A suggestion from Herbert Spencer for CEO SleepOut cynics

By Alec Hogg

William Shakespeare wrote that the good we do “is oft interred”. So it seems with South Africa’s annual CEO SleepOut, of which I have now had my first practical experience. After a sleepless, freezing night on the grass at Liliesleaf, I will not look at homeless people the same way. But I also understand why so many CEOs took the easy way out this year.

It’s bad enough when cynics snipe about “poverty porn” and spout other mindless sound bites. But this year, a pre-meditated wave of negative publicity hit the event in the critical ramp-up phase. As a result, instead of the usual hundreds of participants, only 13 teams of five participated. Most of the regular supporters were simply tipped away by the bad press.

The CEO SleepOut’s organisers, an all-woman team of social entrepreneurs, took a financial hiding. But despite the substantial losses incurred by the event, a chunky R700,000 will be paid to the event’s primary beneficiaries. It should have been exponentially higher. Since its 2015 launch in SA, the event has channelled over R50m to beneficiaries.

I’m reminded of the wonderful words of English philosopher Herbert Spencer who died more than a century ago: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” Appropriate, isn’t it?

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