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Green economy will drive inclusive economic growth, social upliftment – Nedbank

25th November 2021

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Financial services company Nedbank on November 25 launched its revised corporate social investment (CSI) strategy, which will focus on the green economy elements of agriculture, water, energy and waste, in recognition that a green economy approach is a key enabler of economic growth, social upliftment and inclusivity, while protecting the country's natural ecosystems, said Nedbank group market and corporate affairs group executive Khensani Nobanda.

"Building a green economy is the only viable path to a resource-efficient, low-carbon and pro-employment future for our country, and our commitment to the green economy as the anchor for our strategy is one of the key ways we can contribute to the realisation of this goal and the economy's sustainability and effectiveness," she added.

Demand for skills, expertise, funding and social development from economic projects far outweighs supply from CSI. This challenges organisations to ask whether their CSI strategies are relevant and adapted to address the challenges in their operational environments and the needs of their host communities, as well as global trends, noted Nedbank strategy and CSI executive head Poovi Pillay.

"Crucial to addressing these challenges is to connect with communities to understand what they need," he said.

By focusing on agriculture, water, energy and waste skills and enterprise development, Nedbank can contribute to creating hope for people, as well as jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs and enterprises, saving the planet and giving a sense of social cohesion in communities.

"By doing that, we can play a vital role not only in opportunities to be at the forefront of cleaning the planet and supporting sustainability, but doing so in a way that benefits the people and communities who need it most in our society, and giving them hope and pride in what they are doing for the future of their families and communities," he said.

South Africa's economic development has become increasingly knowledge-intensive and services-based, and the South African economy has been driven by consumption and exports, which is typical of developed countries. Development has increasingly become focused in suburban areas, and this highlights the importance of Nedbank's CSI strategy's focus on rural areas and townships to promote social and economic equity, said development economist Ndumiso Hadebe.

"Importantly, this situation means that South Africa must not only drive innovation, but adopt a development approach to innovation, sustainability and inclusiveness to address the inequities seen in South Africa. Addressing low entrepreneurial activity in these areas can be achieved by focusing on pertinent aspects, including water, energy, agriculture and waste, to drive sustainable development," he said.

"If companies do CSI, people and communities must be better off through skills development and enhancement of the economic ecosystem to gain employment and start their own enterprises and hire others. The focus on agriculture, water, energy and waste must lead to outcomes that benefit the economic development of communities in areas. Cognisance of the context of communities' challenges is crucial to drive sustainable development," said Pillay.

Hadebe reinforced this sentiment by highlighting that enablers of wealth creation in wealthy and high-income countries include a focus on human capital, whether these countries have natural resource endowments or not.

"This is the gap we have to bridge to drive sustainable development in agriculture, infrastructure, energy and water, which is enabled by information, communications and technology in these sectors. Therefore, any initiatives must be forward-thinking to enable people to take advantage of opportunities in agriculture, infrastructure, water and energy," he highlighted.

Innovation does not need to involve large-scale approaches, but can be done by disseminating and applying knowledge, such as through the use of hydrophonic farming methods that use 90% less water than conventional agriculture, said Selah Agriculture South Africa CEO Tsholofelo Wechoemang.

"We have to dispel this notion that innovation and development have to do with big and new technologies or requiring lots of investment or money. Development and application of knowledge can drive sustainability in existing economic activities. The most important aspect is to understand what works best in a given context," she said.

Small-scale approaches, such as encouraging more people in townships to grow vegetables in plastic waste containers on their roofs or nurture seedlings in yoghurt containers, for example, can help to drive a change in how individuals and communities view and approach their own agency and their ability to start innovative projects on a small scale, she emphasised.

"The [recent] 54-hour water interruption in Johannesburg must be compared to many areas, such as Giyani, where there is no sustained provision of water, and water interruption is a daily feature. How we deal with an issue of this magnitude is to invest in capacity and skills development in municipalities. This imperative speaks to how corporate companies and municipalities must be aware of and responsive to community needs and how infrastructure is the intermediary needed to support communities. Even small-scale innovations to improve water security can help to address communities' needs," said founder and executive director of Indalo Inclusive Rest Kanju.

Energy challenges are a similar example, and these further examples of the challenges facing people and communities are present throughout South Africa, particularly in rural and township areas, he added.

"Achieving solutions requires a change in mindset, not only among people, but corporations and spheres of government as well."

South Africa has many good policies and lots of money is spent by provinces and municipalities, but this does not lead to the hoped-for outcomes. Therefore, focus must be on investing in people and injecting a positive mindset into communities, he said.

"It is not about money, but about how one can get information and skills to citizens and civil servants to broaden knowledge and expose municipalities and community leadership to the opportunities that exist," Kanju said.

Wechoemang agreed, highlighting that there was an information gap between communities' needs and initiatives by corporations and government to support development.

"Development initiatives must focus on creating meaningful participation by people in creating and driving solutions and value chains. Therefore, the question is not solely on whether green or renewable energy should be deployed in rural and township areas, for example, but in ensuring solutions are suitable for the context in which they are deployed," said Hadebe.

"For example, energy requirements to support agriculture, food processing and cold chain systems are different from the energy requirements of urban areas where services and manufacturing may predominate."

"Maximising the social impact of CSI will create shared value for all stakeholders, including for our own business.  Nedbank has implemented this new CSI strategy since the start of the year and, since then, the potential of this inclusive and context-conscious approach has been made patently clear by the outcomes delivered by projects undertaken under this strategy," said Nobanda.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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