'SUSTAINABLE development' is one of the most used terms in contemporary development agendas. If one looks at Vision 2030, 'sustainable development' is regarded as the cornerstone in respect of the process and the point we aspire to move towards. In Vision 2030, sustainable development is defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.
At the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN), 'sustainability' is one of our core values and it is also contained in our establishment act and mission statement. It is at the centre of all considerations in the course of our daily work, so it is worth considering what we mean by 'sustainable development' and 'sustainability'.
The current emphasis on sustainable development is an outcome of earlier development initiatives the world has witnessed since the advent of the industrial revolution.
If one looks at the early stages of the industrial revolution and subsequent stages and models of development, then one can see why 'sustainable development' has become an imperative and integral consideration for policy makers today.
The industrial revolution, in Europe and particularly in the United Kingdom, left a mixed legacy. We take for granted advances in the application of knowledge and transformation of resources into the many comforts of modern living.
But it has also left scars: of exclusion, destitution, and environmental decay. It has left similar marks in societies where industrialisation was pursued through different models, like those of the countries in the Eastern Block.
These legacies leave us with a question about the endurance of these development paths: do policies and initiatives of the past have value now?
One can bring the same question closer to home by scrutinising the policies pursued in the early stages of colonialism under the German imperial administration. They implemented policies that, from an economic perspective, may have resulted in growth, but which left us with the legacy of crudely imposed exclusion, and a severely detrimental societal impact on previously solid, self-sustaining communities.
During the Apartheid era, similar policies were further entrenched, institutionalised and legalised.
This context makes the question of sustainability and sustainable development even more crucial for Namibia.
The cumulative consequence of various global policies has brought with it a new vocabulary of issues, expressed in terms such as 'economic exclusion', 'global warming', 'the limits of growth' and 'redressing gender equity'.
All of these beg the question: did the policies we lived through have the elements of endurance and long lasting impact?
The answer is a definite 'no'.
A possible solution to the challenge of sustainability begins at a micro-economic level; with projects, initiatives and enterprises. I am reducing it to the micro level, because it escalates from this level and ends up having an impact on a global scale.
The first key element of sustainability in a project, is that the project must be viable. If it is a commercial project, it must have justifiable financial returns.
Such a project should have the ability to pay for its operations, its creditors, the human capital and all the other bills that come its way. It must also build up a surplus to pay for investment in its own expansion, maintenance of old infrastructure and replacement of new equipment and infrastructure.
If it is a public enterprise, it should also create direct and indirect revenue streams to become viable in much the same way as a commercial entity, although in this case the shareholder is the nation or community.
The second element is technical feasibility. The tools, equipment and machinery and required skills must be in place.
This includes spare parts and maintenance ability. The world, and Africa in particular, is littered with abandoned factories and equipment and machinery, due to a lack of understanding of local conditions when it comes to this critical element.
Broad Economic Viability
Thirdly, the project should have broad economic viability.
It should create sustainable employment opportunities, and it should improve the character and content of the types of jobs over time. Skills development is a constant companion in enterprises with a long-term future, but it is also a factor in developing the market. To contribute to sustainability, a project should have the ability to expand opportunities for employment by improving the labour pool.
Market Relevance and Social Acceptability
Fourthly, it should have market relevance. There should be a need for the product or service on offer, and this should be the basis on which it justifies its very existence.
In the fifth place, the project must have social acceptability. It must contribute positively to the advancement of society, whether socially or in terms of overall wellbeing and health. It must not be damaging to society.
In the sixth place, it must minimise negative impact on the environment and rehabilitate if damage is caused.
In terms of responsible exploitation of natural resources, it should take the actions necessary in terms of best practice, and set out to exceed best practice. Adhering to minimum standards means that you are barely there. In that, lies the ability of eco-systems and thus the planet, to continue to provide for future generations: not only human but all life-forms on the planet.
Sustainability is not an automatic outcome. It must be directed and managed, and so the seventh ingredient necessary for sustainable development is good management. Good management is a necessity for any project, company or initiative to succeed.
I often use the analogy of a good automobile. It can only safely deliver its passengers or cargo if the driver knows how to steer it properly, from one point to the other. If the driver has poor skills, the consequences could be ghastly.
On account of what is at stake, it is imperative that we give due consideration to sustainability when devising economic policy in the broadest sense, and when crafting financing frameworks to realise economic projects and value.