Self-described ‘social entrepreneur’, Mickey Wilkins, with his extensive experience in engaging with the country’s business realities, found himself in proactive mode when Lockdown clamped down on much of the nation’s business activity. “It was evident from the outset that this would have serious ramifications for business. I have been very alarmed at the response of many business leaders… some seemed to be frozen in inaction or were totally unrealistic about how to navigate the future.”
Mickey has a professional background in software development where he honed his skills leading a team providing data analytics and business intelligence services in the retail sector. He is Managing Director of Loyalty Systems, a rewards company for a national retailer. Mickey’s analytical, development and project management expertise have stood him in good stead in the years following his founding of The Domino Foundation in 2004. This non-profit organisation creates essential structures geared towards supporting people, projects and programmes to meet the needs of individuals and communities physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually through mercy, justice and empowerment. Today, in its eight programmes, the Foundation impacts the lives of some 12500 vulnerable individuals each day. In his role as CEO, Mickey guided and mentored numerous church bodies and other NPOs into maximising their effectiveness. Four years ago, he relinquished the reins of the NPO and is now the Managing Director of Domino Business Development, a group of companies with a vision to cover the costs of the ‘back office’ of the NPO. Domino Business fills the role of sustainability fund-builder and of agent for market-place transformation.
Mickey’s Christian beliefs have had a profound impact on the way in which approaches his business activities. He recalls a pivotal time when his attitude swung 180 degrees from having the mind-set of a ‘receiver’ to that of a ‘giver’. During a church-sponsored course on discovering one’s gifting, he realised that he had the God-given gift of administration and leadership. “My wife Toni is a social worker with a heart for the broken and vulnerable and it seemed a natural fit to find God’s purpose is aligning our gifts and talents for the benefit of others.” Out of this conviction, The Domino Foundation and much else in Mickey’s life sprang.
The Domino Foundation and Domino Business Development derived their names from the ‘domino effect’ which refers to the cumulative result of one event setting off a chain of events. Mickey says that the Foundation’s programmes (a transition home for abandoned babies and toddlers, nutrition, early childhood development, life skills, literacy and skills development programmes, a disaster relief unit and an anti-human-trafficking programme) have all witnessed how one changed life has led to changed families and then to changed communities. Mickey also points out that ‘Domino’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Dominus’ meaning ‘Master’ which points to Jesus and speaks strongly of where the NPO and Domino Business derive their hope and power.
Domino Business Development comprises companies trading in a diverse range of products including stationery, paper and office consumables and PPE. As a black, female-owned business, it scores very highly in the Preferential Procurement element on the B-BBEE scorecard. Domino Business takes ownership stakes in companies as the black minority shareholder, thus assisting with B-BBEE compliance and giving the group a strategic advantage in the current South African marketplace.
Mickey elaborated, “Our team is building a group of companies to establish a strong market-place presence, in order to pave the way for young entrepreneurs and job-seekers from disadvantaged communities and help them realise their potential”.
With a clear vision of facilitating the discovery of answers in the business world’s present uncharted waters in Lockdown, Mickey started a group of about sixty business people at One Life Church in Durban North and is interacting with similar groups at two other city churches. In the invitation to join the group, Mickey underscores that business theory says that, in a time of chaos, there is no relationship between cause (the present pandemic) and effect (the threat to income-earning) and that earning potential is at an extreme risk. “Business theory also says that, in the face of this, our response must be one of action and collaboration. I believe that vulnerability as business leaders. is a key to unlocking the potential for support and collaboration.” Mickey references well-known academic and innovative researcher into the social impact of HIV and AIDS, Professor Alan Whiteside, who has shown how the social and economic impact of the pandemic will only peak in 2021 and will stretch beyond then.
Mickey has also read extensively on studies in decision-making and speaks of the Cynefin framework, a conceptual framework used to aid decision-making devised in 1999 by Dave Snowden, then working for IBM Global Services. It has been described as a “sense-making device” with its four decision-making contexts: simple, complicated, complex and chaos. These enable managers to identify their perception of situations and to understand the ways in which they and others behave. Snowden counsels people to “act, sense, respond.” The immediate action called for in the face of chaos is to “staunch the bleeding”, as Mickey puts it, and then to “sense” where there is order and disorder and then to respond by setting a course. “Usually,” Mickey says, “’best practice’ is the name of the game, but, in a time of chaos, where there is no clear relationship between cause and effect, a ‘novel’ practice (a route never travelled before and where there is no textbook case to use as a reference point) must be pursued”. It is an interesting and telling coincidence that, in response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19), a novel practice is a route businesses are being advised to follow.
Once the ‘staunching’ has been done, Mickey points to resizing, restrategising, refocusing and repurposing.
The forums Mickey is working in are affording business men and women an opportunity to be transparent about the enormous challenges the pandemic has thrown up in their particular spheres and to explore innovative ways of navigating ways through them to survival. “In Roman times,” Mickey points out, “a forum was an inclusive meeting place to discuss business and politics where people were free to come, participate and leave when they felt like it. The apostle Paul, in his letters to the various churches of early New Testament times, takes into account the realities of each local community’s challenges and addresses the specific spiritual needs dictated by that community’s circumstances”. In the same way, Mickey says, the Church today needs to have answers which are relevant and applicable to current needs and crises.
OLC (One Life Church) Business has established an on-line presence with the option to break into smaller groups and even one-on-one opportunities where practical. The tool being used are a Whatsapp group, which allows for easy communication to stakeholders, and Zoom meetings for discussion and collaboration. Participants are encouraged to connect with each other and share useful resources, continuing their conversations off-line and then feeding back to the bigger group. The diversity and inclusivity of One Life Church, with its 22 locations in rural, township and suburban areas, has provided an exciting arena in which OLC Business can used as a base to inform, connect and encourage. The businesses represented in the forum range from small to large and areas of operation go from hairdressing, carpentry to accounting and management. “We have seen people desperate for a way forward receiving expert opinion, changing their opinions and then finding themselves able to formulate informed opinions. Very often, the support and advice needed is very close at hand but not recognized.”
To address issues coming out of the strictures of Lockdown, Mickey’s group is running a series of interviews with knowledgeable people on relevant topics and then discussing the topics as a group. “The intention is to gain knowledge and insight in topics that are relevant to help take our businesses through and beyond this COVID phase. The wave of the pandemic will be followed by a wave of the social and economic impact of the pandemic and we need to reposition our businesses for a future that includes these times. History has shown us that times of disaster have been accompanied by times of spiritual and social renewal and we need to open up our minds and hearts to this potential”.
Interviews have covered “Available Support Initiatives”, where the various financial packages available to business were discussed, and “Opening under Level 3” which addressed and made available the required documentation. The series explores the innovative thinking required to both reposition and repurpose our businesses to help find a greater purpose for the benefit of our people, communities and local economy, whilst being sensitive to the emotional and practical damage caused where people’s income and businesses have been seriously negatively impacted.
A website (www.onelifebusiness.co.za) has been established where resources and links are published, and stories of breakthrough and feedback on creative solutions are shared as encouragement. Here, useful expertise is identified and promoted as is ideation and the site is being used as a stimulating think-tank. “In this time of crisis, when business people are under assault on many fronts, emotionally, relationally and spiritually, as well as in their particular commercial area, I see this resource as a rich reference point hopefully to address many of those needs,” says Mickey.
Mickey, as the visionary, is putting together all of the text for the meetings and facilitating in this pioneering phase. “I feel called by God to establish this platform and complete a series of talks seeking wisdom and insight for our business leaders. Undoubtedly, the present situation is putting people into the position where, if applicable, a more on-line business is the new order of the day.”
Doing business on-line as a concept triggers broadly three distinct reactions and views of the economy: the marketing gurus see it in terms of branding and an opportunity to connect with customers at their new point of decision; the technical people see it as a manifestation of the journey into Fourth Industrial Revolution while the creatives define themselves by what they do and produce and not so much by how it may benefit business. Mickey is also working with Innovate Durban, an NPO whose aim is to stimulate, support and promote innovative thinking. Their joint vision is to connect the three views of doing business on-line so that the potential of what lies ahead is practically released. Managers often are skilled in moving an established business forward but are not pioneers or ideators. Mickey believes that Innovate Durban can help explore entrepreneurial territory to enable managers to learn how to pivot and change in a hurry. “We need to inspire managers to reimagine their businesses”.
With the call to “Support Local”, Mickey sees the groups as an opportunity for the business communities to pull together and come alongside struggling enterprises, particularly small business. “We need to discover who does what…what products and services they offer and where their specific needs are now,” he says. A website (www.buylocal.durban) has been registered with the understanding that buying patterns will change as the world emerges from Lockdown. Mickey also underlined the need to incubate local entrepreneurial skills with a special emphasis on people in townships needing to establish a source of income other than finding a job.
Mickey is challenged to take what has been begun into an ever bigger space and is working to this end through CityStory, whose vision has drawn together churches, business and government to collaboration to see Durban grow into a hub of excellence and to be part of establishing the city’s true identity. “There are many business and professional people in Durban who are committed to dispelling and disproving the negative perception about our city, “Mickey says. “This perception could be exacerbated in the present time of great uncertainty…I want to work with other like-minded people in the business space to turn this thing on its head. We don’t have to be victims at the mercy of Covid-19, Lockdown and all the attendant negativity. There is a victory waiting for us to lay hold of!” He summed up much of what he has involved himself with, in the words of Richard Branson: “Doing good is good for business”. He pointed out that some of the most significant social changes for good have emerged out of times of crisis and disaster. If businesses in Durban chooses to reposition itself, it can be a major force in seeing the city and its people into a future with hope.
Mickey welcomes others who would like to be part of the answer to the enormous challenges facing South Africa’s business community to contact him on +27 (0) 31 563 9605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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