For the Gautrain to succeed, communities must get a slice, says CEO

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Gautrain CEO William Dachs says he wants to create a sense of joint-ownership among communities who live around its stations when the Gautrain concession ends in 2026. (Getty)
Gautrain CEO William Dachs says he wants to create a sense of joint-ownership among communities who live around its stations when the Gautrain concession ends in 2026. (Getty)
  • Gautrain CEO William Dachs says he wants to create a sense of joint ownership of the high-speed train.
  • So, when the Gautrain concession ends in 2026, he wants communities around the stations to have a slice of the pie.
  • He wants to involve taxi associations, too, in a bid to arrest vandalism of Gautrain operations.

The key to fixing transport systems in South Africa is to give ownership to the people using it. 

This is according to Gautrain CEO William Dachs, who argues poverty is driving many to stripping copper and cables from railway lines. But giving poor communities a slice of the pie could fundamentally change this, he believes. 

Speaking at the CEO Connect Roundtable hosted by the Shared Value Africa Initiative on Friday, Dachs said: "Stations are vandalised in South Africa because ... people ... see more value in the in the copper or the bricks in the station than they do in a functioning transport system," he said at the CEO connect roundtable hosted by the Shared Value Africa Initiative.

Dachs said creating a sense of joint ownership and employment opportunities to make communities feel that the Gautrain's success is their success was "really, really critical".

As such, when the current Gautrain concession ends in 2026, Dachs said he sees the opportunity to "redefine the Gautrain". So, he has made three requests to his team.

"The first is, I want community ownership of the station precincts. We want to run a rail service, but I also want the precinct around it to be safe, to be secure and to benefit the people who live next to the stations," said the CEO.

He also does not want the Gautrain to own any more buses. Instead, he wants to contract with small bus fleet owners and taxi associations to move people to and from the Gautrain stations. The posh train operator also intends to run its stations using green energy stations to improve its carbon footprint.

"We want to be much more inclusionary in our contracting," said Dachs.

The Gautrain has suffered from vandalism since its inception. But the company still plans to expand the country's only high-speed rail network, which makes the buy-in from surrounding communities even more critical if the Gautrain wants to keep its reputation as a safe transport mode.

Businesses cannot thrive when societies are not

Dr George Njenga, executive dean at Strathmore University Business School, said as long as businesses don't start building capital that speaks to shared value and building a better world for everyone, they should be wary of a ticking time bomb.

"If we don't think of unity for the good of the whole, then we will destroy our society or the sake of a few rich people," he said.

Mark Kramer, the pioneer of the shared value business model and co-founder of social impact consultancy organisation FSG, said the problem is that most companies still operate using business models developed decades ago or even centuries ago and only to serve affluent customers.

"They do not serve the majority of people in the world. They ignored social and environmental impacts because they thought they were externalities," said Kramer.

He said decades ago, some of the ignorance that companies display could be forgiven. Most people didn't know about climate change or how bad salt, sugar and cigarettes were for their health. But the problem is that even though knowledge on social and environmental issues is now widely circulated, some companies are still not adjusting the way they operate.

He made an example of Hollywood, which has missed out on billions of dollars of revenues each year because of disfavouring black actors and creatives. In March, McKinsey & Co. released a report that estimated that Hollywood is losing out on $10 billion in revenue a year because of racial biases.

Kramer said businesses need to realise immense opportunities lie in the societal problems that face communities in which they operate.

"I have seen new ways of doing business that makes one's customers better off than they were before," he said. 

He pointed out how Discovery's shared value model has benefited both the company and its customers. Through Vitality incentives, Discovery has motivated its customers to become healthier, and the insurance group is reaping the benefits through lower healthcare costs and a better claims experience, Kramer.

"That makes them a more profitable and a more successful insurance company," said Kramer.

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