Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Framing the Question

Last week I went to a discussion entitled “The Role of Design in Creating Sustainable Cities: Opportunities in the Green Economy” hosted by the HUB Johannesburg.

The HUB is a global organization that rents work space to entrepreneurs committed to creating positive change.  It’s a pretty cool idea.  You can read more about it here:

The next few blog posts will explore some of the questions and concepts that were discussed during the evening, but first I want to describe an interesting phenomenon that I’ve encountered during many of my conversations in this country.

South Africans tend to frame issues with the introduction, “In South Africa, we….”

It can be about anything:

“In South Africa, we have a problem with active citizenship.”
“In this country, we need to address walkability and public transportation.
“In South Africa, the universities should communicate more with industry and government.”

Many of these concerns are global issues; I’ve heard people from all over the world ask similar questions.  True, the local context colours each problem (and its solution) slightly differently, but the basic issue is the same.

As I told one HUB member after the discussion, I don’t think that framing the problem in a way that makes it seem only a South African issue is empowering.  In fact, I think the kind of thinking that further segregates this country is actively disempowering. 

South Africa is part of global community.  Its history, though unique, does not isolate it.

As global citizens, we need to engage without each other across national and cultural boundaries.  Yes, there are differences between us, but we shouldn’t let those get in the way of finding solutions.  South Africans can learn a lot from the rest of the world if they look beyond their borders.  Moreover, the rest of the world can learn a lot from South Africa.


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