I have been asked this question by a good few people who leave safe harbours in pursuit of Purpose...

As I type, I am grappling with the unintended ripples of a recent delicate, in-person conversation with an acquaintance. I shared a suggestion that was intended to encourage but instead, was received as being condescending, evoking some anger and hurt. On reflection, perhaps an empathetic listening ear was all the person needed that day. So often we express a perspective, without being fully aware of where someone is at on the textured spectrum of immunity and vulnerability.

Had this been an online conversation, the flow of human chemistry and rapport would have been detached from the start. Yet social media platforms are the new public square that connect billions of users who are geographically spread and socially diverse. Everyone has a voice to exercise freedom of speech online, from leaders, influencers and brands to the unidentified sensation seeker, even if what gets posted undermines or infringes someone else’s human rights. There are no norms and very few filters - insults and hostile messages flow freely, leading to the misuse of social media to spread violent messages and aggressive comments, using offensive language and hurtling hateful speech towards people and groups who represent “the other”. Consistent content moderation is a challenge, but not an excuse.

Social media companies are not playing ball to limit the damage, electing to prioritise profits above people. In 2021, the Facebook Files exposed the lack of online safety controls that placed peoples’ lives and young users’ mental health at risk, with mention of vulnerable communities in Africa. Research reveals that 80% of European Union (EU) citizens have encountered hate speech online, discouraging engagement. Regulators and social media platform owners are at loggerheads. Legislators in the EU and UK are norming. Guidelines and legislation in South Africa are forming. Meanwhile boardroom leaders are staying in their own lanes, fast-tracking digitalisation.

Online abuse in sport is on the rise, with many athletes, employees and volunteers being pinged with threatening, abusive or rude social media messages, termed “flaming”. Healthy competition and victorious results can unite and inspire like the Boks have done for SA. On the opposite end, fanatical rivalry and defeat can over-heat to hate, with or without socio-political undertones. Elite athletes are prime targets of online abuse, irrespective of good or bad performance. The see-saw of applause and abuse gets usurped by online trolls, mostly using anonymous profiles to side-step accountability. The bottom-line is that athletes will leave the sport and fans will lose interest if nothing is done.

Survey trends indicate that more than 40% of professional English football players have experienced abuse on X and 20% of players in the 2023 Women’s World Cup reported social media abuse. The Mbonambi/Curry racial allegation incident proved that language diversity adds complexity, with World Rugby expressing its concern at the level of online abuse directed at both players. Tennis and cricket players too are calling out the online onslaughts they receive from fans. Cyber bullying is rife in e-sports and online gaming, while a criminal element in legalised online sports betting has compelled FBI intervention to protect the lives of targeted US college football players. At the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One's online reach is growing at speed but with a downside drag. The 2022 "Drive It Out" video campaign called for greater respect to protect driver safety and well-being, following online attacks against seven times World Champion, Lewis Hamilton and former Williams driver, Nicholas Latifi. President of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), Mohammed Ben Sulayem, reached a point of zero tolerance after female race steward, Silvia Bellot, received numerous online death threats in reaction to her controversial post-race penalty decision. The red flags are up and yes, sports leaders are on guard.

Online toxicity in sport has reached a crisis point and international sports federation administrators are at a pivotal choice point. Online abuse and online hate, in the form of racism, misogyny, sectarianism, bullying and other, dampen the spirit of fair play and must be eradicated urgently to sustain prosperity in sport. Elite athletes and experienced employees represent high-value human capital - constant exposure to online attacks threatens psychological safety, a building block for high performance cultures. Weak governance of online abuse will dilute stakeholder confidence, compromising the overall value proposition in sport. The game is on to prevent this.

Spearheaded by the FIA, the United Against Online Abuse (UAOA) is a global, multi-stakeholder coalition aimed at steering the way forward to tackle all forms of online hate speech in sport, in consultation with governments and NGO’s. With a privileged seat on the UAOA research panel, I aim to make a positive difference through generation of evidence-based research that informs responsible and efficacious combat strategies. In parallel, to engage with national sports federation leaders and affected athletes in South Africa, and interested counterparts in the southern hemisphere, to discuss, understand and raise an awareness on this topic. The FIA and Motorsport South Africa have pledged their green light of support. For shared success, the circle of committed collaborators will need to get bigger so that sport continues to, as Madiba said, “…unite people in a way that little else does”.

Circling back to my earlier reflections, I was reminded that human connections are inherently fragile in a turbulent world, requiring mindful calibration, conversation-by-conversation, chat-by-chat, post-by-post. In person or online, say it with human kindness.

Roshni Gajjar is the Founder and Managing Director of StratAstute Consulting specialising in strategy consulting, resilient success coaching and a director of Future Ones NPC which promotes educational STEM programmes fit for motorsport and allied industries.

Rohan Laas (left) and Helgaard Janse Van Rensburg (right) are former F1 in Schools World Finals competitors and now lead volunteers at Future Ones NPC. These two high performers are committed to sharing their knowledge and experience to enable next generation success through excellence in applied STEM.

A decade and half later, they share their story with shining eyes and wide smiles, recalling their "make a plan" journey to the 2009 World Finals in London.

How they got going.

Helgaard led the team and Rohan looked after the finance, marketing and graphics. This is almost similar to what we do in in our current jobs. Helgaard is the co-Founder and R&D Director at EX Management Systems while Rohan wears a finance hat at a leading beverage company in South Africa.

F1 in Schools was introduced to us at another local school over a weekend in the Free State. With very little information or knowledge, we submitted a car concept design and team structure. From there we were selected to continue to the next stage and progressed from there. All we did was to stay focused, while we had fun figuring it all out.

Highlights from their journey.

Our initial thought was, "what is this?". The whole thing was a foreign concept - we knew a bit about Formula One but knew nothing about the F1 in Schools programme. We know that we had no experienced but that did not stop us.

Our team, Double S Racing, collaborated with a team from Germany. We had to set up, self-manage and self-organise the teams with limited process guidelines. It was our teacher who figured things out and shared her own learnings with us, making sure that we were always aligned as a team. This support was motivating.

We faced numerous technological challenges, such as learning how to use CAD design software, CNC machines, wind tunnels and how to prepare digital presentations.  

What amazed us as being part of the World Finals event, was seeing how advanced other countries were, especially the investments companies made in their local schools. For example, our collaboration team from Germany had access to one of the biggest motor manufacturers in the world who assisted with our car's paint work. This would have been very difficult to accomplish as a standalone team in South Africa. Also the workmanship and quality of presentations of the other international teams were phenomenal.

The other two South African teams were from Pietermaritzburg and Stellenbosch. They competed independently and not through collaboration.

Some challenges and how they tackled them.

There were challenges and we had to cross them through trial and error because there is no blueprint.

We had some initial designs flaws and re-designed our car multiple times until the design was machinable. From the technical to the thinking - we had to learn to present our design, ideas and concepts to the sponsors and judges. We learnt about fundraising, speaking to sponsors and managing finances. Time management was a big factor to manage school, sports and personal/social activities. We enjoyed the challenges simply because we worked well in our team. The team leader played an important role - this was Helgaard's job.

The ROI delivered to the school and to sponsors.

We were the only school in our town, Sasolburg, that participated and this attracted great publicity, especially after we advanced to the international (World Finals) competition. With the support of the University of the Free State, we were able to get some international and local exposure.

Key learnings that they continue to apply today.

We experienced the high competence of participants from other countries. Today that insight into world class excellence motivates us to showcase South Africa's capability which stacks up with international standards if we put in consistent effort daily and keep performing at those high levels.

What participation can offer to young STEM talent in SA.

Firstly, it forces you to think outside the box and to come up with a plan otherwise you will fail. As the saying goes, "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail".

Secondly, international exposure opens your eyes to endless possibilities of what South Africa can achieve, and also learn, in terms of technological advancements. This type of exposures shows that us South Africans who don't have the means and privilege can still compete at the same level with the best of the best.

Our lead volunteers' “Impossible” goal for F1 in Schools ZA.

Our impossible goal is to involve the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and to mentor upcoming prospective engineers.

Then have as many schools as possible participating, unlike the few schools during our time, with bigger sponsors so that we can have a proper national competition which includes many more pupils and teams across South Africa.

This opportunity can awaken an unknown interest you never knew you had and maybe produce the next Enzo Ferrari producing the first South African design and completely fabricated car right here in Mzanzi!

What an SA team will need to do to reach and win at the F1 in Schools World Finals.

The reality is that you have to push yourself to your limits and only seek the best, there is absolutely no space for being mediocre. Obstacles will always be there but those should not deter you.

Funding will probably be the biggest obstacle but keep at it. Approach international brands where possible, offer them a value proposition. In our experience and unfortunately, local and smaller businesses did not see the value initially so we had to approach international brands. Aligning our values / visions to sponsors made it an easier sell.

Research on what other businesses do and identify what success looks like. Research marketing, branding, technology, performance and measure your team against the best examples out there. Look at printed or digital magazines for presentations, the paintwork must be of a quality that would go on a road car and branding and sponsorships must be approached professionally. Public speaking is an important skill when dealing with sponsors. Look for ways to improve and apply those learnings because that is what gets teams to the World Finals.

Get comfortable with technology and learn how to use the right software so that it sets your designs and presentations apart from others. Know the technologies that affect car performance, for example the effect of paint, wheel friction and other design aspects.

The competition rules are strict. Learn them, live them and love them. This will aid you in applying the rules to your designs and also in identifying the restrictions posed on the teams / vehicles.

How you work as a team is important - identify the team's weaknesses and strengths and use them for your team's success. Relationships in the team must be managed. Good relationships with suppliers and external experts or mentors will help to maximise what the team can deliver within the budget and using the skills available. Involve local business who support the team in achieving the goal.

Lastly, have a business or entrepreneurial mindset. Set a team mission and have a plan - it will guide you on decision making and allow for easier buy in.

Even if you don't win at the World Finals, if you apply these suggestions, you will be very employable and highly experienced by the time you enter the job market.  

Advice to young South Africans who want to achieve extraordinary success.

  1. Decide to be extraordinary first. Once this has been decided no amount of work or effort should discourage you from achieving the intended outcome.
  2. You have to believe that there is value in what you do and it's not in vain, even if you don't see any results now and will only see it in years to come.
  3. Treat each failure as a lesson to learn from. Make sure you learn the lesson and don't repeat it - at least not more than twice.
  4. Have fun in what you do this as will make it easier when you have to put in the long hours and face difficulties.
  5. No one has ever achieved success on their own. Learn from others, be humble, share your ideas. have a learning mindset - be a sponge and absorb everything you can. Don't be put-off by critique.
  6. Experience is required and this is only achieved by doing the work - put in the effort.
  7. You are a South African - be proud of it and show the world that you are capable of being the best!

In a press conference ahead of the 2023 RWC Final, Siya Kolisi said this:

"... people tell us how they feel. People send us videos and tell us (that) this is sometimes the only time they are happy about something is when we play ..."

Q1: As a leader, how often do your people - teams, family, stakeholders, community - see you "playing for performance" vs "working for performance"?

Q2: Is your "tone at the top" inspiring performance or mining performance?

Q3: What would happen if you walked in on Monday heart-first, ready to "play-to-priorities" and invited your team to do the same?

Madiba had that playful twinkle in his eye, despite the odds. His left-field nation building strategy was enabled, astutely, through "play" in 1995. When the game is played beyond the self, commitment to "win" is fuelled by a bigger purpose.

As you watch the Bok and Kiwi gladiators play their hearts out for the 4th Webb Ellis World Cup in 2023, imagine infusing "play" across your fields of leadership influence.

Why? Because effective leadership starts with making people "feel" worthy of success. Leaders today, hold the torch for how that plays out tomorrow.

Roshni Gajjar is the founder of StratAstute Consulting. a boutique consultancy that specialises in strategy, strategy-execution and cultivating a mindset to support resilient success.

I am pleased to be representing StratAstute Consulting as a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

The StratEx 4.0 coaching service stream has evolved organically, through supporting leaders, entrepreneurs and athletes navigate the Covid-related disruptions and uncertainties. I found that coaching is like a game of golf or the sport of marginal gains - the more you and your client show up for practice together, the more you want to learn how to practice better. That's strategy, and fair play, in motion.

My purpose, through StratAstute, is to help organisations, leaders and rising stars to become the best versions of themselves so that they can reach their highest potential, achieve targeted success and make a positive contribution through foresight, purpose-driven actions and a “can-do” mindset.

“It is possible of ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.”

- Elon Musk

I am excited to work with existing and new clients, to cultivate resilient performance and to enable them to reach their vision of success. Let's Talk.

Roshni Gajjar is a certified Performance Coach and a member of the ICF. She is an experienced Chartered, Strategy Consultant and Board-level leader. She has offers +20 years’ executive-level experience to her clients, served in the advisory/assurance, automotive, consulting, healthcare, higher education, insurance sectors and pharmaceutical sectors.