/ 22 January 2009

Recognising drivers of change

Innovation is now a fashionable global buzz-word. Only a few will be confident to describe what they mean when they use it. But it’s quite simple — and sorely needed in our region. Simplicity, in fact, is at the heart of most things innovative.

Innovation is about the human factor. It’s about coming up with fresh ideas to create solutions that work — often the simplest solutions to what seem like complex problems.

In Southern Africa we must go beyond talking about innovation to make it our daily culture if we are to break out of our cycle of big problems for good. Not least, the huge problem of entrenched poverty. That’s what the Drivers of Change Awards are about.

The real meaning of the awards was brought home to the judges this year when Lushia Nevhutalu, a young women associated with a victim-empowerment programme in Limpopo, nominated her father, Ntshavheni, whose life is centred on driving vehicles, as a driver of change. After working for a soft drinks company for many years, he started a driving school. Lushia is inspired by his sheer determination to use his human potential to the fullest.

“When he does something, he puts his whole mind to it,” she said. “When you love something you do, you can do your best.”

Ntshavheni Nevhutalu did not win the award, but his nomination is what Drivers of Change is all about — holding up remarkable examples of innovation from our region to inspire others. We can create real change if we take a fresh approach and do things differently.

This year’s winners represent a fresh approach to creating lasting change in our region. The kind of change that turns around how we look at the problems we face as societies. They are leading change through innovative attitudes, policies and practices. And they are creating new opportunities for wider participation to ensure that the change they create is lasting; that it makes a change forever.

The Lusaka-based Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection won the award in the civil society category for its simply powerful basic-needs basket survey. Several years ago it started out with a basic food basket that compared essential food costs of a regular family of four against the income of an average household with, for example, a school teacher as the breadwinner.

Over many years the independent survey, produced through the involvement of ordinary people in districts throughout Zambia, has shaped how the national budget is interpreted. With no party-political ambitions, it has become a major tool for ordinary people to talk to policymakers about national priorities to overcome poverty.

Hosted by the Lesotho Textile Exporters’ Association, the Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight Aids (Alafa) is a coalition of apparel manufacturers, retailers, workers, international clothing brands, international organisations and the Lesotho government.

The largest and most productive employment sector in Lesotho, the apparel industry employs 46 000 mostly women workers who are poorly skilled, 43% of whom are estimated to be HIV positive. Alafa won the award in the business category for its innovative sector-wide public-private-community partnership.

The initiative provides education and prevention as well as treatment through factory-based peer educators, counsellors and “expert patients” who work with doctors and nurses through primary health clinics in or near the factories.

In the individual category the visionary, Richard Mkandawire, won the award for his outstanding leadership in convincing African leaders and the international community that Africa can muster the ability and political will to overcome hunger and poverty through a green revolution for food security.

His drove the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme. Professor Mkandawire’s continuing work has a far-reaching impact that is already driving lasting change in many countries across the region.

The quiet, yet determined, resolve of this highly respected Malawian agricultural economist has attracted considerable African and global attention to the development of African agriculture and raised much-needed hope for Africa’s future.

A special joint award was given to the ministry of finance and economic development of Mauritius and the Mauritius Council for Social Services (Macoss). They’ve been driving a major change to how regional priorities are set.

The ministry was instrumental in convening heads of states and governments from all Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, with business associations and a wide range of civil society groups, as real partners in a dialogue on poverty and development in Southern Africa.

Macoss cooperated to support civil society organisations to prepare fully for the dialogue that resulted in the decision to create a poverty observatory in the region that will ensure continued cooperation between the different groups. They then went well beyond that initial step.

The ministry announced a plan to eradicate extreme poverty in Mauritius, in partnership with Macoss and the private corporates that agreed to fund 30% of the programme costs as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Amid the many problems it seems there are many little-known but remarkable examples of progress in our region.

It’s no wonder that the Drivers of Change awards are growing so fast, with a record number of entries from a record number of countries. Nominations were received from nine countries and the numbers were up more than 50% from last year.

Neville Gabriel is the executive director of the Southern Africa Trust