The search for the Holy Grail:
Our country is part of this daunting challenge and additionally faces a very similar one that is mostly domestic. Education levels are generally low, and poverty high. Joblessness is high, the number of welfare dependents is high, the number of people sufficiently endowed to pay the tax that supports the superstructure, low. The reasons for despair outnumber the reasons for hope, and as the car at every moment runs down that gentle incline we realise that we have our work cut out and that the time to act is now. Very much now.
The National Development Plan (“NDP”) is the only credible effort yet made to synthesise everything, arrest the slide and in the next two decades, to move back up the incline towards a plateau of sustainability. It is a very well-considered document enriched by some of the best minds we can muster. Amongst other critical contributors, it depends for its success on a strong contribution by the private sector, manifesting in rural development, job creation at scale, skills development, and community development.
The NDP has somewhat inadvertently found a pilot project in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (“REIPPPP”). With remarkable vision, the creators of the programme wrote the rules effectively to say: “We want affordable, green electrons on the grid from you, the private sector. But that isn’t all: we want community development where you build your plants, we want localisation, we want job creation, and we want skills development.”
The request seems demanding, but it is exactly right: When trying to stop that run-away car, we cannot settle for choosing someone only with speed, or expertise at opening the door of a moving vehicle, or the dexterity to jump in, or only with the strength to pull up the handbrake. We someone able to do all of the above. Half measures won’t do – they are quixotic and ultimately, futile.
The private sector has embraced the challenge, even as it asks us to, for the moment, run along towards the precipice. To do things never done before at this scale either locally or internationally. The wind sector over the past three years has gone through three bidding rounds that in aggregate will deliver more than ZAR 5 billion to be invested into rural communities over the next twenty years. Investments will go into education, skills development, job creation, frail care and similar initiatives. In one project the developer installedsolar-powered street lighting for the community at the very outset, improving safety and security for all.
It was within this context that SAWEA held its inaugural, annual “Getting Community Development Right” workshop in partnership with the IDC in Johannesburg recently. (See http://www.sawea.org.za/media-room/video-library/86-getting-community-development-right.htmlLink to youtube).
Stakeholders from government, industry, NGO’s and community development initiatives attended. There was a recognition that the challenge is multi-faceted and daunting, that there will be learning-by-doing, and that some projects will perform better than others. There was also an appreciation that this is something, despite the mistakes we are sure to make, that we absolutely have to get generally right. The best and perhaps only opportunity to get it generally right is the first one.
The management of the funds by an independent entity that is well represented by respected community members was a recurring theme. Additionally, mMany specific challenges and prior learnings on community development (more generically) were discussed:
- Ultimately, communities can only develop themselves. They are more resourceful than we often assume, but there are very complex hierarchies and patterns that are critical to understand and respect.
- Existing resources and resourcefulness are the foundation of further development;
- Resources brought in from the outside will amplify existing power relationships. If there is rivalry it will be fuelled, sometimes with fatal consequences. If there is corruption it will multiply. If there is a lack of trust it will intensify and further divide people. If there is existing cooperation resources can enlarge this and help the community to flourish. Resources can be the catalyst of change but their potential to hinder development is much higher than their potential to assist. How can we support communities to prepare themselves fully for the inflow of resources?
- Much depends on good leadership – communities have to be “readied” before resources pour in.
In detailed discussions, an excellent start was made in understanding the things to do, and the pitfalls to avoid. Subsequent work and follow-on workshops will continue this work.
One delegate captured it well:
“My aha-moment. We have a narrative that we will bring all projects; that we have the knowhow and come with expertise and that they will be the beneficiaries… that they don’t understand us; the problematic beneficiaries. But when I reflect, maybe I am the one who doesn’t understand the community. Maybe I am the problem…. I will go back and be even more patient. Cultural differences, power structures, hierarchies. You can’t come in as godfather to solve it all.”
As Global Wind Day is celebrated internationally, South Africa has an inspiring story to tell. If we put this workshop back Iinto the larger context, we conclude that renewable energy is the historical successor to fossil fuel energy. Its predecessor was very successful in creating wealth, but often spectacularly unsuccessful at creating economic growth with better societies – leading to a new term “the resource curse”. This posits that abundant resources leads to less equal societies with lower levels of good governance.
Our challenge as the renewable energy industry is to surpass the fossil fuel economy in more than the greenness of our electrons. The wealth we create must create better, healthier, more skilled, fully employed and happy societies.
This is the only way to not just catch the runaway car, but stop it and ultimately reverse its course, towards level ground.