Dr John Hanks Farewell Dinner

Address by Dr Reuel J. Khoza (Chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Aka Capital  and author of several books including Let Africa Lead and Attuned Leadership) to “Nedbank Group Technology Leaders”  I  21 January 2014

WWF Nedbank Green Trust has had a major catalytic impact and proven to be very sustainable:

  • I will also draw parallels between my thoughts on Attuned Leadership with the work of Jim Collins who wrote the book Good to Great which was and remains a source of insight and inspiration for the management team of Nedbank.
  • At the same time the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has over R30 million in trust capital.

The success of the trust and the work it has done is a product of generations of leadership from WWF SA, Nedbank and the Trustees.

Dr John Hanks is one of those long serving dedicated and wise Trustees. He was in fact the founder member of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust when it was established in 1990. Dr. Hanks was at that time the CEO of WWF-SA, when he was approached by Dr Ivan May and Willem Kruger from Nedbank to start the Nedbank Affinity programme and The Green Trust, as it was called then.

Dr John Hanks’s association with WWF spans approximately 50 years. He was His past roles include: Director of the Africa Programme at WWF-International, Switzerland. During his gap year in 1961 – the founding year of the organisation – WWF-UK referred him to a conservation project in East Africa where he worked as a volunteer. He completed his Doctorate at Magdalene College, Cambridge – a year that was sponsored by WWF. In 1985 he joined the staff of WWF International in Switzerland and five years later (1990) he was appointed as Chief Executive of WWF South Africa. The WWF Nedbank Green Trust was founded during his tenure. He also served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust for the first six years. Today he is still a Trustee and wears his Green Trust shirt with pride – nearly 25 years of service as a trustee.

Dr John Hanks has been a leading figure in Southern Africa’s conservation work for over 50 years. His past roles include: Chief Professional Officer for the Natal Parks Board; Professor and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences, then the first Director of the Institute of Natural Resources at the University of Natal; First Executive Director of the Peace Parks Foundation; Director of Conservation International’s TFCA Initiatives and Wilderness Program in Southern Africa.

Dr Hanks is a zoologist by training with his first degree in Natural Sciences from Magdalene College, Cambridge, followed by a PhD on the reproductive physiology, growth, and population dynamics of the African elephant in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. He has nearly 50 years of experience in a wide variety of applied conservation management and research projects, working in several African countries, including Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

He has published over 150 scientific papers. More recently he has worked on a variety of management plans for protected areas which have highlighted the vital importance of ecosystem services in regional and national economies, and has been giving priority to environmental education, concentrating on the identification and nurturing of the conservation champions and leaders of the future through his role of Chairman of the Lapalala Wilderness School and as a Senior Fellow of Green Matters.

When he started the WWF Nedbank Green Trust in the 1990s, conservation was seen as very separate from community development. The WWF Nedbank Green Trust’s mission was to bring these two isolated concepts together in order to promote the ideals of people living and working in harmony with one another and the environment.

From the outset the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has championed projects that included people and communities in the conservation of large ecosystems and their associated services, such as water and food production. Ensuring that ecosystems remain as intact as possible is critical to our ability to cope with the very real effects of climate change. As this increasingly comes to the forefront, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust will continue to play its part in ensuring the long-term integrity of our natural systems and the species and people that inhabit them.

Dr John Hanks plans to write two books and he says he plans to de-commit from what is still a full schedule of various conservation activities to enable him to concentrate on writing. However, mentoring and encouraging conservation leaders of the future will still remain on his “to-do” list for as long as he can. He says there are still parts of Africa that he has not seen and is looking forward to spending quality time in these areas with his wife.

Dr John Hanks was asked about who are his heroines/heroes in real life? He said the following:
There are too many individuals to mention by name, but they will have all or a combination of the following characteristics and attributes:

  • A desire to help emerging conservationists without seeking credit and recognition and an ability to instil in them a passion and commitment for environmental conservation.
  • Excellence in communicating a positive and realistic conservation message both through the written and spoken word.
  • Environmental advocacy that concentrates on solutions and not just on highlighting and describing the problems.
  • Treat and respect others as you would like to be treated and respected yourself.

In conclusion earth scientists tell us that the world could end tomorrow as a result of any number of mathematically probable scenarios: a huge asteroid impact or super volcanic eruption, gamma-ray bursts from a collision of stars, an escaped man-made virus, a nuclear holocaust. The destruction of our habitat by external catastrophe or human activities looms large on our TV screens and in dialogues between experts. Yet world leadership seems paralysed, like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights. Sudden disaster may indeed strike us unawares from out of the depths of space – something we can do little to avoid, although we are working on it – but nuclear warfare, laboratory viruses and global warming are definitely our responsibility and we should seek to control them. Climatic catastrophe is perhaps  the most probable fate awaiting us unless we do something about it.

Under these circumstances people of your stature, expertise and experience cannot, dare not retire. You can only change gears. This generation of concerned, conscientious citizens, needs to continue to benefit from you as an environmentalist of infinite resource and sagacity.

The WWF Nedbank Green Trust has been privileged to have had someone of John’s stature, expertise and leadership serving as a trustee. We thank Dr John Hanks for his great service. We wish Dr John Hanks the best in his future endeavours.