Helping Africa Embrace Sustainable Development and Business

Posted: May 21st, 2014 by: HartNamtemah Team

By Kathleen O'Connor in collaboration with Marc Andre Hart.  

Our planet’s resources aren’t infinite. Unsustainable production and consumption have endangered life on our planet and resulted in major economic and social costs. We as world citizens need to change our ways to ensure that we don’t deplete natural resources. 

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable business refers to the idea of how an enterprise can become successful and profitable while benefitting not only stakeholders but also the local economy and the environment. Any enterprise that embraces this model should meet the following requirements:

•Improve or help maintain a good quality of life for all involved
•Use resources wisely to prevent damaging the local economy and causing pollution
•Take advantage of renewable resources whenever possible
•Embrace fuller product lifecycles, which means going from raw materials to disposal in the cleanest, least wasteful way possible
•Provide intergenerational and intra-generational equity

Obstacles to Sustainable Development in Africa 

While the ultimate goal is to get Africa to embrace these principles, there are a number of obstacles. According to the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa, international cooperation is essential to helping the continent move towards sustainable development. That’s because Africa is very different from the West and many of the processes and conditions that apply to more developed nations would not work in African countries. 

For example, there’s an active movement in the West to reduce consumerism and condition people to “use less, spend less.” The UN points out that these principles should not be applied in Africa, where over 40% of the population lives below the poverty level. There, the goal should not be to consume less but to produce more goods. This will not only contribute to lessening poverty but also create opportunities that will eventually help meet the basic needs of a larger number of people. 

One of the biggest challenges that Africa faces is extreme poverty. Around two-thirds of the population in Africa lives in rural areas and derives its main income from agriculture. The poor have few options beyond pursuing their livelihood from the natural resources that surround them. For example, they cut trees for fuel wood and hunt wildlife to extinction. These activities only worsen the situation for Africans living in poverty and also affect future generations.  

The aim of sustainable development is to further economic and social progress while at the same time strengthening environmental protection. Sustainable development is an inclusive approach to development in that it meets the needs of the poorest and reduces inequality.

How Investors Can Approach Africa’s New Commercial Frontier

Africa has much to offer new investors. For starters, Africa has a strong need for basic products and services, which means that there are a great deal of opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors that may not be available in more developed areas of the world. 

Construction, IT, sustainable tourism and energy, and other industries are still very much in an early growth stage in Africa. Because of this, new investors can help shape the local economy and significantly impact the way commerce evolves and changes in Africa. There is also greater freedom in the way business is conducted, as well as a chance to educate future generations on how to develop sustainable industries that benefit not only investors but also everyone else involved. 

Do you think it’s possible to develop Africa’s business sector in a sustainable way? Or do you think that business interests will always clash with sustainability?  

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