The Circular Economy was given prominence at the RISE Africa 2022 Action festival, which is reflective of its growing importance in achieving sustainable cities. The RISE Africa initiative brings together urban champions annually for an Action Festival. The 2022 Action Festival, themed CREATIVITY, AGENCY, URGENCY, created a platform to learn, reimagine and inspire actions towards sustainable, equitable and uniquely African cities.
The festival hosted a number of interesting and exciting circular economy sessions which individually grounded the concept in the African context and highlighted how actors and stakeholders across the continent are pushing boundaries to drive the circular economy transition. The sessions showcased diverse platforms and initiatives that are emerging to unpack circularity and its meaning for Africa.
Does evidence justify the Circular Economy as the path for development for Africa?
The session, hosted by ICLEI Africa and Footprints Africa, featured insights on why the circular economy must be measured, and how it can be measured, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Evidence is crucial because potential customers and investors in the circular economy need to see an evidence-based pathway. The session acknowledged the fact that there are as many metrics as there are interpretations of circular economy. The Strategic Circular Economy Impact Assessment (SCEIA) framework, a comprehensive model for assessing the circularity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), was extensively laid out. Reflecting on its relevance, participants noted that the framework needs to be adaptable and modular as SMEs often lack the resources for extensive analysis. Implementation frameworks need to be adaptive as cities have varying requirements and limited resources. A statement by Liezel Kruger-Fountain, Head of Urban Sustainability Unit at the City of Cape Town, who noted that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”, was quoted multiple times by participants and became a central theme of the discussion. The session also highlighted the complementarity of both quantitative and qualitative data in measuring circularity. According to participants, qualitative data (perceptions and sentiment) are crucial for contextualising quantitative data.
Where Business and Circularity Intersect: Meet the ACE Africa Entrepreneurs Pushing the Boundaries of Sustainability in African Cities
ICLEI Africa and Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, with the support of the Embassy of Finland in South Africa, hosted a session on the intersection between entrepreneurship and circularity, where entrepreneurs selected as part of the Accelerating Circular Economy in Africa (ACE Africa) project showcased their businesses. The session highlighted the importance of developing business models that fit into the circular economy, and for entrepreneurs to understand whether the linkages to the circular economy is applicable to a part of their business or their entire value chain. As early stage businesses, there is a huge opportunity for startups to properly frame their business model, or pivot if necessary, in order to ensure that they are building viable businesses while fitting into the circular economy model. Judges at the showcase event drove home the importance of validating prototypes, and making considerations for affordability, feasibility and scalability of ideas. Achieving sustainability at the systems level to support impact goals when scaling up a business is critical, and entrepreneurs must partner with other businesses on activities that do not directly align with their chosen business model. Very importantly, the session served as a reminder to entrepreneurs to balance passion with profitability. Businesses need to be set up to make profits and circular ideas and businesses sometimes overlook this aspect driven by passion to solve a pressing issue.
Scenarios for Africa’s Circular Economy Future: A view from students and young professionals
The session, hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, explored the outcomes of an interactive workshop on the circular economy in Africa (From Linear to Circular: Africa) in May 2022, where workshop participants imagined two possible futures for the circular economy. Speakers each gave their perspectives on the value of the workshop as a vital networking opportunity that has created a community of circular economy enthusiasts in Africa. They highlighted the relevance of, and need for, a change in the ways in which we think and learn, emphasizing the relevance of systems thinking and the importance of critically thinking through problems through a circular economy lens. While the session brought to light the importance of creating opportunities for learning and sharing, it most importantly emphasised the need to take these ideas and approaches beyond the workshop and tertiary education, into unconventional spaces of learning and professional settings. The session concluded with a reiteration of the importance of continued thinking and planning beyond the milestone years we are currently working towards.
Eko Vibes Podcast: Learn about Lagos’ circularity transition!
The session, hosted by the Circular Economy Innovation Partnership (CEIP), explored how Eko Circular Vibes podcast is being used to disseminate circular economy knowledge in Lagos and drive the circular economy transition in Nigeria. The session took the audience through the journey of developing a tool to effectively disseminate ideas around circularity, which were hitherto discussed in high-level official forums, even though decisions being taken inadvertently affect those on the ground. The Eko Circular Vibes Podcast is making circularity ideas accessible, thereby encouraging all Nigerians and others listening to the podcast to understand what they can do to drive the circular economy transition. A golden thread through the session was accessibility – making information accessible through appropriate platforms and using appropriate language. This will be key in ensuring a circular economy transition in Africa.
Overall, the sessions highlighted the need to strengthen collaboration and opportunities for a circular economy transition in Africa. The concept of circularity is definitely not new to the African continent, yet it still remains a concept that many individuals, start ups, and governments are trying to adopt through an African lens.
As highlighted through the sessions, there is a knowledge gap on the circular economy that needs to be filled. We need evidence for successful circular economy initiatives to inspire and encourage people from different backgrounds and sectors. Hence, there is great value in documenting and showcasing success stories and cases of the circular economy in Africa across different platforms, from podcasts, to social media, government and private sector platforms. Beyond innovative approaches to learning and documenting, we need to also start managing and measuring circular economy initiatives, and ultimately the transition to the circular economy.