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Picture: 123RF/LEVGENII BILETSKYI
Picture: 123RF/LEVGENII BILETSKYI

For too long commercial objectives have been focused only on building long-term growth and generating profit. That is no longer enough.

We must recognise the importance of leaving the world better than how we found it, and we are doing this by carrying out groundbreaking research and fostering strategic partnerships with other organisations. We call on other businesses to join us on this journey.

The first step in transforming the way we incorporate the environment into business is to recognise and understand the mistakes and impact commercial interest has had in the past, and what we must now do to promote environmental recovery. This information will empower us to make a fundamental shift in our environmental management, from being locked into short-term reactive “firefighting” to proactive management that allows for sustainable development while sustaining environmental resources for the benefit of the business and the environment.

For too long the environmental narrative has been dominated by US-based conservation organisations. It is time that African problems were addressed with African solutions. Therefore, we support the development of African knowledge with practical outcomes and empower the next generation of African researchers to tackle these problems.

To this end, there has been a focus on building a first-class research entity that supports, funds and facilitates national and international academics to conduct cutting-edge research focused on conservation science and sustainability. By creating a network of African thought leaders and a hub of local scientific excellence, we will have maximum impact in shaping a sustainable African future.

Projects such as the JWO Research Grant for early-career African researchers and the BRO Trust, which provides grants for transdisciplinary social, environmental and educational research, are examples of putting this in practice that will have broad-reaching implications for Africa.

Tourism industry

The 2019 JWO Grant went to Dr Hayley Clements for her project “Quantifying the biodiversity planetary boundary for Africa”, which mobilises biodiversity knowledge from experts across Africa and aids the incorporation of biodiversity data into just and sustainable decision-making across the continent. This collaborative project is an opportunity to change the way we manage natural resources and land use for the better. The 2020 recipient, Dr Bernard Coetzee, was awarded the grant for his work on “Reducing vector-borne disease risk by optimising artificial light expansion across Africa”.

The Covid-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the African tourism industry, a significant source of funds for conservation. Therefore, there is a need to partner with the business know-how to tap into carbon markets and wildlife economies, which can plug the gaps and contribute to sustainable funding models for conservation. In addition, more support is required for pilot studies that provide venture capital to green business start-ups that investigate the use of alternative technologies and carbon and biodiversity credits in delivering social and economic opportunities.

This has included support for the sustainable commercialisation of wildlife products through Stellenbosch University’s African Wildlife Economy Institute, thus supporting research that will strengthen policy and practice so that Africa’s wildlife economy contributes to wildlife conservation and inclusive, sustainable development.

Community development and health are crucial to effective and inclusive conservation practices. We also support small business development, empowering small business initiatives in rural and periurban communities and community development projects to improve the livelihoods of communities adjacent to conservation areas and provide environmental education opportunities for children. Research support directly and indirectly contributes to 13 of the 17 recognised sustainable development goals (SDGs) as measured by the SDG impact assessment tool.

Right hands

But it is not enough to fund research. Ensuring the research outputs are placed into the right hands will affect transformative governance for natural resource management. Facilitating the communication of research ensures it has maximum impact. To shift the narrative on sustainability Africa needs new ideas and dialogue around conservation and growing the right partnerships.

It is not enough to just fund research; we must act on it too. More than 350 delegates attend our annual conference, now in its 11th year. The conference is a platform to showcase research and conservation success stories and best practice and a meeting place to share transformative ideas on sustainability. By facilitating dialogue between stakeholders we are bridging the gap between science and decision-makers and putting words into action.

We all depend on the environment, but it is a finite and diminishing resource base. The fates of people and the environment are intertwined. Investing in the better management and conservation of our resource base and facilitating bigger picture research into business and biodiversity is imperative for our economic future.

The Oppenheimer Generations community is not only thinking about sustainability but also investing in sustainability. We call on other organisations to join us and invest in sustainable solutions to secure the environment for future generations. Investing in sustainability is everyone’s business.

• Dr MacFadyen is head of research & conservation at Oppenheimer Generations.

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