Alumni Showcase: Dr Barbara Holtmann

ALUMNI ALERT: Our conversation with Dr Barbara Holtmann, The Da Vinci Institute’s Doctoral graduate from the class of 2010

“Loving work is essential to loving life. I do both!” – Dr Barbara Holtmann


(Image supplied)


One of our own esteemed alumni, Dr Barbara Holtmann is the current director of 48 Outcomes (Pty) Ltd, trading as Fixed. It has been a decade or so since graduating as a Doctoral Degree holder from her alma mater, The Da Vinci Institute in 2010. This is our recent catch-up with her…

It takes minimal time to realise Dr Holtmann’s zest to discuss the research work she did and has achieved, as it remarkably blazes throughout the conversation with pride on her part. In fact, she accords that there, “were moments [during the Doctoral journey] when I thought I couldn’t do it – but for the last 6 months when I was writing every night and every weekend, I loved it. I am deeply grateful that I did it … Only now I can look [back] and say well, I did that!”

In addition, the thesis entitled: Strategy for a Safe South Africa; Safe Communities of Opportunity Systems Model, proved to be “my best education ever and has framed the rest of my career. I was challenged by The Da Vinci Institute to create an elegant solution to a complex problem. The problem I was dealing with at the time was unsafety, and so I wrote about complexity related to that context. What I learned in the process was that the only thing to do with complexity is to embrace it – and the only way to get through is found in collaborating with others who share your vision”, Dr Holtmann concedes. She has tapped into her thesis many a time, as it “works for many complex social problems, and I have used it extensively in urban safety practice, community development, shared value, personal and collective resilience.”

A curious being, it is Dr Holtmann’s genteel character that oozes confidence about her, as well as her love for the sort of work she does. Over the past 22 years, Dr Holtmann has been working, co-creating systemic solutions to complex social problems both locally and internationally; in civil society, in both the private and public sectors, and in the national Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). She has intensely immersed herself in projects and initiatives aimed at influencing social architecture – more especially on crime prevention. Dr Holtmann now facilitates the identification, design, establishment, and monitoring of sustainable social systems. Included is also her involvement in matters related to collaboration, integrated interventions, vulnerability and fragility, social and community intervention, empowerment of girls and women, as well as community safety and development.

Her organisation Fixed enables strategic processes for a range of clients across all sectors. Such processes highlight factors that are essential, that contribute to sustainability, further providing a platform for more effective planning and goal setting, in vulnerable and fragile communities.

The physical and intellectual energy Dr Holtmann continues to pour into safety-related issues, of which she is so devoted, is as remarkable as her boardroom efforts. Dr Holtmann has served on several boards – at both local and international levels. She is one of the advisory board members of Safetipin, an international organisation with a mission to co-create “a world where everyone can move around without fear, especially women and other excluded groups”. She is also on the expert advisory board of the European Union Icarus Innovation 2 project, as well as a representative for Women in Cities International (WICI) on the UN Women Generation Equality project. Furthermore, in the year 2017, Dr Holtmann was elected to serve as President of the board of WICI, which is a non-governmental organisation based in Montreal. She is a former project director and, later, board member of Business Against Crime (BAC), where she established a community-based victim support programme; and has also served on the board of the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (Canada).

Dr Holtmann was also a co-founder of Action for a Safe South Africa, bringing together 300 local practitioners, academics and service providers, to develop and integrate sector-based strategies in order to address antenatal, postnatal, early childhood development, school as the centre of the community, youth opportunity, substances, sexual violence and families. Consequently, Action for a Safe South Africa published a book about these collective inputs under the same name, in 2009.

As an author, Dr Holtmann has published the book, What it looks like when it’s fixed, inspired largely by her Doctoral thesis. This book serves as a guide and an elegant tool that could be used to dissolve complex social problems. In addition to her varied corporate skills, Dr Holtmann is no novice when it comes to public speaking. She has delivered keynote addresses, as well as other presentations about the safety of communities – in conferences, seminars and expert group meetings around Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Montreal, Washington, London, Mexico City, Canberra, Paris, Santiago, Vienna, Berlin and Oslo.

It is through such adventures that Dr Holtmann has learned a great deal, and indeed achieved a wealth of experience in her illustrious career. Now in possession of wisdom and lessons to impart, her unbounded advice to our students is as follows:

“Create a safe space with someone not directly associated with your study. Negotiate with them that you can call on them when you need to talk and when feeling inundated. Don’t panic. Yes, the journey may be a challenge, but remember that it is an educational experience. I have heard so many people say ‘I know it, now it’s just a matter of writing it down’. That was hardly true in my case. Lastly, be open to the learning journey, as it is a gift.”

Dr Barbara Holtmann is a living embodiment and beacon of remarkability, and we at The Da Vinci Institute are truly proud that she is one of our alumni. May she continue to grow her constellation in our co-operative galaxy!