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Mark McKergow, founder, Village In The City (http://villageinthecity.net )

You arrive in a new city to find that although everything is bustling, there seems to be no way to connect to people in your neighbourhood. Or perhaps you have lived in a city for ages, only to find that the pandemic lockdowns cut you off from your normal social channels. That was me, a few months ago. 

However, I noticed that the lockdown produced a change in our street. People started talking to each other. An email and Whatsapp group were set up. News was shared, support offered, I played my saxophone for the neighbours on the doorstep, and we started to connect. In one way, I felt life improving as a result of this terrible event. I wanted more of it, for me and for others.

So, I set up Village In The City in June 2020, with the idea of learning about how to build my own micro-local community in Edinburgh’s West End, and to connect and share with others who feel they want to share a similar journey. My background is in leadership and organisation development, in particular the approach of ‘leading as a host’.  I figured that I have some professional expertise to bring to the community development field. So, I wrote a Manifesto with six key elements which can act as the basis for community and set about it, inviting others to join in. Micro-local communities improve well-being, economy, and connection.

What IS a ‘village in the city’?

It’s a small patch, a neighbourhood rather than a council area or local government unit. It may only be a few streets. You can probably walk across it in 10 minutes maximum. To create one, we suggest to people to start small at first – connect, invite people to join you, take some small steps, maybe set up a Facebook group or similar, have a kick-off meeting to see what people would value, and go from there.

Village-level community can:

  • Improve all our lives in the short-term and long-term. Both building an active community and being part of one are positive experiences.
  • Build inclusive cross-generational and cross-demographic community, to expand our awareness of how the world is experienced by those around us.
  • Build resilience and mutual support with people right there on their doorstep, continuing and expanding the positive developments seen during the COVID pandemic.
  • Connect businesses, support groups, families, churches, secular groups, and everyone else with an identity and local participation.
  • Act as a necessary counterbalance to online communication; access to global communication leaves space for micro-local in-person interaction.
  • Help citizens become more empowered and purposefully connected than they have been in recent years.

We now have a growing band of village-builders around the world, from North and South America to continental Europe and the United Kingdom. We hold monthly calls with experts in community development, as well as learning & sharing calls and forums – all free to join. We are also developing resources including the ‘Village Builders Handbook’ (now in its third iteration and growing all the time). 

We welcome folk from anywhere in the world who want to start work to build community in their local patch. It doesn’t even have to be in a city! Some of our members have found themselves working from home, spending more time in their local patch, and finding they want to use their skills and experience to improve it. You are welcome to join our international group where we learn, share, support each other, improve our own lives and the lives of our neighbours too. 

You can find out more about Village In The City by joining our free online FireStarter Festival event on Thursday 4th February at 4pm UK time, visiting the website, or joining one of our free calls. You are also welcome to contact me at mark@villageinthecity.net

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the firsthand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices, and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.

By Xola Keswa

Today, Africa has the youngest population in the world. Why is this important to note? Because the Earth is inherited by the young people of the world. Today, young Africans are not faced with the same threats that threatened their ancestors such as lions or other wild animals. Instead, we face our biggest existential threat ever: climate change.

Africa’s main environmental challenge is to mitigate the effects of climate change, as due to Africa’s size and position, it will be the most impacted.

This problem should and will initiate creative and dynamic solutions that young Africans will create. 

Africans have an innate knack for creating tools, techniques, and methods that help mankind survive. The technologies they discovered thousands of years ago to help survive amongst dangerous creatures in the Savanna of Africa, are still in use now within African traditions and customs. These technologies are how Africa is able to support a large population of about 1.6 billion people.

The innovation that helps sustain Africa today, is the same thing which will ensure her continued survival – and that of the world – through climate change.

Green Technology Innovation in Africa

Groundbreaking science research has been happening in Africa in the field of medicine, much of which is based on indigenous knowledge systems on natural flora and fauna. Much of that research by universities from western countries has been transferred to startup companies in Europe and the US, which have gone on to become successful in competitive pharmaceutical markets. 

Due to emerging policies such as the European Green Deal, companies in the Global North will ultimately need to seek alternative sources for investments in innovations in green technology. I propose that foreign investors start to actively invest in research and development for sustainable green technologies in African countries in the same way that they are investing in pharmaceuticals.

Especially within the area of innovation relating to waste and a circular economy, we have become very good at turning waste into upcycled and redesigned products.

These countries can learn a lot from Africa, “the world’s dumping grounds”. 

A good example of green technology innovation in Africa is the tippy tap. Many rural areas in Africa don’t have running water from a tap. So, naturally, innovative young Africans found a way around that. They ensured that there is a tap close to homes by making a tap using upcycled materials i.e. old plastic bottles.

 The hands-free design means bacteria is not transferred between users. 
The tippy tap is low cost – it can be made with local, salvaged materials.

A Fair Process of Technology Transfer

I’d now like to introduce myself. My name is Xola Keswa and I am from South Africa. I am a 27 year old environmental and social entrepreneur. I founded my own startup, Organic Matters in 2014, during an internship at Schools Environmental Education Development (SEED).

In 2019, I was selected to participate in international policy and practice research research programme at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Global Risk Governance Programme, in cooperation with the South African urban food and farming trust. Through their outreach programme, The Environmental Entrepreneurs Support Initiative, I received philanthropy funding and access to resources and support centres. 

Following this research, my startup Organic Matters created a horticultural technology within the UCT Global Risk Governance Programme in partnership with a German University, called the ‘self-watering raised bed’. 

The self-watering raised bed relies on wicking so that the plants draw up only the water that they need and none is wasted. You only need to fill up the water reservoir once a week. This technology can be adapted for use within both urban areas and peri-urban areas to mitigate climate change.

I want to help the less fortunate to at least grow their own vegetables, made out of recycled material – to help people become resilient and self-sustainable during these difficult times.

In September, EnsAfrica Africa’s largest law firm facilitated the ‘transfer of technology’, which is an academic term meaning that research and development created in universities is released from the institution for commercialisation.

Now, I own the intellectual property for the self-watering raised bed, meaning that I can retain the value of African innovation in Africa. But my experience is not the norm for young innovators in Africa.

Protecting African Intellectual Property

In the case of the tippy tap, and many others, young Africans are barely aware that they are inventing a method and a product. This is a big problem because these young people are unaware of the legal system and the opportunity to learn from experts to improve and market their products.

I see this as a contributing factor for Africans always finding themselves behind.

Instead, international organisations and universities usually come and extract information from Africa innovators through research, and take it back to Western countries to undergo R&D, create startups, and make licensing agreements. These organisations make a huge profit from such innovations. The Khoisan Hoodia, is an example of what I’m talking about. Research based on the use of the hoodia cactus in African traditional medicine was developed as a potential cure for obesity and taken to the USA and the UK, where patent applications were filed and accredited to western Pharmaceutical companies.

In a just transition, intellectual property would be protected from the very beginning of the creation of knowledge in Africa. 

Let’s say a few students conduct research in Africa and create a product. In a just transition, the research should be left in Africa and developed in partnership with its original creators. When the product is developed to the point that it can reach the market, intellectual property rights should be allocated to the relevant person or people who contributed to it from Africa. When royalties are negotiated or letters of intent are drawn up by third parties, young Africans should be listed and acknowledged. This in turn will ensure sharing of useful technology in the world that can improve the wellbeing of people and planet.

Young Africans should be given access to mentorship and support from European and North American countries, to make sure that they understand the protocol of intellectual property law. They should be supported to push their innovations into the mainstream market. This can happen in various different ways in the agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and telecommunications sectors. 

Looking Ahead

For two years, while I conducted my research at UTC in and around Cape Town, South Africa, using community based approaches, I would often encounter broken communities, plagued by gang violence and high crime rates. 

I came to realise that, much the same way as schools and business centres have helped me learn and become creative, with the right support in terms of mentorship and information, Africans from any background are capable of creating much-needed innovations. 

If given a fair opportunity, young Africans can play a major role in creating greener, circular, and more wellbeing-focused economies worldwide. 

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the firsthand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices, and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.