Guest Column

Club of Rome sets global agenda – the implications for South Africa

2018-10-28 11:00
Dr. Mamphela Ramphele.

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele.

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Morné Mostert

South Africa and other developing economies were awarded the opportunity recently to participate more centrally in the international dialogue about the future of the planet at the 50th anniversary of the influential Club of Rome.

This comes as well-known South African academic and business leader Dr Mamphela Ramphele was elected as co-president of the club. She will fill the position together with Sandrine Dixson-Declève of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

The Club of Rome is a global group of individuals who share a common concern for the future of humanity and whose members include notable scientists, economists, business people and former heads of state. The prestigious organisation aims to promote understanding of the global challenges facing humanity and to propose solutions through scientific analysis, communication and advocacy.

As one of only three other South Africans ever to be invited by this global thought leadership organisation, I was honoured to represent the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at Stellenbosch University. The IFR was founded as the direct result of the publication of the first report of the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth, in 1972.

Three key priorities for the future of humanity were announced by the Club of Rome at the event, namely:

1. a climate emergency initiative with the view that the climate has now preceded beyond the point where it can be saved by traditional incremental changes

2. a study of the new civilisation of the future, and

3. the examination of a new economic system.

This is of great significance for a developing economy like South Africa, where the importance of a more future-focused approach to society in national development plans has now become critical.

Like many developing and formerly colonized economies, South Africa continues to struggle to overcome its past, but for the futurist it is the set of opportunities in a time yet to come which must enjoy the bulk of the attention.

The world cannot afford for developing economies to follow the same environmentally and socially harmful trajectory of many developed economies.

In many developing economies like South Africa, climate consciousness has taken a back seat to matters of social development, but the systemic interconnectedness of the issues cannot be separated. Without sustainable environmental policies and practices of those in power, the consequences for the poor will be dire.

In terms of the civilisation of the future, South Africa is interestingly positioned. The peaceful transition to democracy has enabled the development of a degree of social change proficiency for South African citizens, which improves the probability for citizens to transition to an alternative social dispensation.

South Africa has, in effect, already embarked on the journey towards a new society and citizens experience the joy and agony of that positive transition on a daily basis. Therefore a key human capital South African export of the future may well be its social competence for transition.

At the same time, South Africa is at the forefront of grappling with new economics. With the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment, the answers, if they exist, are complex and the problems often intractable.

In a paper presented to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva last year, on invitation from the International Organisation for Employers (IOE), I proposed a quintagonal global engagement model that would see greater collaboration between not only business, government and labour, but also academia and civil society, as shown in the model below:

Club of Rome


The strengthening of ties between business and academia presents the strongest current opportunity for the acceleration of developing economies. This is because these two entities are characterised by innovation and the production of the new knowledge required for a new era of civilisation.

In South Africa, relations in this model are under severe strain. According to the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, the quality of the relationship between government and business in South Africa rates 101 out of 119 countries.

On the same index, the relationship between South African business and labour rates 119 out of 119. In certain countries, especially in the traditional first world, business has dominated, while in others government has shown its muscle.

A new balance of the relationship dynamics is urgently required and this must be informed by national imperatives. Aggressive innovation in business and government, together with accelerated transformation of societies, must now be undertaken.

The Club of Rome plays a critical role in setting the agenda for a global dialogue on the future of humanity. The organisation, based in Switzerland, is independent and attracts some of the finest minds on the planet to explore meaningful opportunities for the future of humankind and the planet.

The election of Dr Ramphele as co-president and the thought leadership opportunity of leading South African universities will place Africa more centrally in the international dialogue.

- Dr Morné Mostert is director of the Institute for Futures Research, a unit for strategic foresight at Stellenbosch University.

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