Celebration of finalists at the Conscious Companies Awards 2021


The Conscious Companies Awards – in partnership with Primeserv and BNP Paribas –this week celebrated courageous leaders who embrace consciousness and a new way of thinking and being in the world.

Nestlé East and Southern Africa region (ESAR) and the Santa Shoebox Project were the two winners at this year’s awards ceremony, which took place last night at a gala dinner with Level 3 lockdown protocols, at the Venue in Melrose Arch. The event was also livestreamed across the globe.


Since its inception in 2016, Conscious Companies has encouraged leadership to conduct business in an ethical, honourable and responsible way.

The 2021 winner in the Conscious Companies Awards business category was Bruno Olierhoek from Nestlé ESAR (CEO) while Irené Pieters (founder) and Debbie Zelezniak (CEO) of the Santa Shoebox Project were honoured in the NGO/NPO category.

“The calibre of entries this year was impressive and we are delighted that the concept of a conscious company is changing the mindset of how business and organisations operate,” said Professor Mervyn King, the chairman of the panel of judges for this year’s awards.

“This has been a year of dramatic change, brought about by the onslaught of the COVID pandemic, looting and economic fallout. We need Conscious Companies more now than ever before and we salute both this year’s winners and finalists for leading the way. They are proving that it is possible to pursue profit while also placing a premium on people and the environment; they can be mutually inclusive,” he concluded.

Bruno Olierhoek – who has worked at Nestlé for 26 years – believes in the power of his people and the ability to embrace change as a key enabler for business growth. His philosophy, particularly during the current worldwide pandemic, is “keep employees safe, keep business sustainable and help communities”. He spearheaded a malaria eradication campaign which won the global Nestlé Health by Choice Award and focused on improving the safety and health standards in Nestlé’s central African operations, as a result of which the organisation became the founding member of “Safe Way, Right Way” which promotes road safety.

The Santa Shoebox Project originated in Cape Town in 2006 with 180 packages consisting of essential items and treats for underprivileged children. In 15 years, the number of Santa Shoeboxes donated is more than a million which are now distributed to more than 900 children’s homes, orphanages and other child care institutions across South Africa and Namibia. It is run by an extensive network of volunteers and also relies on help from various corporate sponsors.

Merrick Abel, CEO of Primeserv and the partner of Conscious Companies, commented: “Organisations can benefit hugely by embracing conscious leadership and making it a core component of their cultural and operational DNA.”

There were 10 finalists competing for this year’s honours – six in the private, listed and unlisted business category and four NGO/NPOs. They were:


Mark Dytor, CEO – AECI

Stephen Mahony, CEO – JumpCO: Runner-Up (Company)

Richard Firth, CEO – MIP Holdings

Bruno Olierhoek, CEO – Nestlé (ESA): Winner (Company)

Martin Sweet, CEO – Primestars

Funeka Montjane, Chief Executive – Standard Bank Consumer & High Net Worth Clients


Noelene Kotschan, CEO and founder – PinkDrive (NGO/NPO)

Debbie Zelezniak, CEO and Irené Pieters, founder – Santa Shoebox Project (NGO/NPO): Winner (NGO/NPO)

Tiekie Barnard, CEO and founder – Shared Value Africa Initiative

Mara Glennie, founder – TEARS Foundation (NGO/NPO): Runner-Up (NGO/NPO)

Said Conscious Companies founder and CEO Brenda Kali at the awards ceremony: “We have a profound opportunity from the current morass we find ourselves in, to breed a different quality of leadership and change the course and psyche of a nation. We require a willingness and an awakening of conscious leadership to impact our thinking, behaviour, culture and evolution in our socio-political and economic environment. All we need are a few good men and women to display great human values.”