“You must judge a man by the work of his hands”. This African proverb reminds us of the importance of our actions as individuals. They are the basis against which all people – regardless of gender, race, creed – are objectively judged. At the crack of midnight 2020, the world entered a critical phase in implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – popularly referred to as the “decade of action”. We only have 10 years to go towards ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry. That no youth suffers poverty and joblessness. That no mother is unable to feed or clothe her child. That no parent is unable to send their children to school, and that we accelerate competitive socio-economic growth at no expense to our environment.
Shifting ground- the need for urgent change in our attitudes
While the urgency for remedial steps is unquestionable, most important is the nature of steps. Like a dancer responds to changing music, the continent’s citizens urgently need to realise that the ground has long shifted. The era of expecting government to formulate policy, legislate, implement, monitor implementation and report progress is long gone. The era of reducing development to budgets is long gone and signs of these changes surround us. For example, some years back, graduating from college and university in Africa was a guaranteed ticket to a ready job. You literally stepped out of college, into a ready entry level job. Your future was set. But over time this right to work turned into a privilege for a few, then to very few and now to literally a select few if any. Unemployment among Africa’s youth is now unbearable. Only one in six, a minority of about 16%, are in stable wage employment. While over 13 million youth enter the job markets each year, only 3 million get jobs. If we say getting a job now is hard, then with the current trends, in 10 short years it will be nightmarish. The thinking that it is up to government to create these jobs, needs to be replaced by the understanding that it is our individual responsibility as a people, to create these jobs.
The “how”: responding to shifted grounds – a personal responsibility of every citizen and resident
Despite grim economic statistics, a global study revealed that African entrepreneurs stand out as the most optimistic about their ideas with the lowest fear of failure in the world. While this display of faith is applaudable, we must be reminded that faith alone without positive, provable actions is meaningless. The biblical verse on “faith without actions is dead” is revealing. While competitive enterprises converting Africa’s challenges into opportunities stand out as the most promising strategy to respond to the shifting ground, the most fundamental question to ask is what such enterprises should be founded on. These cannot be run-of-the-mill enterprises driven by profit maximisation alone. Rather, they must be founded on work attitudes geared towards problem solving. Above all, we must become selfless enough to focus on the quest for solutions, not only money. These realities become even more profound; in the context of the current political economy dispensation. We must therefore checker our attitudes against the realities we face and evaluate our individual characters and ask the question what one is useful for. This is because if you succeed alone you have actually failed. Success is measured in terms of number of lives one touches with every deed and act of his or her. Comfortability without handiwork is a failed strategy and sometimes deceive many to wait for things to be done. We must fight against the logic that says sitting, waiting and complaining is a strategy as millions sleep hungry. We must therefore think out of the box and leverage a new approach to drive actions that impacts lives. This called for what we call an “Unborrowed Vision” – where impactful actions can lift millions out of poverty and build a better planet are a core objective.
Unborrowed Vision – Our long-awaited game changer
“If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there”. This African proverb speaks of one attribute – vision. Not any vision but one tied to creating solutions to fundamental social, economic and environmental challenges we face – not only making money. What we call an “unborrowed vision”. Where we work to leave a legacy, not only to amass material wealth. Attitude without a vision is a major undoing. They will tell you that it’s a one man show but never ever give up. Keep the faith and focus. As humans we must always ask and answer to ourselves, some critical questions. Where does each one see his / her skills, talents, cultures and beliefs, fit in the broader agenda of solving problems to lift others up and not only benefit us as individuals? It is in answering these sobering questions, that each of us can craft an “unborrowed vision”, which sets the foundation for meaningful climate action solutions. Just as we ponder on taking the first step in this trajectory, be encouraged that throughout the centuries, there were men and women who, just like you took first steps down new roads. They were armed with nothing but their vision. Their goals differed, but the only thing they had in common was that the step was first, the road was new, and the vision was unborrowed. But as they stepped out, the response they received was hatred and jealousy. Despite all this hatred, they endured and became victorious because they stood for what was right – using what they had, to drive their vision. This is the spirit of dedication, kindness and selflessness that is paramount, to turn the page in how we turn climate change challenges into entrepreneurial wealth creating opportunities. This is what Innovative Volunteerism stands for. This calls for appreciation of some key factors
How to craft an impactful Unborrowed Vision
First, a different kind of work attitude: Working hard is not necessarily about work attitude. Seizing opportunities and strategising in the midst of adversity while thinking beyond individual benefit constitutes the kind of work attitude Africa needs today. In the current political economy, we cannot afford the me, myself and I syndrome. This has caused many to seize opportunities only when they benefit them and neglect those that don’t directly benefit them. As a result, an entire populace is left at the mercy of deprivation. This means we must think beyond self and embrace kindness and nurture selflessness. To drive an unborrowed vision, our temperaments and individual actions must be sacrificial towards the collective benefit of all. We must therefore move away from the “what is in it for me” mindset and start putting in more hours in solutions thinking as well as doing something to benefit the many. This way we would have succeeded. Anything less is called failure.
Second, skills retooling. “If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings”. In context, this African proverb reminds us of the invincibility of adapting our skills to solve pertinent challenges and leverage contemporary opportunities. For this, what each of us ought to ask is – where do you see the skills you have, fit in the broader agenda of developing Africa? For instance, decentralising solar dryers to cassava farmers – where Africa is the largest producer – can not only reverse postharvest losses running into billions of dollars – but can ensure value chain actors at the primary level earn up to 30 times more by being able to preserve their harvest and sell during the offseason when demand is highest. As opposed to selling during peak seasons under a full market glut for fear of losing their harvest due to spoilage. It will unlock incomes for those who design and fabricate these dryers. It will position the continent to tap an over $20 billion global allergen free foods market – where cassava as a leading element. All this will happen without emitting hence ensure environment remains intact. But such a trajectory requires that our skills, talents, initiatives – regardless of disciplinary background – be refined, improved and adapted to tap the multi-disciplinary opportunities that arise – not only making money.
Thirdly, developing an appreciative attitude. “Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author”. This African proverb may explain part of the reason a mentorship culture has not taken root. While such a blanket allegation is not completely unfounded, some potential mentors decry the unappreciative attitudes – especially among the millennial youth. It is worth knowing that while being appreciative is hardly taken as a serious consideration, it is the key that may enable one to enjoy the best vested in others. A mentorship culture may simply be waiting for an appreciative culture especially among the youth.
“The elephant trunk can never be too heavy for the elephant”. In context, the realities that confront and inhibit Africa’s march to actualising the promise of the SDGs are like elephant tasks – we cannot act in denial of them. We cannot despair because of them, and most importantly they cannot exceed us. Let us take personal responsibility and surmount them. Knowing full well, that harsh judgement awaits us if we don’t. This article has proposed “the how”.
Dr. Richard Munang is a climate change and development expert and is the author of ‘Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism’. Reach him on twitter: @RichardMunang
Mr. Robert Mgendi is a Climate Adaptation Expert