Over the last decade the things have changed drastically in the conservation world. Impoverished populations bordering the limited resources of a reserve have grown dramatically, funding has dried up, and climate change is an existential threat. Meeting these challenges has required an integrated and proactive approach that leads to projects that are audacious, innovative, resilient, and sustainable.
Our approach is different as we form alliances with like minded, values driven, organisations and experts to ensure that each pillar has a champion and decisions can be made with the best interest of the whole, not just the parts. At its most basic the alliance has an environmental organisation (Ubuntu Wildlife Trust), a community organisations (AL-Org), and a social business (Impact4A) working together on projects. For each project we then bring in other partners or collaborators, when required, to represent any additional roles or expertise. This prevents projects being conducted within silos and that each pillar of sustainability is equally accounted for.
This has further benefits of driving creativity through different approaches and ideas, shared expertise, shared resources, shared funding, and constructive debates from different perspectives to drive change in the most sustainable and effective direction possible. This allows for smaller teams at lower overheads to do greater work, meaning more funding for the projects.
However, sustainability does not work without the active involvement of the people living within the area. The Environmental, Social, and Economic pillars must also be informed by Culture and must be needs driven. We believe that a cross section of the community should have active involvement and equal say within the power structures on projects that have any impact on their lives. Projects should ideally also have long lasting sustainable benefits to the community – motivated by the needs and the wants of the people – with a long term impacts vision as part of its structure.
The projects themselves need to follow this pathway to sustainability. As the environmental focused partner, we drive the importance of habitat restoration and protection, healthy soils, ecosystem services, carbon sequestration, local climate resilience, rangeland management, and regenerative agriculture. But we do this in conjunction with our partners from the other pillars.
We believe in an all encompassing approach that is based on a systems view of the three Pillars of Sustainability and a broader view of the One Health concept as described by the United Nations and associated organisations. These concepts neatly align with the ancient African philosophy of Ubuntu. In each project we aim to achieve as many of the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDG’s) as possible.
Each of these pillars of sustainability are part of a whole – when one pillar is neglected, it has serious impacts on the others. The traditional approach has been to categorise the work as land, animals and people. This often led to organisations only working from a single perspective, working in silos, and not addressing the issues as a whole. Working this way is usually counterproductive and often mutually exclusive. Treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause. It does not remove the elements of the traditional approach but drives the projects to see the larger picture and make informed and resilient decisions. It is a subtle change, yet it is a seismic shift in the way we think about and do things.
In its crude form, giving the Environmental, Social, and Economic components equal focus and balance helps to improve the entire system in a truly sustainable way.
However, taking a more complex systems view shows that the economy is a part of society, and both are constrained by environmental limits. Yet due to their interdependence, none can exist without the other in a world with humans.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
There are 17 SDG’s at the core of The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted by all United Nations State members in 2015. This requires global partnerships and strong actions by all countries and organisations.
The SDG’s recognise that ending poverty and tackling socioeconomic needs go hand-in-hand with tackling environmental issues through Climate Change mitigation, protecting and restoring our forests, grasslands, and wildlife, while preserving our oceans. Social needs, economics, and environment are interlinked and interdependent and must be approached as such.
One Health is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to connect individuals and create relationships across the human, animal, and environmental health sectors with the intent to improve global health. It further aims to educate the public on these issues. The foundation of the One Health approach is the Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration between human, animal, environmental health, and other relevant partners.
One Health is found at the intersection of Human Health, Animal Health (domestic and wild), and Environmental Health. The concept that a healthy environment leads to healthy people has been around since the days of Hippocrates. In fact it can be argued that older traditional cultures such as the Khoisan have understood this for centuries before anything was ever written down.
Recently, global disease scares has led to a more formalised approach in addressing the growing problems of zoonotic diseases, diseases that are caused by germs that spread between animals and people.
As we have degraded habitats, intruded further into wild spaces, and increased contact with animal systems, we have increased the potential to spread diseases not usually associated with people, and for which we have little resistance. The One Health approach addresses this by taking a holistic approach to tackling the health component of animals, the environment, and people.
It has been common in Africa to impose Western value systems and philosophies onto traditional cultures. This has contributed to multiple failed projects across the continent. African values systems have existed and functioned for thousands of years and are far more applicable and relevant to the sustainable objectives of Africa.
Ubuntu is the African philosophy of a shared Humanity. It exists in many forms wherever the Nguni people settled. It gained global exposure through Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, but is no means isolated to South Africa.
It is often simply translated as “I am because we are”. No human exists in isolation, and how we interact with each other (and our environment) and treat each other (and our environment) defines us as a collective. There are many interpretations and definitions for the term and this can also vary between the various cultures.
Mugumbate and Chereni (2019) defined Ubuntu through an integrated framework that explains that Ubuntu exists on five levels: the individual, the family, the community, the environment and the spirit. “… an authentic individual human being is part of a larger and more significant relational, communal, societal, environmental and spiritual world”
Environmental issues cannot be separated from social and economic issues as it is the limiting factor in sustainability.
Ironically the concepts we are now only starting to understand and follow at a global governmental level is remarkably similar to what many cultures in Africa have followed for centuries.