Garth Japhet is chief executive officer of Heartlines, an organization that aims to achieve positive social change by promoting lived values, strong relationships and civic action in southern Africa. Trained as a physician with a specialty in maternal/child health, he previously created the pioneering multimedia edutainment platform, Soul City, which now reaches 35 million people in eight southern African countries through entertainment programming, community mobilization and advocacy. He has been a Fulbright scholar, a fellow of the World Economic Forum, a Bishop Tutu Andrew Murray Prize for Media recipient, a member of the World Economic Forums Global agenda council, and a Senior Ashoka fellow.
My Definition Of Success | Success for me means feeling that I have made a positive contribution to the world, both as a husband and father and as one who has impacted other lives for good. I used to believe the Gandhi quote “be the change you want to see in the world” meant that the definition of success was that I would see the change that I had worked towards and that this change would be the marker of my success.
However, my definition has since shifted and I now believe that I may never see the change in my lifetime and that does not mean that I would have failed. I am more comfortable with the fact that the seeds of the difference I hope to make may only be felt in future generations and, quite counter to our “immediate gratification” culture, I feel OK with that.
I Am Driven By | First and foremost, great coffee from Bean There coffee roastery! On a more mundane note, I was initially driven by a childhood that was marked by what I felt was failure: nursery school dropout, a grade that I had to repeat and changing High Schools three times in one year. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was not a failure. Hence, I set the bar for my achievement much higher than I would have done if I had had a settled childhood.
Now I am driven more by a sense that I have been given much in the way of privilege, talent, connections and resources and that as such, I have a great responsibility to use what I have been given wisely and to benefit the greater good.
I am also driven by a sense of responsibility to those that I employ – both to make sure that they have a salary at the end of the month and that I am still a leader that they will follow because they want to, not because they have to. My faith also drives me and the belief that my life has a purpose and that I shouldn’t waste it.
My Highlights | I am most grateful for a wonderful wife and the opportunity to be a father to two amazing children. I am also very grateful for having a number of people who are great friends. I am grateful for having co-founded and led Soul City for 17 years and then having managed the succession in such a way that it is still a vibrant organisation doing great work seven years after l left it. I am also grateful for the many people who say that the work that I have been involved in has made a difference to their lives.
A Key Talent | Without doubt it’s a combination of perseverance and optimism. (I am probably too dumb to know when I am beaten!) I think that many people see setbacks as terminal rather than hiccups and thus give up too early. A practical example of this on a small scale: you might hear that a company you are about to meet has just had a really bad set of results. This might make you think that you might as well cancel the meeting, as they are really unlikely to fund your next project. But I would say, that is giving up too early – have the meeting anyway, because you never know what might come out of it.
Perseverance and optimism can be learned and can become a habit. It begins with a conscious decision which then needs to be translated into behaviour. Like most habits, it becomes ingrained through repetition. On a practical note, I try to make sure that I follow up with people who haven’t returned a call or email rather than waiting for them to get back to me. If one does this in the nicest possible way, I find that people don’t mind my persevering to get hold of them, in fact, they appreciate it.
I think that communicating your decision to persevere to people you trust and then getting them to keep you accountable, especially when you feel like giving up, is key.
I think that I have refined this strength by altering course to reach my ultimate goal when I hit an obstacle, rather than just barging on regardless; in other words, I acknowledge that if I keep on doing the same thing over and over I can’t expect a different outcome.
The Characteristics Of Success | Using my imagination to dream of what might be and then the ability to translate this dream into a tangible set of actions. Lateral thought, especially when I hit obstacles. Perhaps most importantly – knowing what I don’t know, but knowing where to look and ask for help.
Another characteristic is the ability to build trust. In this business, it is very important that people trust that you are going to do what you promise. A practical outworking of this is that my phone is on all the time and I don’t work through a PA – people can phone me on my cell phone at any time, and speak directly to me. When you are asking people to do things for you, rather than the other way around, it helps if they can get hold of you as easily as possible.
Principles I Live By | I believe and try to live by the following principles and values: To whom much is given much is expected.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
- It is never wrong to do the right thing even though it is often hard.
- I try to respect everyone and fear no one.
- My word is my bond.
- Pursue life with courage and integrity
Critical Skills I Develop | I used to keep everything in my head. Having a notebook and making lists has been the single most useful skill in managing multiple tasks.
Lessons I Have Learnt | Seek to be a giver rather than a taker in all things and in doing so, your own “needs” will be taken care of.
Dealing With Doubt | As much as I am an optimist, fear and negativity are frequent companions. I also have depression which I need to manage. I used to faint at the site of blood and hated the experience. The more I fainted the more I feared fainting. However my desire to do medicine was stronger than my fear. I collapsed when I delivered my first baby and also when I assisted in my first operation. Thankfully I persevered and can now be awash in the stuff and not faint!
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | I read widely: history, science, religion, economics and current affairs. I exercise regularly through running, cycling and doing gym – this keeps me energized. My family and friends keep me grounded.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I want to grow as husband, father and friend. I want us to get at least 3 million South Africans to interact with each other’s stories, face to face and virtually through our “what’s your story?” campaign. I want us to produce an award-winning film that showcases what happens when we get to know each other’s stories.
I want us to continue to develop a digital platform that will increase the efficacy of the social and development sectors in developing countries such as ours. I want us to develop an international TV drama miniseries that addresses the issue of fathers that are either physically or emotionally absent from their children
The Best Advice I’ve Received | In terms of pursuing a vision, someone once said to me “Just look for the next cat’s eye in the road”. I think that it’s such a powerful analogy. It forces me to focus on just the next step and be comfortable that once that step has been made, the next step will become clearer.
Advice On Building Wealth | It is great to have such goals if wealth is accumulated ethically and the aim is to use one’s wealth and influence to create jobs and make the world a better place.
On Inspiring Others | I think that a compelling vision can be infectious for the right people. I have been lucky that the ideas that I have bought amazing people to work with me. Without them, I could have achieved nothing. In terms of retention, I try to be as interested in the people I work with on a personal level as I am in the work that they do. I try (often unsuccessfully) to lead from behind, empowering people to take the lead but with my support.
I Am Inspired By | The life and teachings of Jesus inspire me, and a person who I think has managed to live out many of these teachings in his life is Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, whom I admire greatly.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to leave two emotionally stable children whose lives will bring joy both to themselves and add value to others. I would like to feel that many people’s lives have been changed for the better as a result of the work that I have been involved in.