S1. E20. Paul van Zyl

Paul van Zyl served as the Executive Secretary of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission . Paul also co-founded the International Centre for Transitional Justice, an organization that works in over 40 countries that have endured massive human rights violations under repression conflict. Most recently, Paul co-founded The Conduit, which serves as a home for those committed to improving the world by harnessing the power of creativity and entrepreneurship.

Paul speaks with amazing precision and passion on ‘just transition’, whether from apartheid to democracy or from fossil fuelled, extractive economies to renewable, regenerative ones:

“The trick is, in a nutshell, to get ourselves to net zero in a way that builds durable political and electoral majorities who will support it. And that starts with making sure that people who are most vulnerable and most left behind benefit from their transition.”

We spoke on 6 July 2022.



Ubuntu philosophy that “I am because we are”.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission explained on Wikipedia”a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa in 1996 after the end of apartheid…{C]haired by Desmond Tutu, the commission invited witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations to give statements about their experiences, and selected some for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.”


New York Times / The Conduit conference: Climate Forward.

Alex Steffen

The Conduit joining page

Rowan Conway, while at the RSA, ‘Think like a system, act like an entrepreneur’.


0:50 – Q1 What are you doing now? And how did you get there?
5:46 – BONUS QUESTION: Did you feel economic benefits was missing from the transitional justice work, there’s a limit to how much can be done by working in a way, which that commercial side?
9:25: BONUS QUESTION: I fumbled it a little on the day, but the question boils down to: Does the UK need a truth and reconciliation commission for the British Empire?
14:00 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?
19:19 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
23:54 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
25:06 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them
28:06 – Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
30:19 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?


-“As a solo entrepreneur setting up a business which had impact at its core, it became very apparent that you need a community around you to help grow and scale and give these fragile things a chance of sort of succeeding and thriving. The Conduit was very much informed by this idea of being able to support trying to do good and do well at the same time and trying to support entrepreneurial capital formation with purpose and impact at its at its heart.”

-“I think there is a massive need for human rights work and for advocacy work. A…Indeed, in societies where you don’t have the rule of law, and constitutions and cultures of human rights, a lot of what you’re trying to do on…job creation, capital formation, wealth creation, is placed into jeopardy.”

-Human rights are important as a matter of principle and also instrumentally valuable, because it enables the economic success for all, or helps make that more sustainable.

-“I’d got to make the case that that stuff, that kind of human rights, public facing stuff, as you put it, is, in and of itself, wildly important. As a matter of principle, it’s also instrumentally valuable because it enables the other stuff, or, or helps make the other stuff more sustainable in my judgement. That being said, it is also true that if you’re trying to deal with a legacy of terrible abuse, against the backdrop of conflict and inequality, and often joblessness, and ml distribution of wealth, addressing all of that in a context where your economy is thriving, and small businesses are being set up. And those businesses themselves also have double bottom lines, which are working towards positive social outcomes, not just being extractive and wealth creating on their own. It enables dealing with the past, if you do so against the backdrop of, of growth and dynamism.”

-When it comes to the history of Empire, the UK needs “a careful introspection into what that’s like, the pain and the violence and the extraction that occurred, because it firstly allows you to learn lessons about the kind of country that you want to be your relationship with other countries, and, most particularly, your relationship to, to justice and the most vulnerable people within you, including people who were victims of empire and colonialism and slavery, which is, you know, inexorably associated with it, who are citizens of your own country who feel alienated and angry and, and are not properly heard.”

-“And so I think, having a process which reflects on that is a healthy process, it makes you a better and a stronger society, it makes your society more stable, and more just, and the only people who should, who should resist it, are people who aren’t somehow invested in a connection between that past and the current state of affairs, which all too often is about a politics of division, and a politics which seeks to cement and protect some of the current injustices which are linked to the past.”

-“f you unpick the past, the current injustice has become untenable.”

-“Well, for the first time in human history…We face the prospect of doing the kind of harm to the planet and to therefore the conditions of life on that planet that is irreversible and existential.”

-“the distributive justice that occurs on route to getting to Net Zero has to be one in which those people who are most vulnerable feel most left behind, and who are potentially most angry, but are also electorally and politically salient in that, if you don’t bring them along, they won’t see their futures being invested in that transition.”

-“the trick is, in a nutshell, to get ourselves to net zero in a way that builds durable political and electoral majorities who will support it. And that starts with, in my view, making sure that people who are most vulnerable and most left behind benefit from their transition.”

-“the most interesting things in entrepreneurship in science and technology and labs are when two seemingly unconnected things come into contact with each other. And you get a breakthrough, because you’ve seen things in two different perspectives.”

-“there has never been a more urgent time in human history to act. And there’s never been a time where we have greater tools and resources in order to act.”

-“We’ve never had a more entrepreneurial moment in human history…We’ve never had a group a younger generation who are more mobilised around questions of justice in the future. So, I bet on the [democracy and entrepreneurship], because I think they will they have the power to address and overwhelm the negative trends that are coming in our direction. And the only difference is human volition, and our action. And so you know, act.”


1 thought on “S1. E20. Paul van Zyl

  1. Pingback: S1. E25. Eva-Maria Dimitriadis | David Bent

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