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« A VALUED CIRCULAR ECONOMY »

poverty should also be designed out.

A South African perspective

Poverty is like waste. Both are human creations.

Poverty is like waste. Both are human creations.
While such a statement can disturb some of us we need to break some of the barriers we constantly create in our minds, beliefs, perceptions of where the truth is. Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize 2006, is asking us to put ‘Poverty in Museums’, and he is right! Except that to achieve such a milestone one needs to completely rethink progress, growth and beliefs.

A Circular Economy could help design a socially conscious and fully inclusive lateral growth approach as a new pathway for developed, but more especially, for developing markets. In the case of the hybrid emerged/emerging market of South Africa, poverty and unemployment - mainly among people with historical disadvantages and youth - are top country priorities. With 26.8% of unemployment South Africa has the 8th highest unemployment rate in the world according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Following Western world economic models - that have made their success based on open-ended access to resources - is not an option. South Africa - and extended African countries –have to create their own lateral growth model inclusive of societal and environmental values, as creating enough jobs for the vast majority of the population is the primacy, the youth in first! The United Nations confirmed several times that instability in Africa often comes from joblessness. Addressing unemployment as a central piece of the puzzle will lead to more stability.

While potential benefits of a Circular Economy in European markets would translate into €2.5tn of net material savings, maintenance of wealth stock and job creation, in South Africa, one might not see similar huge figures but multi-layered benefits on a new approach to development. A model that the world could envy.

Why? Because the continent has the luxury of having most of its countries below the 1.8 global hectares per capita, i.e. consuming less than 12 months a year of our earth carrying capacity (as a comparison, the world consume all earth yearly capacity every year in August). This is a massive advantage today! It is much easier to keep a country’s footprint low while defining a new growth path than having to change behaviour to lower commensurate footprints, what Europe, America and some Asian markets will have to spend their time on doing this century.

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Map: Ecological footprint per capita as of 2007

An economy based on a human-instead-of-machine approach, on caring-instead-of-having, and on-collaborating-instead-of-hiding could well benefit South Africa. And South Africa should look for such new model with its African counterparts, as the environmental and societal advantages could well be there. South Africa could play the engine or enabler role here.
At Wizeimpact, we are fervent supporters of the breakthrough concept of a Circular Economy. Yet, we are also aware that “profit maximisation” - as one of its main growth goal - has already been doing so much harm due to its narrow-minded financial focus that we call ‘success’.

Circular business models are designed with the ultimate purpose of following natural cycles to see waste as endless resources, to remove toxic chemicals from our ecosystems and, to continually regenerate our economies within environmental boundaries. Why not integrating the social dimension too? Inequality, poverty and other societal burdens? We know this is another large piece of the puzzle! But since we currently have the sharpest brains on the topic, why not trying to push the model a bit further? Providing business leaders with the right decision-making processes is our priority.

A Valued Circular Economy is integrating this notion of value-as-success over financial profits only. We want to create Value-centred Circular Ventures (VCV) so that entities are in existence for a truly restorative economy, which truly benefits its people, and where, for instance, social enterprises become the norm not the exception. There are obviously many actors who might not be so keen to see such a beneficial framework, starting with the large corporate and the financial system as it is designed today.

Evolving within these multi-dimensional notions of value-as-a-reference for success is far more impactful and could lead to sound decisions. Be it for South Africans, Africans or anyone of us. Yet - given its past and its future projected patterns - Africa needs this new framework the most. In South Africa a value based embedded economic model – starting by using national growth measurements such as the Social Progress Imperative (SPI) from Professor Michael Porter - following Paraguay’s path for instance - could help develop a wider vision of building a beneficial economy to all South Africans alike. If economic actors agree to go in that direction, benefits could be endless.

A Valued Circular Economy for South Africa could be based on its three main pillars that are:

1. People’s Inclusiveness - where one can fulfil all their needs since ‘accessing goods’ no longer require owning them. This would lift up many people excluded today from our economies, thus have a positive impact on poverty eradication;

2. People’s Value Creation - where one can access more with less since even with low income a descent life can still be possible. This would create less dependency on financial credit, thus less indebtedness;

3. People’s Wellbeing - where one can access secured income given that in a Circular Economy ‘work’ is redefined. This could lead to the development of new jobs, micro-jobs and micro-tasks that do not exist yet. Labour could become this endless renewable resource and durable.

We are still in the early days of a Circular Economy in South Africa. The national debate has not started yet. Given the numerous continental challenges ahead - as highlighted by the World Bank - Africans and South Africans will have to define their own new model of success, a Valued Circular Economy could be one option.

By Alex Lemille, Circular-CEO of Wizeimpact.


Alex is the Circular-CEO of Wizeimpact (Wizeimpact.com), a for-purpose company that leverages business-as-a-powerful-tool to find solutions to our social and economic challenges. Alex was recently shortlisted by the World Economic Forum for The Circulars 2016, world premier circular economy awards, with his concept of a socially inclusive Circular Economy framework: a Valued Circular Economy where [Poverty=Waste], as both are externalities of our linear system. Alex is actively promoting Circular Economy in growing markets where he sees a huge societal impact. He will be presenting his concept at The Ellen MacArthur Foundation during the Disruptive Innovation Festival (on 6th Nov’15 - ThinkDIF).

To follow Alex: @AlexLemille