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3 March 2023
UWC boosts sustainable entrepreneurship through the green economy
Imagine, if you could, driving through Bitterfontein, Kleinzee, O’Kiep, Nababeep and Port Nolloth in the Northern Cape. Once, not long ago, these were thriving mining towns that yielded unimaginable wealth to an elite few. Today, its people and their land are asphyxiating – victims of collapsed industries and environmental desecration.

As these settlements perish so too do the dreams of the young people who inherited this land. Stuck in an infinite cycle of deprivation they have two choices: die of poverty or die in prison. Crime, in most instances, has become a viable vocation for matriculants who didn’t make the grade for university. They end up haunting the dusty roads, desperate to survive because our economy cannot absorb them either. Their forefathers could live off the land, but this has become the kingdom of the poachers who mine endangered succulents for the black market.

Despite talks, summits, debates, workshops, and commitments, it is time to think about serious solutions. We need innovative and forward-thinking solutions from the youth to solve the complex problems South Africa is facing, and it is critical not to overlook the environment.

The first earth summit was held 51 years ago in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. According to the United Nations (UN), the summit aimed to develop several principles for the sustainable development of the human future and adopted 26 principles - 22 of which focused on protecting the environment.

However, since 1970 there has been a 69% decline in species populations. Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia Pacific have been hit the hardest. The latest statistics from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggest that Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a 94% species decline, and Africa 66% since the 1970s. These two regions are also some of the poorest in the world and have been affected by colonialism. 

Before colonialism, the species populations of Africa, Latin America, Asia Pacific and the Caribbean, thrived. Colonisation introduced devastating farming and mining technologies that exterminated plant and animal life. Before colonialism in Africa, there was no need to preserve plant and animal life. The indigenous populations lived in harmony with the natural environment for thousands of years. 

Since the first earth summit, many conferences have focused on improving the natural environment and ending the decline in species populations. In 2021, we had COP26, with the same issues that were raised in 1972.

Destroying the planet destroys us. Thus, we have to work at rekindling our relationship with the natural environment to ensure a sustainable human existence.

Are we, as a human species, suicidal (in the Freudian sense), ignorant, or desperate to survive? It is a mixture of all of these factors. Let us look at the endangered succulents being poached in the Northern Cape. Many of these protected species reach the international black market.

Last year the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) told GroundUp that in the last three years the number of plants confiscated from poachers by the police has increased annually by over 250%.

However, when the story of poaching is told, news reports rarely talk about the conditions that give rise to this illegal activity: including youth unemployment. 

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has sought the help of the youth to find solutions through the ZoneLearning@UWC incubation programme and the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

ZoneLearning@UWC is an entrepreneurship development programme that was launched in 2020. The model was developed by Ryerson University in Canada and is a new approach to entrepreneurship development that prepares students for the 21st century workplace.

ZoneLearning@UWC has developed three entities to help us achieve our goal. These entities are the New Media and Transmedia Clinic, the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and the Green Incubator. The New Media and Transmedia Clinic responds to the changing world of work and the emerging jobs created in the Content Production sector. The focus will be on “new media” forms. These include podcasting, vlogging, websites, blogging, social media, gaming, AI and AR, and music and television streaming services. 

The Entrepreneurial Law Clinic (ELC) will support student entrepreneurs and the broader community with the legal requirements of setting up a business. For example, some of the legal services that the ELC will provide include intellectual property, labour law-related issues and contract drafting. 

Finally, the Green Incubator focuses on sustainable development and encourages green entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives. 

The Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) was established at UWC in 2013 to develop and grow entrepreneurial thinking within all disciplines on campus. The CEI's purpose is to provide holistic and integrated entrepreneurial development support for both students and the broader community of SMMEs in the Western Cape.

The CEI promotes this vision by coordinating youth leadership entrepreneurship-related activities at UWC, fostering entrepreneurship development on campus, and conducting research on entrepreneurship to drive relevant policy development. In keeping with UWC’s ethos of community engagement, the CEI has developed considerable experience and expertise in supporting training and networking among entrepreneurs in the Western Cape.

In 2022, ZoneLearning@UWC received funding from the BankSETA to train 30 green entrepreneurs and assist them with establishing businesses, with 28 of the 30 students successfully completing the training. They will now participate in a pitching competition co-hosted by the CEI and ZoneLearning@UWC. 

The top five green enterprises will each receive a cash price of R30 000 to kick-start their businesses. In addition, the CEI will do the mentoring and coaching of these students to develop five sustainable businesses over the next few years. 

The event will take place at Devon Valley Hotel on Friday, 10 March 2023. RSVP by using the following link:

Dr Jacob Cloete is a filmmaker, researcher, entrepreneur and manager of the ZoneLearning@UWC project. Abraham Oliver is the Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) at the University of the Western Cape.