Expectations exceeded

Myra Osrin with Rabbi Greg Alexander

@ ELIOT OSRIN LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE’S (EOLI) ETHICS SYMPOSIUM ENTITLED: Living & Engaging Ethically: Invoking our Moral Responsibility 

With Elul being a time of reflection and introspection, it was an appropriate time for a reset, and so this debut event was pitched around the themes of apology, reconciliation, and forgiveness. The Symposium also served to celebrate five years of EOLI’s impact on leadership development.

Meticulously crafted by the Director of the Eliot Osrin Leadership Institute, Viv Anstey, and Abigail Smith, EOLI Team Ethical Leadership, the symposium took place during late August, and brought together a number of leading thinkers and speakers. The event was facilitated by social justice activist and editor of the Maverick Citizen in the Daily Maverick, Mark Heywood.

Participants responded to the themes of the event, according to delegate Barbara Nussbaum, by trying “to make sense of the complexity that we live with in South Africa.”

As another delegate Sue Kramer explains: “This symposium served as an appeal to our sense of humanity, a call to our moral obligation to ourselves and others, and a drive for us to take up the human obligation to have the difficult conversations, to engage and to lead, and to live ethically with conscience.”

Sue explains that the speakers offered powerful messages “reminding us that we must develop a vision for a shared future, a society for all who live in it, and a reminder to us that we can be a part of that shared vision.” 

The symposium highlighted the need for us not to turn away from the difficulties we encounter but that we should face them, engage in them, heal the scars of the past, and remember the importance of working together for humanity in whatever way we can.

The Symposium was a resounding success! The goal for this Symposium was to create an environment for leaders and others to curate tough conversations now and in the future, that promote growth, transformation, and change.   


Most noteworthy is the fact that it attracted an inter-generational audience. Many delegates commented that, “The noticeable contingent of youth was especially refreshing.”  And so, too, were the many new faces in the jam-packed auditorium of 120+ who had rallied to listen, engage, challenge and shift paradigms. They signed up expecting to sit with discomfort and ready to reflect. The event attracted a diverse profile of age, stage, and life experiences, evidenced by their readiness to see and affirm one another. The programme structure and speaker line-up enriched the debate and dialogue, sharing stories, memories, pain, perspectives, all with a call to action! This is the beginning of a journey, powered by The Eliot Osrin Leadership Institute. 

Comments from some of the attendees:

Sasha Rodenacker 
“The crossover between a youthful and more experienced audience made for engaging discussions.

“Almost three decades into the new South Africa, many of the systems and structures which govern our society reflect those of the previous regime. Addressing these issues head on in our community is an extremely valuable space to create.”

Sheila Valentini
“I had recently returned to South Africa from a brief trip abroad and was feeling very despondent due to the recent riots, both in Cape Town and rural Swellendam. I have never felt that way before. The symposium came at a good time and heartened me.

“Hearing Dennis Davis balance the young Jewish UCT law student’s perspective of the TRC with the historic context of the time – a time that, may I add, the majority of the group lived through – afforded me a dual focus lens, so to speak, and challenge some perspectives on both sides. I realised that South Africa is sitting on exponential trauma. Not only is there the trauma of the first generation, but also the trauma of being raised by those with trauma (2nd generation trauma) while still experiencing current traumas.”

Barbara Nussbaum
Barbara commented on having joined Rabbi Greg Alexander’s group discussion, in which he shared the story of Simon Wiesenthal who was asked to give forgiveness to a dying SS soldier during the Second World War. She comments: “The gift I took away from this remarkable evening was my own commitment to act on and my own response to Rabbi Greg’s workshop and actively find collaborators to go beyond discussions about forgiveness and towards the healing of collective trauma – for all South Africans and even within our own Jewish Community.”

Sue Kramer
“I chose Mark Heywood’s session as I wanted to take reflection into action. The title of his talk was Active Citizenship and Collective Responsibility – creating an Ethical Society.”

Nina Kovensky
“I was impressed with the inclusion of young participants, who were fully engaged in the symposium and brought the views of the future leadership into the discussions.”

Caryn Gootkin
“I attended the breakaway session facilitated by Judge Dennis Davis. The session focused on the TRC and its effectiveness or lack thereof in healing the harm caused by apartheid. Judge Davis masterfully introduced the topic before inviting comments and thoughts from the group. The session was incredibly moving because it wove together the thoughts of the older and younger members of the audience, with excellent insights from the students who interact with those affected by the intergenerational trauma of apartheid on a daily basis.”

Adrienne Jacobson
“The session led by Nadia Lubowski and Albie Sachs was a powerful and emotional session, sharing narratives and the unpacking of survival, trauma and lessons in résilience. Nadia shared her story of losing her father when she was a young girl, and being mercilessly bullied and cast out in the broader and forbidden context of a political and moral witchunt and murder. And Albie, a political freedom fighter, subjected to torture, incarceration, exile and survival. Their insights demonstrate the impact of how we make sense of trauma … and how it informs empathy.”

For more information on The Eliot Osrin Leadership Institute visit: www.osrinleadership.org

• Published in the October 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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