law, engineering and humanities, to name a few.
Its legitimacy lies in its ability to respond to key issues in the field of corporate responsibility and responsible leadership.
Its relevance is determined by the extent to which stakeholders, internal (faculty at UP) and external (private sector, public sector and civil society), put a premium on the ALCRL’s ability to advance responsible leadership through relevant teaching and research interventions.
Core focus areas:
Sustainable Development Goals