A letter from South Africa: The co-creation imperative
I write this post from South Africa, site of a conference bringing together public relations professionals from 10 African countries. The host country is at the centre of so many great global debates: how to manage growth sustainably in a developing economy; how to reduce vast social inequality through education, health services, security, empowerment and opportunity; and, of course, how to make extraordinary cultural diversity a source of national advantage.
Just as South Africa often seems like a microcosm of the world, it’s also been a model in the use of public relations in addressing societal problems. Here are three very different examples:
- Peace, truth and reconciliation: Almost two decades after the end of apartheid, many outsiders have forgotten how close South Africa came to civil war after Nelson Mandela’s historic release from prison in 1990. The negotiations on a new constitution were complex, with a multitude of parties bringing not just their own interests, but also understandably deep scars and divisions within each community. It was the combination of leadership (exemplified by Nobel laureates Mandela, F. W. de Klerk and Desmond Tutu), the realization that continuing conflict was in no party’s advantage, and the use of both interpersonal relationships and mass communication that made a framework for a new society possible.
- Governance: South Africa has been the crucible of historic advances in corporate governance, led by Judge Mervyn King, whom I will have the privilege to see during my visit. The three editions of the King Code of Governance have led to reforms in the structure and operations of corporate boards, established a role for stakeholders in governance, and lent impetus to the idea of giving investors a more wholistic view of an organization’s risk profile through integrated reporting that combines statutory financial information with sustainability information. Today, the Global Alliance is proud to be at the table as the International Integrated Reporting Council develops a new framework for integrated reporting on a global scale.
- Professionalism in communication: The Public Relations Institute of South Africa (PRISA) has one of the world’s most advanced programs of professional credentialing, training and education. South Africans were at the Global Alliance table from the beginning, contributing to collaborative achievements such as the Global Code of Ethics and the development of global standards in the credentialing of public relations and communications professionals. PRISA’s leaders have helped provide the intellectual frameworks for the governance reforms I mentioned above, and they continue to distinguish themselves as passionate defenders of free speech and communication when such liberties remain too often threatened – in Africa and elsewhere.
While the situations and stakes involved were very different in each case, there’s a common thread: each illustrates the value of co-creation, in which parties arriving at a table with different interests to create something new for the common good. Throughout most of history, decisions have been made through conquest or compromise, and South Africa exemplifies that; but when even reluctant parties achieve a genuine spirit of consensus and co-creation, the benefit can be both mutual and sustainable.
May such a spirit animate public relations and communication professionals this year, as we work to raise standards, share knowledge, strengthen our global professional community and champion public relations in the public interest.
I hope you enjoy reading about the Global Alliance’s work, and that you will contribute to our online discussions about the Melbourne Mandate for Global Communication in advance of the 2012 World Public Relations Forum.
Daniel Tisch, APR, FPCRS, Chair, Global Alliance