TIGE Conference - Personal stories of leadership and transformation

Whistleblowing puts the humane back into business, say two African whistleblowers


By Doris Okenwa

It’s been 15 years since Wendy Addison spoke truth to power. In the year 2000, while working as the international treasurer of the publicly listed South African company LeisureNet, regarded as the darling of the Johannesburg stock exchange, she spotted and exposed backhand dealings within the organization. But whistleblowing comes with a heavy price tag. ‘The focus is often on shooting the messenger and not to examine the message,’ she told the annual conference on Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy (TIGE) in Caux, Switzerland, on 29 June.

Exposing the two Chief Executive Officers in one’s own organization could be considered at least as a maverick move, especially as they had been her personal friends. Addison was the only woman on the board and became known as ‘Wendy the wildcard’.

It took 11 years for her to secure justice amidst death threats and loss of income. She was fired from the company and much of her social circles, to the point of fleeing, under death threats, with her young son from South Africa to the UK.

The corrupt executives eventually landed jail terms. But deprived of an income and with no savings or pension, the messenger was left in the cold. Addison begged on the streets of Kingston upon Thames, South-west London, for several months to survive and cater for her 12year old son prior to the legal enquiry and court case beginning back in South Africa. From 2012 till today, she says, ‘it’s been a matter of rebuilding myself, initiating Speak Out, SpeakUp (her support organizations for whistleblowers), and then starting to be of service to others.’

Alia Ben’s story, which she told publicly for the first time during the TIGE conference, rings with the same moral conviction. Ben was part of her family’s long established flourmill in Casablanca, Morocco, the largest such enterprise in the North African country, with over 1000 employees. Rather than engage in unethical business practices, Ben disclosed information to her grandfather, the original owner of the business. 

She found family members blurring the line between company finances and their personal wealth. With the support of her grandfather, Ben exposed corrupt practices, despite the patriarchal ties that bind many Moroccan business ventures. ‘Moroccan businesses are family businesses,’ she says, making deviation from the status quo akin to the betrayal of one’s kith and kin. But to maintain the reputation of the family business, she felt she had no other option. Since, the company has been bought and she remains in the organization as a key consultant.  

What stands out from Ben’s story is the desire to stand up for what us right against all odds, even if it involves family. These women are not ignorant of the devices employed against perceived traitors.

Addison understands the psychological implications of whistle blowing as she explained to TIGE participants who questioned her about its ideological and moral underpinnings. ‘No one is born a choker,’ she says. ‘I believe we all know what’s right and wrong from a very innate, primitive sense. The problem is we don't know how to act on what we see as wrong doing.’ Analysis and speculation is easy; action is harder. ‘So while the whistle blower or the messenger, or the person having the courage, might be seen to be altruistic or naive in terms of their action, I believe it’s an absolutely necessary step for us, specifically if we look at the messages that are coming out from whistle blowers.’

Addison, who has recently completed a Courageous Leadership course in Berkeley, California, has developed what she calls ‘a social psyche model that trains individuals and builds the brain’s neuro-muscles’ through a program called Social Fitness Training. The idea is to enable candid conversations by building confidence through objective dialogues. ‘Just like training for a marathon,’ she says. People are trained to speak up from a less emotional or subjective standpoint and also fortified against possible backlash.

She cautions that ‘there is also work to be done on the recipient of the bad news, so that we support their sense of self-worth as well in terms of how they hear that bad news, how they frame that bad news and what actions they take afterwards.’ The natural inclination is often to silence the messenger and erect walls to prevent further scandals. This defeats the aim. For in the end, whistle blowing should not be a witch hunt. It is a quest for ethics, conscience, fairness; a quest to put the humane factor back into business. 

Featured Story
Event Categories
IofC Switzerland Caux Forum

related stories

Summer Academy 2021 screenshot square

Forging a network of problem-solvers to build a secure and sustainable future

The Summer Academy on Climate, Land and Security 2021 brought together 29 participants from 20 countries. From Egypt and Senegal to the United States and Thailand, zoom windows opened for six hours ev...

Salima Mahamoudou 21 July 2021 FDFA workshop CDES 2021

Remaking a world in peril

The Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security (CDES) 2021 ran online from 20 July until 30 July, for the second consecutive year, comprising three open plenaries and seven workshops. This year’s discu...

CL 2021 Hope square

A Journey from Uncertainty to Possibility

2021’s Creative Leadership conference took participants on a six-day journey ‘From Uncertainty to Possibility’. Between 25 to 31 July around 150 online participants living in over 50 countries engaged...

FDFA Baobabcowherd-1 Noah Elhardt through WikiCommons square with logos

A pathway to peace and prosperity in West and Central Africa

In the context of their partnership, Initiatives of Change Switzerland (IofC) and the Peace and Human Rights division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs organised a webinar on the them...

LPM report 2021 square

Peacemakers in the making

‘I am super happy to have been part of the Learning to be a Peacemaker course – we learned the true colours of Islam!’ wrote 18-year-old high-school graduate Nma Dahir, from Erbil, capital of the Kurd...

Choir Musical Stories

Musical Stories from Caux

‘What a magnificent presentation of stories and music’, commented one of the participants of the only in-person, by invitation, event of this year's Caux Forum Online which took place on 1 August 2021...

ICBE 2021 square white background

Sustainable businesses needs purpose beyond profit

Corporations and industries need a purpose beyond profit, says Sunil Mathur, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of Siemens in India and South Asia. ‘Companies’ purposes are critical,’ he explai...

Stephanie Buri and Nick Foster Opening Ceremony Caux Forum 2021

Opening Ceremony of the Caux Forum Online 2021: Swiss perspectives on peace

The Caux Forum Online 2021 opened on 5 July with a panel on ‘Swiss Perspectives on Peace – past, present and future’ to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre as the ...

Dhanasree Jayaram CDES 2020

A closer look at links between environment and security

Food security is a key to understanding the complex connection between climate and security, Dhanasree Jayaram, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations Manipal...

Shrouk Gamal

'A better version of myself'

'The conference showed me how much I really love to socialize with people. The members of our dialogue group asked me questions I never been asked before. This made me think about lots of things, in n...

ZimbaWomen credit: ZimbaWomen

Empowering women to enter the market

The Co-founder of Zimba Women, Peace Kuteesa, is passionate about providing women with the tools and resources to participate in their economies and develop their communities. She spoke at last year's...

Hani Abou Fadel

'Humans are made of stories'

'This extraordinary conference has changed me to be more ambitious, intellectually honest and more consistent', said Hani Abou Fadel from Lebanon after his participation at last year's Creative Leader...

Harmen van Dijk

How to pursue personal development: 'Just start somewhere!'

Why would a diplomat throw in his career and give up a prestigious job to do something completely different? Find out what made Harmen van Dijk leave the Dutch diplomatic service to pursue a new dream...

CDES 2020 IofC Bards meditation bowl square

The art of making a difference to the climate crisis

‘Artists are uniquely positioned to face what is happening to the climate, to reimagine the world and create a new narrative,’ says Sveinung Nygaard (Sven), a Norwegian composer and musician. He was i...

Nick Foster

Nick Foster becomes Co-Director General of Initiatives of Change Switzerland

Nick Foster, until now Caux Forum Director, will take over the role of Co-Director of IofC Switzerland, alongside Stephanie Buri. After nine years with Initiatives of Change (IofC) and one year as the...