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Change what you can: a collection of inspiring stories

The Serenity Prayer has long been interpreted as a call to calm and accept things beyond our control.

However, Michael H. Rea, Managing Partner of Integrated Reporting & Assurance Services (IRAS), believes that it is a call to focus on what we can change rather than what we can’t. In an interview with Rea, RAiN Chartered Accountants marveled at the inspiring, real-life accounts that not only made a dent in the number of zeros on a spreadsheet but, more importantly, made a massive impact in the lives of many – starting with one.

In this article, we share a collection of stories that demonstrate the power of making small changes and tweaks to create noteworthy transformations and inspire a powerful narrative for lasting change.

#1 – Pivots for people and planet

Rea begins by recounting the story of his days as sustainability consultant for Impahla Clothing back in the mid-noughties. Back then, he worked with William Hughes, a white Zimbabwean farmer who fled to South Africa with just enough money to buy the Cape Town T-Shirt Company. Hughes was the ultimate accepter of things unchangeable, but focused on what he could, which led to significant transformations. Despite being forced to leave his farm in Zimbabwe, Hughes used his resilience to pivot and turn a struggling garment manufacturing company with 67 employees into a World Cat Strategic Supplier of global sports brand PUMA.

Soon after embarking on Impahla’s first ever Sustainability Report (2006), Hughes realised that the data Rea had been pulling together to write Impahla’s sustainability story, could be utilised for shared value. Together, they worked to develop a program to reduce worker absenteeism from over 7% to less than 3%, thereby increasing overall production capacity by no less than 4% (and thus revenue by that margin). Rea explains:

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But Hughes didn’t stop there. He also took note of Rea’s calculations regarding the number of trees Impahla would need to plant to become Carbon Neutral, and then set about achieving a “Net Zero” status long before anyone was using such a term. Solar panels were also installed on the factory’s roof, thereby reducing Impahla’s demand for Eskom-supplied electricity and then they offset the remaining carbon from all energy sources by planting trees at schools within the communities in which Impahla’s employees lived. Impahla achieved Net Zero by 2008!

Impahla’s wholesome actions towards its people and the environment further attracted PUMA’s attention. This earned the company a sole supplier agreement that guaranteed Impahla five years of full production demand with a minimum ‘out clause’ of two years, thereby guaranteeing every employee no less than two years of employment in an otherwise unstable job market. Essentially, Impahla’s sustainability reporting led to the company’s increased overall sustainability – by changing the things they could.

#2 – No waste walk to impact

Another inspiring story is that of Adcock Ingram and Netcare, two companies in the pharmaceutical industry, who found a way to recycle their IV drip bags by turning them into school shoes.

The bags are made of strong plastic, and because they never contain potentially harmful chemicals, are easily recycled, but only if there’s a purpose for separating the bags out of each hospital’s non-hazardous refuse pile.

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This project has allowed them to give back to underprivileged schools and make a positive impact on the environment.

#3 – Walking the change talk – one step at a time

In his own company, Rea focuses on making small changes. Practical shifts and pivots provide lasting change, which include things like:

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For IRAS, this is only the beginning of exciting pivots that are already in motion:

“IRAS took great pleasure in assisting Adcock Ingram and Netcare donate 635 pairs of MyWalk shoes to school kids at a primary school in Hlabisa in 2022, and have donated 630 more pairs in March 2023. We plan to donate more than 570 pairs later in the year. Our ultimate goal is to provide a new pair of shoes to every primary school learner in Hlabisa (KZN) before the end of 2024.”

Indeed, Rea has been granted the serenity to not only pay attention to the things that can be changed, but also to gauge the success of IRAS through the intangible effects it has on those it assists.

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By changing our approach and mindset, we can achieve great things and create a positive impact on the world, one person at a time. In the words of Rea:

“I know I can’t change the world…but then, I’ve never tried to. Rather, I always set my sights on attempting to change “one person’s world” with a belief that if everybody who had the means to change one person’s life did so, then ours would be a world with far less suffering and injustice.”