IGP Stories

Africa Assembly: A new institution to catalyse an unprecedented era of social innovation

Climate Emergency Africa

David Bent

“Our goal is to foster transformative institutions that create marked changes in the habits of the wider world around us and pull us beyond the failing status quo.”

Professor Henrietta Moore

On Mon 2 March, 12 people gathered in a room in Nairobi. On one level, it was a bunch of people talking. On another, an intention to form a new institution that plays a larger role in moving Africa from climate emergency to prosperity.

Since August, IGP has been incubating a new global initiative – ‘Transforming Tomorrow: from climate emergency to prosperity’. In short, TT starts with the position that our global situation is dire. On climate change, biodiversity, inequality and more, today’s best efforts to repair the status quo are not enough. We are still heading to a deeply dangerous future. But many of the preconditions needed for transformation exist: experiments in the social changes needed, people frustrated with status quo, and enough of the right technology to enhance humankind’s capacity to make sense of the world, and to have abundant, cheap energy.

But, the institutions to secure a better future for all don’t exist.

So let’s invent them, together.

TT believes now is the time to divert our collective imagination and resources out of repairing the old and into creating the new. We want people to join us in the wave of experimentation that creates the institutions people need to transform tomorrow.

The meeting on Monday was to test the idea of an Africa Assembly. What if Africa had a diverse group of people who shared a purpose of acting for the transformation from climate emergency to prosperity? What if that group engaged citizens and academics to describe pathways to prosperous futures – pathways which others could align with? Imagine those members supporting each other to make brave decisions, and form collaborations on important matters?

Our test group included Dr George Njenga, Executive Dean of Strathmore University Business School in Kenya, Dr Josephine Wapakabulo, a Ugandan businesswoman and Dr Richard Munang, Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator at the UN Environment from Cameroon.

People loved the idea. They loved the ambition, to catalyse an unprecedented wave of experimentation with social, cultural, economic and political innovations so the continent moves from climate emergency to prosperity. “You’re crazy but we need to do this” was a typical sentiment.

They liked the inclusivity, the desire to engage citizens, to push power to the community level as much as possible. They liked it being about African solutions of global significance. They liked the flexibility, where the inquiries could cover different topics in very different ways.

There was one very important challenge which was a thread through the meeting: how to combine pragmatism with vision? It is easy to say we want to change the governance across the continent so that communities have more power. The reality is that is hard to achieve. Yes, many people experience the younger generation as selfish, and should be more kind and have a better work ethic. But what if they are just responding to the models of behaviour they see from corrupt elders from across the continent? It is easy to be against oil and gas exploration, but what if that address the balance of payments for a nation (and has a small contribution to climate change compared to rich countries cumulative emissions)?

Too pragmatic, and we have action that is what can be done, rather than what is needed. Too visionary, and there is a talking shop describing a utopia no one will experience.

A second theme was youth. Africa is a young continent. People worry about how there will be enough jobs for young people to go into as they get older. At the same time, many anecdotes point to young people being frustrated at the world today’s leaders are creating and at being asked to voice opinions. As one person put it, you fight with the army you have got. Africa’s youth bubble is not a burden but a potential. They are key to what happens next.

A third theme was the need for the Assembly to model the future that it wishes to create. It cannot advocate for more community power, but have no ways for communities and citizens to be involved. The Assembly needs to a living example of what a prosperous future might be in its behaviours and qualities, and how the individual Assembly Members ‘show up’.

The result is a commitment to try. Dr Njenga volunteered Strathmore University as the host, for which we are very grateful. Any effort like this needs to be grounded in its locale.

In the first week of June we will have the first full Assembly meeting, with a second in October to produce interim findings of the first investigations in time for the climate negotiations in October. We hope one of the first inquiries will be on Africa’s youth, the future they want and how to give them more power in creating that future.

There are many things to get right in the coming weeks and months. Having the right people as Assembly members is the most obvious. And so much more.

Long-term, success would be that there are many African ’solutions’ that are of global significance, many regions in the continent are on plausible pathways to prosperous futures and more and more people across Africa are more able to choose their version of the good life.

If you have ideas on the Africa Assembly, then get in touch. Who would make a great Assembly Member because they share our purpose and have a track record of making a difference? What topics should be in our first batch? What other organisations should we engage as allies? What would be mistakes we should avoid.

More widely, if you are interested in Transforming Tomorrow, then get in touch. The Africa Assembly is just the first in a wave of experiments we wish to run that are trying to build, with others, the capacity for transformation. More on those other new institutions will be coming soon.

If people can imagine and live plausible paths to prosperous futures, then we will transform tomorrow. Join us in the wave of experimentation that makes that happen.

Tags: @royafrisoc @The_BIEA @InterruptrrA @UCLafstud @africaarguments @SLURC_FT @AspyreAfrica @StrathU @SBSKenya @UNEP @RichardMunang @UNDPClimate @JacquieMcGlade @DrGnjenga @davidbent @GreenEconomists @GECoalition @ungreeneconomy

Top image: Derived from Harshil Gudka on Unsplash

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