Innovation, Sustainability, and Inclusion

 By Anthony Chuka Epundu

The Entrepreneurship Sports  Generation (ESG Davos) was launched in December 2016 and since its inception has always pioneered interesting conferences, usually held in Davos, Switzerland. This conference focuses on economic progress while navigating through other equally engaging topics that are interlinked with economic processes. This year's conference was virtual, which took place from January 26 to 29, 2021. This, however, did not affect the quality of topics and themes considered. Topics included "Role of Sustainable Fashion and consumer brands in creating robust and resilient economic systems", "Role of female entrepreneurship in the future of work” in partnership with the Female Quotient at their Equality Lounge, "How do we rethink recycling and sustainability via technology?” and "Leveraging Collaboration and the use of Technology for Africa’s Transformation in 4IR''. Each session was as engaging as the name rightly suggests. Of important mention is the Equality Lab hosted by the Female Quotient, featuring interesting speakers from across various sectors.

Reality has shown that technology is widening the gap between human involvement and the alternative offered by technology which rides on maximum value creation with lesser capital maximisation. The question begins with how do we create jobs in the current and coming decade as technology is certainly going to take away jobs? How do we create avenues to eliminate child labour in the fashion industry and unequal pay gap experienced by women? Is sustainable fashion becoming a trend? These questions are inexhaustible but it takes the mind of investors and business innovators to the reality of emerging technologies in fashion. Currently, there is a revolution going on in the fashion industry aimed at exploring recyclable materials that are eco-friendly, environmentally sustainable, able to involve the vulnerable with focus on the sustained livelihood that combines technology and human touch, discover cheaper and sustainable alternatives, technology that combines human craftsmanship, explores tech-supported materials, and protect women and the environment in the course of supply chain. The movement is still focused on sustainable fibres and seeks to support and collaborate with local producers and stimulate collaboration between small startups and big corporations.

The panel driven by Female Quotient at their Equality Lounge was more than a discussion, it was a conversation that could go on for years to come and will not run out of materials to be conversed with. It will be easy to say that everyone is trying to piggyback on ‘gender diversity and inclusion’ as the latest fad. In a world where there is an intense and growing demand to conform, it is never difficult to spot opportunists. However, when those who are the subject of a conversation drives it forward, one should not be begged to listen. The Equality Lounge considered briefly the Reykjav√≠k Index for Leadership 2020, among other resources, which measures the extent to which men and women are viewed equally in terms of their suitability for positions of power. The latest study found that the current state of the world has only exposed how underrepresented women are in the corridors of power. An inclusive workspace is one that inculcates empathy, accessible leadership, combines the power of wisdom and vision, listens with a humble heart, creates a continuous mentorship programme for women, and no longer ‘supports’ women on the basis of filling gender quota but on true competency. Women are no longer looking for aid but for trade, the same opportunity to be included in economic opportunities that are making the world a global village. People not only want to be represented, they also want to feel that they truly belong. Diversity and inclusion is the new sustainability. Women are driving innovative calls to bring about structural reformation to put down and reject structure against equality. The allure is to look at the problems exposed and thrust upon the global entrepreneurial space by COVID-19 and not acknowledge the truth of the fact that it has energised us to find alternative and sustainable ways to mitigate these challenges.

While we look at the problems associated with climate change, the world does not really stop for long to think through a solution. These solutions are thought out as the world grapples with the reality and dangers posed by climate change. World Bank statistics have projected global waste production to increase by 70% by 2050, this is not taking into factor the rise in global population in 2030 to 8.5 billion. Currently, the average annual global waste generation is 2 billion. On another hand, the coronavirus pandemic has further shown that structural measures must be put in place to deal with a lot of environmental contingencies, this is when we even consider a new environmental threat posed by face masks. Economic activities will not come to a grind but will continue an upward movement, with or without resolving the issue of waste recycling and management in an environment that is in dire need of immediate rescue plan. The UN Social Development Goals, particularly 12 and 13, is a call to all individuals and corporate entities to find alternative means to production that is sustainable.  Rightly noted by Brigitte Weber of Global Recycling, ‘Sustainability is the most frequently mentioned way to cope with the economic damage. The waste management and recycling industries can make a major contribution to achieve this goal’. There is no better time to answer this question by posing sustainable solutions than now.

The rest of the world may be on an upward trajectory on economic policies,  Africa is gradually waking up to reposition itself in a new way, a revolution that uses technology. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has spoken about ‘narrative of the rising Africa’, reality is now more apparent than ever. Africa, through her young people, is taking advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to change the face of the continent. Not as fast as everyone will expect, but the pace is quickening and is posed to be a global breakthrough in technology. Digitalisation is the new norm of doing things, and for Africa to fully integrate itself with the world, a partnership is needed in all sectors; this is the best time to invest in Africa. Mobile money market alone in Sub-Saharan Africa contributed an average of annual 39% growth in the past decade. Investment in Africa is an avenue to be part of this economic venture taking place. Not only will revenue be generated, but job creation will also be a subsequent result and innovations are bound to spring up. Young Africans, particularly, are no longer waiting for aid but are creating opportunities for themselves through sustainable technology that aims at keeping the best brain on the continent. To be part of this revolution is an opportunity to invest in Africa.

The conference unpacked a lot of issues facing the world currently, but it also presented an opportunity to everyone aiming to be part of innovative economic ventures going on in the world. Sustainability is the new currency to a true and lasting solution to so many issues facing the world. It is not just a slogan but a reality.


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