“Leadership is not about [position], it’s about what you do.”

These words sum up the message of David Barnard to students at the most recent Discourse Café on March 24th. David, who is a well-known activist and adventurer, spoke to a group of students about his vast experience in the NGO-sector, both in South Africa and globally.

After completing his honours degree in Development Management at Stellenbosch University, David worked for the Human Sciences Research Council. He later became CEO of SANGONet, the largest support network of non-profit organizations (NPO’s) in Southern Africa. He is currently vice-president (Africa) of TechSoup Global, a San Francisco-based non-profit which provides technical support and accreditation to NPO’s globally.

David believes in “walking the talk”: he is a champion activist for the causes he believes in, including climate change and cancer research. In 2014, he took part in the Last Desert Race, a 250km trek across the Antarctic wilderness. He did so as an activist and representative of Greenpeace Africa, specifically raising funds and awareness for alternative energy projects. He has a personal goal of completing a multi-stage endurance race on every continent. Apart from the personal challenge these events pose, David also see them as a wonderful opportunity to further a cause, particularly because of the media-attention associated with “crazy” endurance events.

Speaking about the developmental challenges in South Africa, David had the following to say: “If it’s a challenge, make it an opportunity. Make that opportunity count.” He also encouraged students to make use of opportunities to travel and be exposed to the world beyond Stellenbosch.

“In the NGO-sector, it’s not about the people who make the front pages; it’s about people who, in a much smaller way, make a difference.”

As an activist for climate change and renewable energy, David spoke about his belief that South Africa, considering its vast resources, should be able to effectively generate electricity using renewable sources. “We have schools and clinics in this country that don’t have electricity… you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that those places can be helped with [renewable energy].”

David’s message was in essence a call to action. As was pointed out by someone during the discussion that followed, he showed us that it is possible to do good, while doing well – that is, to make a difference, even in the smallest way, without having to devote oneself fully to a cause.

I found this message particularly inspirational, especially coming from someone who has devoted his life to making a positive contribution to society.

Article by Emily van der Merwe