I am privileged to attend the World Economic Forum for the first time. For me, it is very poignant that this forum is taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Addis is not only the home of the African Union but also at the heart of the new economic growth taking place on the continent.

Talk here is that Africa’s projected growth rate for 2012 will be in excess of 5% and at a time of global uncertainty and general economic downturn. Talking to various delegates it seems that whilst there is a genuine worry around food security and high rates of youth unemployment, there is, at the same time, a renewed optimism about this continent’s future.

However, the sustainability of this economic boom and growth requires attention and planning. Much of the economic growth for Africa is around a so-called resource boom, and this equates largely to extraction (mining) as well as natural resource utilization (farming and forestry). Transforming ecosystems through economic development has yielded net benefits to human society, but continuing to achieve these gains by degrading nature risks irreversible declines in productivity and producing an inverse relationship between resource exploitation and poverty alleviation.

In terms of Africa, unmitigated loss of nature, accelerated by population growth, will lead to ecosystem change at a scale and breadth too costly to reverse, and particularly when one adds climate change predictions into this boiling pot. We must guard against loosing the true meaning and concept of sustainability.

We can learn from people who live directly in natural environments, such as farmers, the ‘first people’ and indigenous peoples of Africa and our world, notwithstanding that our environments and challenges have altered in the contemporary world. The North American Indians for example, had a basic philosophy that before every action and decision they took today, they would look to the impact to the seventh generation. How do we accept the implications of living within our means, of living with tomorrow in mind?

Clearly, now is the time to implement many of the agreements and mechanisms agreed to at COP17 and other forums that will combine sustainable resource utilization together with access to clean energy mechanisms. This would include African governments putting into place adequate policies together with the tools and resources to monitor and enforce impacts.

The World Economic Forum has highlighted the fact that one in six people do not have access to adequate nutrition (approximately 1 billion people). At the same time it is “spearheading efforts to rethink infrastructure development, reshape responsible capitalism and encourage the free movement of people and goods” and that “social development without economic progress is not feasible.”

I am looking forward to hearing the ideas put forward by some of the most influential and forward thinking minds of our time at this year’s World Economic Forum. We are facing unchartered waters, and we need cohesive global solutions to these universal issues.


Author: Andrew Muir, Executive Director, Wilderness Foundation, South Africa; Social Entrepreneur of the Year, South Africa,2011.

Founded in 1972, the Wilderness Foundation is one of the few conservation organizations currently involved with social intervention programmes. The Wilderness Foundation has used the economic promise of eco-tourism to provide educational and job opportunities to more than 100,000 youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. Under the stewardship of the Wilderness Foundation, over 200,000 hectares of African wilderness have been rehabilitated and expanded in the interests of conservation and environmental protection. Read More