“To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.” – Raymond Williams
Angela Coetzee, Strategy Communications Manager at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, storyteller and passionate believer in social transformation, recently attended the International Architectual Biennale Rotterdam (IABR 2016) through the Stellenbosch University Sustainability Institute Changemaker Programme. She shares some of her reflections emerging from this on the possibilities of the next economy.
We live in a world that is quickly changing, becoming more complex and overrun with challenges. This new world requires a new way of approaching and thinking about challenges. The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation believes that an entrepreneurial mindset can equip us to flourish in this new world.
It is predicted that by 2050 80% of the globe would have urbanised with 90% of wealth created in cities. As a result, an understanding of cities, the challenges and opportunities they present, is vital to cultivating responsible entrepreneurs. The sheer size and density of cities in the future calls into question a range of human and natural systems such as access to water and food, living and work spaces, places of learning and access to opportunity.
The IABR 2016, themed ‘The Next Economy’, connected designers, academics, and thinkers with decision makers, politicians, the private sector and the public with the realities of global cities. It presented more than 60 projects. Together, these projects show a range of possible futures; new housing and working locations, new clean energy systems, new models for area development, and new forms of collaboration, health care, and solidarity. ‘The Next Economy’ investigated the relationship between spatial design and the future development of the economy. The projects exhibited revealed how ordinary people, individuals and communities, are dealing with the social, political and economic challenges that the city presents.
There was an important African presence, celebrating projects of design in reality. The following projects stood out:
iShack: The iShack Project, based in Ekanini, Stellenbosch, is using solar electricity to demonstrate how green technologies can be used appropriately to incrementally upgrade informal settlements and slums whilst build local enterprising capacity and resilience within a community. Enkanini is an informal settlement of about 6,000 people on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, Western Cape. This community is typical of many similar settlements around South Africa where hundreds of shacks are built in close proximity, with little or no access to clean and safe forms of energy, water or sanitation. The iShack solution did not come from outside of the community, but from within.
Zabaleen: There are 70 000 Zabaleens as Cairo’s informal waste collectors. The word Zabaleen literally means ‘garbage people’. Over the years the Zabaleens have developed an intricate cycle in which about two-thirds of the 15 000 tons of garbage generated daily by Cairo’s 17 million inhabitants is salvaged and recycled. Their relationship with authorities has been tense and under former President Hosni Mubarak, the state contracted international firms to collect waste. This 10-year experiment in privatisation, however, proved inefficient and only served to further marginalize the Zabaleen. Lately, the Zabaleen have begun to organise themselves into formal businesses and the government have started to acknowledge the failure of privatization. The government is starting to formally employ the Zabaleen as waste collectors. This is a great example of how informal and formal economies can integrate in a productive way.
Suame Magazine: This is an enormous industrial initiative within Kimasi, Ghana’s second city. It epotimises the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the informal sector. Cargo ships bring thousands of old European cars to Ghana every week, and this is where they are transformed and made fit for Africa’s chaotic cities and potholed roads. The cars and trucks from across West Africa are serviced and repaired in massive agglomeration of shops, factories and open air workshops. Suame Magazine has become an industrial ecosystem of small scale artisanal manufacturing where large volumes of material are being repurposed and recycled.
Afrilabs: This is an umbrella organization serving 40 tech hubs that have thrived in 20 different countries across the continent, with an estimated 200 tech hubs in Africa. These hubs are emerging as networks for young African IT workers, commercial startups, entrepreneurs, social investors and innovators to connect, share knowledge and collectively build an African tech ‘ecosystem’. An important catalyst for this movement was initiated by a group of bloggers and programmers in Nairobi in the aftermath of the 2008 electoral crisis, when they created the open source crisis mapping platform, Ushahidi. Afrilabs was established to support the further development of the promising ‘innovation infrastructure’ that is fast spreading across the continent.
These are a few stories that map a new, different story of our present and what can and should be expected in the future. Ordinary people and communities, dealing with the realities of their world and thinking entrepreneurially create ‘The Next Economy’.
An inspired academic and thinker, Vanessa Von Der Heyde shared this insight after her time at the IABR 2016: “The future is ours to imagine and ours to create! Now the real work begins of figuring out what our own roles are in proactively working towards the next, socially inclusive, environmentally beneficial economy”.