Is replication and upscaling fit for purpose in the African continent?
Dr R MUNANG
Our African elders in their unique wisdom, left us many timeless proverbs. Among those I find most reflective is one that goes thus – “when a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing”. In context, this African proverb reminds us to never get too familiar or comfortable with anything. That we must always be on the alert and verify all things. “All things” covers even the words we use, and the meanings we ascribe to them.
Policy and renewed mindsets – going beyond finance alone is the key to magnifying successes in Africa
There is a famous saying used almost in a joking way – that “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. For over 60 years of independence, Africa, arguably the most endowed continent in terms of diverse natural resources – some of which has since been theoretically monetised and fancied as “natural capital”, has been a consistent recipient of financial aid from other less naturally resourced regions. In these years, while the narrative of upscaling proven successes has followed most of this aid, we are yet to see a real breakthrough for the continent as the cycle of poverty has persisted. This cycle of dependency persists. Africa is still disproportionately vulnerable. Africa is still considered a continent in adversity. One doesn’t have to think hard to realise that the narrative of “upscaling successes” through the money lens alone that we have become familiar with, has set the continent on a wild goose chase. The number of hungry and poor continue to increase. If we were to go with the numbers, the 257 million citizens who wallow in hunger every day and night and the over 620 million who are energy impoverished are telling enough. These are not just statistics. These are the stories of peoples' lives. Our economies continue to be the least competitive globally. Our region continues to be the most vulnerable to climate change manifesting in the increased droughts and floods plunging millions into suffering nearly every day. In fact, measuring by the most neutral indicator of social, economic and environmental success globally – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Africa is a continent in eminent crisis. And with just 10 years remaining to expiry of the SDGs, Africa has made minimal progress, and in some instances, there is complete stagnation and in worse, retrogressive. With these realities, the urgency for remedial steps is unquestionable. . “Replication”, which is inadvertently tied to money alone– is not giving a fair return to the continent and this has to do with the high probability of such money driven approaches alone to overlook context. It is high time the continent gave as much attention to leveraging on changed mindsets and enabling policy as the drivers of multiplied success to bring impact to scale.
Policy as the right tool for multiplying successes in the continent
It is said that policy is the biggest driver of change. This is indeed the case because anything that get anchored to policy automatically gets integrated into institutional DNA for posterity in implementation. Institutions transcend individuals and minimise the direct biases of man that often get in the way of progress. And any action that is integrated into policy, has potential for uptake to scale at sub national, national, regional and even global levels. The SDGs are a good example. Once they were institutionalised within the structure of the UN, all 193 plus member states adopted them for domestication in their respective context – in a single day. This is a typical example of how policy sets the institutional roots for multiplying successes. It is urgently important to leverage what works to validate policy with action as it is ground action that informs policy and vice versa. Board room policy should not be disconnected with reality. For example, if you take the work the Innovative Volunteerism Youth actors are doing across the continent, they are fabricating solar driers and briquettes. This work they are doing is providing empirical evidence and data. For instance, they have come up with effective solar dryer designs made from locally available material – that are up to 200% cheaper than imported solutions. The effectiveness and affordability of these dryers provides empirical data to inform practical areas for policies to focus on to enable further up-scaling of such relevant climate actions from a market perspective that ensures longevity. As a first, the improved solar dryer designs are through several iterations done by the youth, generating data that can be later used by standard organisation in countries. The solar dryers dehydrate a variety of food items to below the 12% threshold key to prevent aflatoxins as specified by standard organisations. This data will be key to inform standards on development of an affordable and effective, contextual solar dryer that preserves food in line with standards benchmarks. This is the way to go in ensuring policy is informed from the ground to institutionalise what works. This is the direction we must take in bringing impact to scale. But under status quo, talk of replication and upscaling across the continent is resulting in duplication of efforts. It is resulting into an escalation of operational risks which in turn results in lowered efficiency and reduced longer-term sustainability. Proliferation of initiatives without building on what has worked has not done any good to Africa. We must now change this and build on what is working but do so using the connecting the dots system thinking approach. Connecting the dots should become the DNA of transformational climate action in the continent.
Urgent Renewed Mindsets is the right tool to bring impact to scale
Beyond policy, nothing beats a renewed mindset. A false culture always falsify development. What are Africa's cultural values that can be tapped into to bring impact to scale with or without the trillions we have been waiting for? Is it only finance that we need to bring impact to scale? The jury is out. “Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped”, this African proverb puts in perspective a fundamental question we must ask ourselves – which is, where did the rain start beating us? The answer lies in a mindset of materialism that has engulfed us. The timeless wisdom of “no pain no gain”, which never gained roots, is increasingly replaced by a philosophy of “eating where you have not sown, provided you don’t get caught”. While a skilled person capable of converting challenges into opportunities is the most significant component of wealth globally, materialism has blinded us. We have entrusted Africa’s transformation on material resources, rather than the unlimited potential inherent in our people. We have failed to prioritise people, as the primary means and end of development. Choosing material resources instead. This is where we slipped. Today, we must revisit how human capital can rightfully become the force of transformative climate action in Africa. For quite too long, we have focused on bringing finance to scale alone without knowing that to bring impact to scale we need a different approach which centres on tapping into people’s passions and inspiring them to leverage on their skills and get them retooled as without skills, inspiration, passion, selflessness and purpose, finance will take us nowhere. A trillion dollars will not bring impact to scale. A skilled person, capable, willing, actively & passionately applying themselves to convert challenges into opportunities, is 15times the value of natural capital and 4times the value of produced capital. The secret to multiplied success in Africa lies in tapping the regions sovereign capital – especially its over 60% youth with their diverse skills, talents, interests, energies, aptitudes and enterprise they engage in. Such youth, structurally guided to develop an unborrowed vision, and see themselves as solutions providers, rather than entitled dependents, is where the continents focus should be. With such a selfless mindset, our youth will be the ones to uptake and leverage both local and global ideas, contextualise them and lead in implementing them. They will be carrying in their human systems, the seed of replication. This we are already seeing through Innovative Volunteerism. Youth structurally guided and inspired to drive familiar climate action enterprise solutions – are each doing it differently in their locale, to make the solutions relatable to their context. For example, waste recovery to domestic energy solutions that have existed for years, are taking different enterprise approaches by different Innovative Volunteerism Youth Actors – informed by context aspects of supply chains, market preferences, regulation, convenience etc. What we see is that the uptake of a solution that is already proven to work, is determined by the guts, acumen of an individual Innovative Volunteerism youth actor as they navigate through the many variables that constitute their respective context. Hence, nurturing a self-believing, passionate youth, who develop an unborrowed vision to touch lives, is the most significant component of upscaling that can ensure efforts navigate through the uncertainties of context. These Innovative Volunteerism Youth actors are finding their purpose in driving climate action enterprises that touch lives and the guidance they receive is enabling them to leverage on climate action as an enterprise. These youth are engaging more youth to form teams which are leveraging on a selfless attitude to unselfishly work to deliver climate solutions that touch lives. Not look at personal gain. Selflessness is the key ingredient we need to ensure we bring impact to scale. These youth are working with passion. The importance of working with passion in everything we do is key. This critical ingredient unlocks other values, that are equally important – selflessness. They are selflessly sharing lessons across Innovative Volunteerism youth actors across the EBAFOSA framework. The empirical data and lessons from the successful climate action enterprises driven by these purposeful youth are then fed-back to inform policy from a practical dimension, towards ensuring polices incentivise investment in these working areas. This symbiosis is proving to be the virtuous cycle of multiplying uptake of successes. This is the only way we can bring impact to scale and not always the talk of finance to scale whose results have not transformed the continent
Africa doesn’t need replication and upscaling in the traditional, familiar sense that is “money” driven alone. Rather the region needs to focus on integrating proven successes into policy and into the mindsets of its people – and especially the youth. This is the most promising paradigm of overcoming barriers brought about by the diverse contextual variables. Logic integrated into policy gets the institutional anchors that transcend human biases. This same logic integrated into people’s psyche to drive it as an unborrowed vision premised on the untapped selflessness and passion driven ingredients we have tended to ignore for ages provides the much needed and irreplaceable thrust force of human capital, that is paramount to push and navigate proven solutions through the maze of diverse contextual variables that exist in Africa. Combining the policy and human element provides the virtuous cycle of multiplied and magnified success that we urgently need in Africa. Let us disentangle ourselves from familiarity and embrace real progress. -
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