Making A Difference


Increasingly frustrated by hedonism and the selfishness of crass consumerism, people now want to have a goal in life that transcends them and reaches out to make a positive impact on society and environment. Wayne Visser’s research aims to study what helps us define our goals and motivates us to act respon-sibly for the benefit of humanity.

Entitled ‘Making a Difference: Purpose-Inspired Leadership for corporate Social Sustainability and Responsibility’, this research should have been an insightful and inspiring read. To Visser’s credit, he has been able to connect the concept of meaningful life with corporate social responsibi-lity. In his own words, he wants business ‘to be an instrument for the expression and meaning of growth by individuals and groups…profit may be necessary…but it is only a means to…the enhancement of quality of life’.

By exploring existential psycho-logy and corporate sustainability, he has developed a conceptual model for sustainability managers. Though the context is mainly the South African corporate community but his choice of research subjects across multi-national companies and consultancies provides a fairly balanced view that may be projected internationally. Predictably, the sources of meaning for individ-uals stems from family, educational and organizational background, and socio-cultural and lifecycle contexts.

What is significant is the effect these have on the type of leader the sustainability manager becomes – whether he is an dividualistic ‘expert’, focused on the technical aspect of systems implementation, a team-oriented ‘facilitator’ dedicated to people empowerment, a politically active ‘catalyst’ whose vision is to transform his organization or industry, or an ‘activist’ who works for a sustainable environment and a more equitable society.

Unfortunately, Visser’s attempt to market his doctoral dissertation as a book fails to hold the reader’s interest – it has ended up being the ‘butterfly squashed between two pieces of glass’.

Tedious and repetitive, the first half of the book seems to be moving in circles, focused on what ‘inspired’ Visser to find and articulate the meaning of his life. Numerous diary entries and quotes by authors such as Carl Jung, Victor Frankl and Gerald Heard track this development since the author was eighteen years old. Contrary to his claims, his confessional tale is not ‘fairly brief’. As a man whose calling is to inspire through his writings and speeches, he makes liberal references to his previous works, poems and personal relationships that often leave the reader at sea.

The section defining CSR holds numerous academic citations and tables for reference that could have been summarized and focused on just CSR and the individual. The main research wherein CSR leaders are questioned as to their own motivating factors and thereby categorized into four types of sustainability managers remains lost in the quagmire of personal anecdotes and research jargon. For the sustainability manager seeking to align himself with a cause or meaning in life, this ‘book’ might confuse rather than illuminate.

Therefore, it would probably have been better to re-write the interviews in a manner that would have revealed the story of each individual’s evolution into the specific type of CSR leader he/ she had become. Free of research details and jargon, Visser’s findings would hold inspiration for CSR managers, consultants, policymakers and academicians.

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Author Information

Sadaf Azhar, an avid reader, enjoys ethics and history-related literature. She strives to find the time to contribute to periodicals and holds an MBA from the Institute of Business Administration. She currently lives in Chunnia Cantt, Kasur with her young family.

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