Status Levels: Who eats first and who eats last


One of the things I have been thinking about the world around us for over a year now.

The question is who eats first?

Whether you are an animal, a bee or human.

Status roles matter.

We live in a world that attaches value to status.

Who gets to eat first?

Who is the alpha?

Who is in charge?

We see status roles is something that has been going on for millennia, it turns out that throughout the animal kingdom, including and especially humans, status roles matter.

Status roles drive us. Those that obviously seek status, and those that pretend that they don’t notice it or care about it…

Just about everything you will ever see in a movie theatre or read about in a novel is about status roles.

The movies playing in circuit currently are about status roles, the sitcoms, the TV series we binge on, comedies, thrillers we see today, are all about who is moving up and who is moving down.

But off-course TV is a reflection of what man does, these status roles happen in real life and it does not have much to do with money.

Think about that meditation weekend, nothing but a spirituality weekend, except some people at that weekend are friends with the instructor, so they have a little more status.

Off-course the guest instructor at the meditation weekend is wearing a special outfit sitting on a special chair, so he has a little more status than us.

We attend a conference, and some of the people are friends with the organizer, so they have a little more status.

Tribes, these informal groups of people that we are a part of, demand status roles because it is a form of governance.

We need a manager, to manage the manager who manages the staff. Status roles.

Status is about: who is up and who is down.

Capitalism requires status roles. Because it gets to work even after they have enough.

That the ability to be able to say: “I might not have everything but I have more than you” is buried deep within our culture.

That what we have done is to build layer after layer after layer in commerce, in community, based around our roles, our status, our business cards, our standing in the community, our cars, our phones, our addresses where we stay, schools we went to, it is about status levels.

Those Louis Vitton shoes that she is wearing, that Prada bag, who get’s to sit at the cool table during lunch, who is the captain of the football team or the student council, it is status level.

We repeatedly look at other people and decide where we stand in relation to them.

They ask you what do you do for a living so that they can decide the level of status they attach to you.

They ask you which college or university you went to so that they can gauge whether to be associated with you or not.

When I went to University, students like me who came from public schools were subconsciously not supposed to hang around students from private schools.

When you enter a restaurant as a customer, status roles are already assigned between you and the waiter. We know who is assigned a higher status level and a lower status level between the two of you.

When we prefer those with light skinned [yellow bones], it is about status roles.

When we prefer to hang out with those who win awards and speak English with a clear accent, is all about status roles.

And what marketers have done, is take advantage of this and run with it.

What politicians have done, is take advantage of this and run with it.

Because we understand that deep down, human beings care about status roles.

School is status roles. Who gets to be the teacher’s favourite? Is it the good looking, always clean student? this is status levels.

How do we treat someone who is wearing a cute outfit versus the one who is not?

How are we looking and juxtaposing who has status and who doesn’t and which status matters?

Marketing is about selling status, it is about sales and profits more than anything else.

We want you to spend.

How about some status?


Status Levels: You deserve to be free

We just assumed everyone knew they couldn't take it with them.

Who gets the most respect and who gets the least?

Who do we want to associate with and who do we shy away from?

Who gets to eat first and who gets to eat last?

Which company do we want to work for?

It turns out that answers to these questions all point to one social function: Status.

We respect people because of the status we attach to them, either because they are popular, wealthy, good looking, appear on TV, etc.

But this is nothing new, historically status has been used to separate common people from the monarch.

Common folks wore common clothes, and monarch wore expensive and extravagant clothes.

Status has its roots in ancient society where every person had a “place” in the social hierarchy.

Historically, this place was attained either through birth [e.g., born into nobility or an upper class in the caste system[ or by ordainment [e.g., knighted by the king].

This changed during the Age of Enlightenment [roughly the beginning of the 18th century] as a man’s worth began to be judged according to his achievements, which frequently brought great wealth.

A reliable connection was made between merit and worldly success, well-paid jobs were secured primarily through intelligence and ability.

The rich were not just wealthier, they were “better.”

They merited their success, and as such, affluence increasingly became a marker of social status.

Wealth and social status have been inextricably linked ever since.

In his classic treatise The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen argued that the accumulation of wealth is not really what confers status.

Rather, what confers status is the evidence of wealth, which requires its wasteful exhibition, behavior he described as conspicuous consumption.

As examples, Veblen noted the leisure class used silverware, hand-painted china, and high-priced table linens at meals when less expensive substitutes could work as well or better.

People buy fine silverware, Veblen wrote, not to convey food into their mouths but to display that they can afford such things.

I guess is where the phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth” comes from when we talk about those who come from affluence.

Veblen noted that the examples he put forth, including manicured lawns, the latest fashions, and exotic dog breeds, confer prestige to owners due to their lofty price tags.

Contemporary research in marketing recognises the symbolic role of possessions in consumers’ lives.

It is widely accepted that people make inferences about others based on their possessions.

Those inferences can reflect others’ success, measured by the things someone owns.

Marketers have used status as a way to get people to buy things.

Even today, marketers sell status as a for people to purchase things.

The thing is status is not real.

Status is in our heads.

Status is the story we tell ourselves and the more we tell it, we believe it and it becomes a self-fulling prophesy.

Status symbols are medals you buy yourself.

Your true worth is not based on your status in society.

When you realise this you will realize that all along we have been duped.

We have been sold a lie by marketers to make us believe that our worth is based on owning an iPhone 8.

We don’t have to use things for people to admire us.

Our happiness is not reliant on continuously buying conspicuous things.

Retail therapy as a way to happiness is a trap, it is meant to increase sales.

The truth is, you can skip the pursuit of happiness altogether and just be happy.

Your value lies not in status or title, but in the roots of your character and depth of your compassion.

You deserve to be free.


Who are we seeking to become?


We get what we invest in.

The time we spend comes back, with interest.

Prof Clay Christensen in his book How Will You Measure Your Life says, I paraphrase: where you spend your time on grows, and where you don’t spend your time on diminishes.

When you invest time on your studies, your chances of passing increases and when you don’t, your chances diminishes.

When you invest time in your relationships, they are likely to be healthy and when you don’t, they are likely to suffer.

If you practice five minutes of piano music every day, you will become a better piano player.

If you spend a little bit more time each day complaining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume…

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you have spent your time along the way.

The habits we groove become who we are, one minute at a time.

A small thing, repeated, is not a small thing.

[And the same thing is true for brands, organizations and movements.]

Catalytic Innovation: Our obsession with with elite institutions


Our challenge is not a lack of money, the money is there, it needs to be redirected to innovative ideas with social impact.

If we are to alleviate poverty, we need to stop obsessing about elite institutions that continue to benefit the few and excluding the many.

Henry Ford showed us how to democratize and make accessible to millions of people what was an elite product for an elite few.

We need to apply the same principles for bringing social change.

This model can be applied to other services such as:

  • Provision of microlending to startup entrepreneurs;
  • Provision of affordable quality legal services to poor people; or
  • Provision of social houses to poor communities.

Our success is not whether we build elite instutitions charging exorbitant fees and thereby excluding the majority of people, it is whether we are able to provide quality, simpler, affordable services to majority of people who need it the most.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

100 years ago Henry Ford sat in an ideas conference like this one where they outlined how the next 100 years will look like. He sat there taking notes. He knew what he is going to do after that conference.

He is going to make a product for the masses, and still make money in the process.

Fast-forward 100 years later, we are discussing and laying out how to apply catalytic disruptive innovation for the next 100 years.

I hope you will look at this and do something about it.

I have no doubt that you will succeed.


Catalytic Innovation: Access to affordable quality education


Let’s look at the last example this time in West Africa, in Nigeria

Access to quality education in Africa is expensive.

The FeesMustFall movement is an example of the frustration students have about high university fees.

The challenge is that even when fees fall, not all students eligible for university will gain access due to capacity constraints.

Meet Gossy Ukanwoke from Nigeria.

Gossy runs Beni American University, Nigeria’s first online university. BAU provides cost effective high quality online courses to thousands of student by connecting technology and education.

In Nigeria, nearly 2 million students competing for 500,000 spots at about 141 accredited universities. This leaves 1,500 000 who can’t get in.

Due to the lack of space and affordable quality education, offering online courses will unlock and give access to thousands of students who cannot afford or access university education.

Since 2014, BAU has graduated over 8000 graduates, currently has 2000 students enrolled.

How is BAU a catalytic innovation?

  1.  Create social change: More young people access education to get jobs and uplift their lives
  2. Scalable: Easy to access online courses by thousands and thousands of students
  3. Meet un-served market: 1,5 millions students who cannot access University education.
  4. Simpler, less costly: Without the cost of paying for the bricks and mortar, physical lectures, online courses are more cheaper and affordable. BAU charges $50 per course, traditional universities charge $250 per course.

Gossy through BAU is democratising access to quality affordable education in Nigeria.

The Catalytic Innovation Model has been applied in Mexico, Bangladesh, India, and other emerging countries.

At the core of this model is:

  • Addressing a social need;
  • Scalable and replicable;
  • Accessible and affordable; and
  • Being able to raise resources.

Today we have tools that can make catalytic innovation more simpler, and affordable.

For example: 3D Printing, Solar energy, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Big Data, make it easier to build solutions at reduced costs and increased accessibility.

Catalytic Innovation: Access to affordable quality primary health care


While still in Kenya, let’s look at another example in Nairobi

In Kenya, 80% of Kenyan doctors and dentists live in Nairobi while 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Kenya’s ratio of doctor to population is 14 doctors to every 100,000 people. This results in a serious lack of access to doctors in Kenya.

Healthstore Clinics aims to provide affordable healthcare to communities in Kenya by training local residents to provide basic health care, and help them set-up and operate their own clinics.

This model turns residents [often nurses and health practitioners] into clinic owners.

Strict standards and regular inspections by the Healthstore foundation ensure uniform quality heath care. Healthstore clinics are funded through microloans at affordable rates.

Is the Healthstore Clinic model catalytic innovation? let’s test it:

  1. Creating social change: Healthstore Clinic provides access to quality health care to people in rural areas.
  2. Scalable and replicable: the Healthstore Clinic model is a franchise concept and therefore highly scalable
  3. Meet un-served needs: Population in rural that cannot access health care. 70% of the population in rural areas struggle to access quality health care facilities.
  4. Offer products that are simpler and less costs: Combined Healthstore clinics are able to buy in bulk and access bulk discounts for the patients. Patients therefore benefit from these bulks discounts by paying less for medication.
  5. Generate resources: The Healthstore franchisees are able to raise funding from micro-loan facilities in Kenya.
  6. Disparaged or looked down upon: Often health facilities in rural and shanty areas are looked down upon.

Healthstore Clinics have democratized access to quality affordable health care in rural areas to people who could not access it before.

This is how social impact is achieved at a financially sustainable manner.

Catalytic Innovation: Affordable quality makerspace


Let’s look at another example of catalytic innovation, this time from East Africa, Kenya.

Often we are told that many successful startups started from humble beginnings by starting a in a garage such Apple, Microsoft, Google.

In Africa, where having a house with a garage is a luxury.

In Nairobi, a garage is something most entrepreneurs don’t have.

Meet Dr Kamau Gachigi. He has spent a number of his years in Engineering working towards, not only having more engineers through lecturing, but also having engineers who make stuff.

He is the founder of Gearbox, a non-profit organization that provides members with access to modern machines for proto-tying and low volume manufacture.

Gearbox also does training and incubation and acceleration services in order to broaden access to manufacturing in Kenya.

The Gearbox model is like a gym, you pay monthly membership fee and get access to any machine you want to use for produce hardware.

Is Gearbox catalytic innovation?

Let’s test it against the traits of what makes catalytic innovation:

  1. Social Impact: Creating more entrepreneurs, creates jobs, alleviates poverty and uplifts lives
  2. Scalable: Sharing space gives access to more entrepreneurs.
  3. Affordable: Gearbox charges around $50 per month on use of the space with tools and machines, vs. Market price for a workshop space without tools and machines is more than $200 per month
  4. Generate resources: Gearbox has been to access funding from various organisations including international organisations.
  5. Disparaged or looked down: sharing space with other people instead of having your own fancy workshop is often frowned upon.

Kamau through Gearbox has been able to democratize access to working space to thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs who could not access it because it was not affordable.

Catalytic Innovation: Affordable quality heath care


Let’s start by looking at an example of catalytic innovation here at home, South Africa.

People walking into a well-resourced health centre in a township and getting immediate help is very rare in poorer areas of South Africa like Diepsloot, a shantytown of about 1000 000 people 40 kilometres outside Johannesburg.

Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete did something about it.

Dr Legoete started Quali Health in May 2016.

Quali Health is a social enterprise focused on delivering affordable primary healthcare to marginalized communities in South Africa.

Within 5 months Quali Health was turning a profit and now sees over 3,000 patients a month.

How is Quali-Health a catalytic innovation?

  1. Creating social change: Quali-Health provides quality health care that is critical to poor communities.
  2. Scalable and Replicable: Quali-Health opened similar clinics in other areas such as Alexandra, Tembisa and Braamfischer giving access to quality private health care to more people who can’t afford quality health care.
  3. Meet un-served needs: 80% of South Africans don’t have medical aid. Quali Health serves this market.
  4. Offer products that are simpler and less costs: Circumcision or a pap smear test, costs only R250 [$25]. General practitioners in Johannesburg charge R500 $50 just for consultation alone.
  5. Generate resources: Has attracted funding from various funders.

Nthabiseng has been able to democratize quality primary health care to thousands of people who could not afford it before.

Catalytic Innovation: How do we respond to the poverty crisis?

Investing In Ideas

As an entrepreneur and having spent over 10 years studying various entrepreneurship models, I’m convinced that our answer lies in innovation, especially innovation for social change.

You see there are two types of innovations:

Sustaining Innovation vs. Disruptive Innovation.

Sustaining Innovation:

A sustaining innovation improves existing products. It does not create new markets. It produces better quality products augmenting existing ones, meet existing customer needs.

Example of sustaining innovation would be when Apple introduces upgraded version of iPhones 6, 7, 8.

Disruptive Innovation:

A disruptive innovation helps creates new markets. It offers simpler, more convenient, less expensive products and in the process creating new customer base.

A classic example of disruptive innovation is Henry Ford’s Model T.

Through mass production, Henry Ford democratized the ownership of cars by making them simpler and affordable to own to millions of people who could not afford them.

Before that cars were expensive and only owned by the elites, rich people and kings.

By democratize I mean to making social services accessible to thousands of people at affordable rates in a sustainable manner.

Modern examples of disruptive innovation is:

  • Low-cost airline carriers that provides no frills flights, making flying accessible to a lot people who could not afford it;

I would like to introduce another type of innovation, called: Catalytic Innovation.

But what is catalytic innovation you asked? 

Based on Clayton Christensen’s disruptive-innovation model, catalytic innovations challenge organizations by offering simpler, good-enough solutions aimed at un-served groups.

Catalytic innovation shares the same traits as disruptive innovative but focuses more on social change.

Disruptive innovation – seeks to increase competitiveness, whiles Catalytic innovation – seeks to solve social problems

Here are the 5 qualities of Catalytic Innovation: [Slide]

1 Create systematic social change through scaling and replication

2 Meet un-served needs of the market.

3 Offers products that are simpler, affordable but good enough for customers

4 They generate: resources, donations, grants, volunteer manpower, and intellectual property

5 Often ignored, disparaged by existing players

The idea of catalytic innovation is to democratize social services and make them easier and accessible to many people who could not access them.

To solve poverty we need to stop obsessing about building elitist institutions, but focus on building institutions that will offer simple, accessible, good enough and affordable products to poor communities.

How do we solve the poverty crisis? through innovation, innovation for social change.

Catalytic Innovation: Aggressive spending and disappointing returns.


A life lived in poverty is always about scrambling.

Poverty is hunger.

Lack of shelter.

Not having a job or career prospect.

Not having access to education.

Losing a child to illness due to unclean water.

Being sick and not having the means to receive medical attention.

Cursed with poverty, people [not simply people, they are our relatives, our distant cousins, friends of friends, people just a few handshakes away in the global network in which we are all connected] waste opportunities not because they are lazy because they cannot see them.

The latest statistics say that 13.8 million people in South Africa live in extreme poverty.

This means if this auditorium takes about 200 people, 50 in this room live in extreme poverty. 50. Half the world lives on less that $2.50 a day.

We are so used to poverty that we are immune to the consequences of what it does to society.

According to 2014 World Bank statistics, South Africa spends 9% of Total GDP on health Care. Comparable countries spend about 6% of Total GDP on Health Care.

However, South Africa is ranked 119 out of 195 countries in health care.

We spend more healthcare, but we get less outcomes.

South Africa spends about 8% of Total GDP on education but in 2016 it ranked 137 out of 139 at the overall quality of education.

Again we spend more on education and get less outcomes.

This pattern of aggressive spending and disappointing returns in the social sector is not limited to the South Africa.

The United States of America spends more money per capita on health care, yet it lags behind many of its peers.

It spends more on education, yet it comes in 24th out of 29 for mathematical literacy test.

We can safely say that the problem is not money. The money is there, but the solution lies elsewhere.

The problem of poverty can be solved in our lifetime.


Where to start


Start your first business this way:

Begin with the smallest possible project in which someone will pay you money to solve a problem they know they have.

Charge less than it’ is worth and more than it costs you.


You do not have to wait for perfect or large or revered or amazing.

You can start.

LORA Entrepreneurship Series: Mr. Jabu Stone – Saturday, 10 March 2018

Jabu Stone

LORA Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship strives to bring thought leaders, men and women who are pathfinders, entrepreneurs and change agents, men and women who have affected the very fibre of our thought processes, who influence our set of beliefs, and engage our mindsets in elements of value. 

LORA has invited experienced entrepreneurs to share their stories with us.

On Saturday, 10 March 2018, we are host the legendary Mr. Jabu Stone.

To many South Africans, the name Jabu Stone is synonymous with hair care, especially dreadlocks, which has earned him the nickname ‘Mr Dreads’.

His love of natural hair [and his quest for an alternative to the harsh chemicals women were using on their hair] and his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to create the brand that carriers his name, one of the most enduring and successful brands in South Africa.

How did he manage to create a brand where there was no brand for dreadlocks?

How did he manage to change the stereotypes of how people looked at dreadlocks from unclean hair to something that people today proud to do?

How difficult was it to start the Jabu Stone brand and compete [successfully] with other well-established brands?

To answer all these questions, come join us and interact with Bra Jabu on his entrepreneurship journey.

Date: Saturday, 10 March 2018

Time: 13:00 – 14:30

Charge: R100 

Space is very limited.

To RSVP and pay:

[LORA Centre students and alumni get 100% discount]

Venue: Midrand [3 Tybalt Place, Waterfall Office Park, Bekker Road, Vorna Valley, Midrand. [there is secured parking]