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Fostering sustainable innovation in SA, one idea at a time

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Picture: Natania Botha Moliehi Mafantiri, co-founder of BARALI. Barali’s (pronounced Baradi) black woman-owned design firm has two branches. The first is a sustainable homeware brand and the second, a brand and design consultancy.

By Dominic Naidoo

Over the weekend, I had the honour and privilege of being invited to participate in Africa’s first ever Regional Climate Change Conference of Youth (RCOY), which took place at Gauteng’s Innovation Hub in Lynnwood, Pretoria.

The conference is hosted by Indalo Inclusive South Africa, a Pretoria-based non-profit organisation working to support and promote social, green, inclusive, and responsible entrepreneurship in South Africa.

Natania Botha, content and partnerships co-ordinator at Indalo Inclusive and long-time environmental activist said that hosting and facilitating conferences such as RCOY is crucial if we are to ensure a sustainable future for African youth.

“It is important that we create these platforms to elevate the voices of young people in order to share their knowledge, challenges, lived experiences and solutions with one another and for them to return to our communities using this newfound knowledge as a mandate to create change,” Botha said.

“We need bold, decisive action from young people and we need it now. We can’t wait for tomorrow for someone to be recognised as a leader, young people need to be taken seriously now,” she said.

After spending 36 hours over three days engaging with vibrant, inspiring and driven African youth from all over this beautiful Continent, I can confidently say that our future is in safe hands.

I met a young Basotho, Ms Moliehi (pronounced Modehi) Mafantiri, an intern at the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project, a World Wildlife Fund initiative, who is passionate about preserving and protecting Lesotho’s famous mohair weaving traditions that are carried from generation to generation.

Chatting to Mafantiri at the conference, she told me that Barali’s (pronounced Baradi) black woman owned design firm has two branches. The first is a sustainable homeware brand and the second, a brand and design consultancy.

“Our sustainable homeware brand is expertly handcrafted by local artisans in Lesotho, for the eco-conscious customer, who desires homeware that is both beautiful and ethically produced.

“One of our central values is cultural continuity, which is why we ensure stories of Basotho cultures are told through our products,” she said.

Barali promotes sustainable, innovative production and through their activities, aims to achieve improved sustainability within their Lesotho operations where most of their production takes place.

This is achieved through paying vendors fair wages, only engaging with vendors that comply with health and safety standards, sourcing eco-friendly materials and implementing production that ensures safe environmental performances.

I also had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr Rest Kanju, the director and head of operations at Indalo Inclusive South Africa which has implemented a variety of social and environmental projects for South African and international donors.

Being in the development space for over two decades, Kanju was a treasure trove of advice for future leaders and I was out looking for a few galleons to take back home. My first question was about how best to approach the topic of climate change with people, specifically youth, who have more pressing issues to worry about such as unemployment, food insecurity, safety etc.

Speaking over a mug of strong black tea, Kunju said that “for me, the simplest way to understand this is to look at livelihoods”.

“We need the planet more than the planet needs us. The reality is if things get worse, people will die. We’ve already seen this with the April floods in KwaZulu-Natal and the floods, droughts and tropical storms happening all over the world,” Kanju said.

Kanju admitted that wanting to slow, halt and ultimately reverse climate change and the impacts which accompany it is not just about going green and saving our wild spaces, it is for our own survival.

Okay, maybe we’re going about this wrong in terms of climate messaging. From personal experience and discussions, most people whom I’ve met, who are climate sceptics or down right non-believers think that the whole climate change issue boils down to humans versus nature. Of course it’s not, we are part of nature, but this is what they and millions of others believe. So how do we turn this discourse into something everyone can relate to and want to be involved in?

“The transition into a green economy is going to happen whether everyone is on board or not. We are forced to transition, we simply do not have a choice. This is why we need to ask ourselves how we innovate and come up with solutions and inventions which are going to help us survive and live a bit longer,” Kanju said.

For example, when Coronavirus engulfed our world, the entirety of the human race woke up and realised, in an extremely short space of time, that we had no choice but to adapt – it was quite literally a do or die situation.

We knew, well most of us knew, that if we weren’t using a mask, sanitising, maintaining social distance and vaccinating, we were putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk. Why are we not using the same logic when it comes to climate change?

Kanju says that the issue we face currently is about time and urgency. We need to foster sustainable innovation that will enable us to use technology to fight climate change. What can we do right now as a society to bring about these opportunities?

It may sound harsh but, we must see the issue of climate change as the opportunity to make money and in order to make money, we must be able to provide sustainable solutions efficiently and effectively. This is where organisations like Indalo Inclusive come in.

One of their recent initiatives was the South African Youth Climate Innovation Awards (SAYCIA) that was implemented as part of the British High Commission’s communication and awareness efforts over the COP26 conference, which took place last November in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

The central objective of SAYCIA is to raise awareness of the climate change challenges that South Africa faces, with a strong focus on youth inclusion and providing a voice to the youth that will combat these issues head-on.

In order to open the discussion about resources and support, they need to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship that is focused on finding solutions.

The thematic focus areas of energy, agriculture, water, waste, and ecosystem restoration allowed Indalo to facilitate the selection of the 26 youth innovators who were decided on via public vote and the SAYCIA reference group.

The project has unearthed 26 youth climate innovators that have or are trying to turn their innovations into viable businesses, therefore, becoming part of eco-inclusive sustainable entrepreneurship. This is a clear indication that innovative climate-smart entrepreneurship is our vehicle to address the country’s triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, some of the greatest challenges of our time.

In the past five years, Indalo Inclusive has, through the SEED Programme, been involved in the implementation of various replication programmes in South Africa and been exposed to others across the African continent.

One successful innovation incubated by Indalo Inclusive in partnership with the UNDP is Green Earth Concepts. Green Earth Concepts is an excellent example of an innovative food waste business which, since 2003, has been developing and implementing tailor-made solutions in the fields of organic waste recycling, composting and ecological agricultural production to help offset carbon reduction emissions.

The company’s goal is to use a bespoke worm farming system to help as many small-scale growers as possible to alleviate food waste in landfills, create affordable farming practices, alleviate hunger and create jobs.

Green Earth concepts’ solutions enable farmers and growers to produce their own compost and what is known as ‘worm tea’, which is a liquid fertiliser. This vermicompost is nutrient-rich, safe for the environment and produces bigger and better crop yields.

A similar innovation, with which Indalo Inclusive is assisting, involves vermicomposting, a process that uses earthworms for the biodegradation of biosolids. This innovation recycles used and old bathtubs.

It is a great way to recycle food scraps. This innovation produces a few litres of leachate informally known as “worm tea” a day. This worm tea can either be used as is, or watered down as an excellent source of nutrients for plants.

In short, South Africa and Africa have immense potential to combat climate change using innovation and new technologies. We just need to get off the negativity train and start doing things for ourselves because nobody is coming to help us.

Dominic Naidoo is an environment activist and writer.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.