Ajay Lalu – Is Empowerment Sustainable?

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Since the COP 17 conference in Durban in December 2011, South Africa has had to ask questions whether:

1. Empowerment is indeed sustainable?

2. Are these issues not two sides of the same coin?

3. What is the sense of empowering people if there is no planet or environment to support life?

Social justice and sustainable development need to be linked at policy and implementation levels. The COP stands for “conferences of the parties”. These parties have met annually from 1995 to assess progress in dealing with climate change.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The President’s Advisory Council on B-BEE has recently recommended that the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for sustainability reporting incorporate specific measures that relate to B-BBEE and the Codes of Good Practice.

This comes on the back of the recent adoption by JSE-listed companies of integrated reporting as recommended by King III Report on Corporate Governance.

So, how does social justice and B-BBEE really integrate?

If you tell people to stop cutting down trees as these are a source of oxygen and carbon capture, will they really hear or listen to you?

People living in poverty without a roof over their head, heat in winter or the ability to cook their food will tell you that their ability to survive the night is actually dependent on them cutting the tree down.

Therefore, unless people are housed, employed and enjoying a better quality of life, their last concern in the world (unfortunately, but understandably) is the environment.

It is for this argument that South Africa needs to create an environment where people are empowered and at the same time shown the impact of their actions and the way they interact with the planet.

This would clearly demonstrate the importance for long term survival. Many companies are looking at B-BBEE and Sustainable Development through different eyes.

Sustainability is the domain of the Sustainable Development manager, while BEE is often left to the Human Resources manager.

South Africa can only empower people if people have a country and planet to live in, there is water and food and if people are aware of the impact that they have on their environment.

This country needs to incorporate these two disciplines into a single lens and thus adopt strategies that focus on sustainable empowerment. Government needs to also consider the regulatory framework that supports both sustainable development and B-BBEE.

There needs to be cohesion between these two policies. In practical terms, the Mining Charter requires companies to build houses for employees (empowerment).

What the country should be insisting on is that these houses are built with solar water geysers and solar lighting (sustainability). It is understood that as people are empowered, their needs and desires change. What needs to be influenced is how people aspire to these things.

Once people are empowered they want a fridge and a stove. People need to be educated that they should power these with solar or renewable energy and not coal powered electricity.

This will allow Africa to leapfrog the rest of the world and ensure that her people live in a sustainable manner, while preserving the desires to a better quality of life.

Social justice and sustainable development are therefore indeed two sides of the same coin.

Written by: Ajay Lalu – Managing Director of Black Lite Group. A Sustainable Empowerment Consulting firm.


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