Today we are taking this opportunity to wrap up Season 6!
We have focused on a variety of different circular economy initiatives and organisations in Africa and have had so many fascinating and illuminating conversations, so we are super excited to look back and pick out some of the highlights and biggest lessons we have learned during these episodes.
From dealing with waste to new ideas about construction and footwear, we really have covered a lot of ground, and feel that our excitement at the start of the season was well-founded!
We have explored the trends that are occurring across the African continent, while also seeing the vast differences and multiplicity that make up this huge landmass and its populations.
A big message that we heard during our time on the subject was the need for local, African ideas to play a part in creating solutions, and why copy-paste strategies will fall short.
So to hear more about fresh new systems, and how they are cropping up in different spaces right now, be sure to listen in with us as we reflect on so many lessons learned!
Tune in to find out:
The theme of learning in Season 6; the challenge and enjoyment of these conversations.
How this season broadened our understanding of the circular economy; agriculture, perceptions, and more.
The broader context that houses these conversations: global inequality and the legacy of colonialism.
Contrasts and differences across the African continent and the importance of a pluralist view.
Reflections on the conversation with Joanna and Deborah from Footprints Africa and its biggest takeaways.
Chris Whyte's message about the hubs that are forming in different African countries.
The strength of African ideas and solutions, and allowing space for local wisdom.
The exciting work that Hello Tractor has been doing with the Internet of Things.
How SALUBATA is creating modular shoes from waste with a truly innovative approach.
The systemic approach to the circular economy that we saw in our conversation with Keiran from Mr. Green Africa.
Lessons from DigiYard and the way they are tackling construction waste.
Creating systems that disrupt the linear status quo.
Inspiration from Audrey S-Darko; imagining and working towards a better world.
Rethinking the norms of food waste with Julia Venn from FoodWise!
And much more!
“I really wanted to learn a little bit about the differences between the kind of solutions, circular solutions, that people are working on, or innovations that are happening.” — @BarryOkane
Links mentioned in this episode:
[0:00:06.1] ES: Hello, and welcome back to Happy Porch Radio Season 6. Today is our wrap up episode for Season 6, we've come to the end. This season, we have been learning all about circular economy across Africa. We spoke to some really inspiring people and really just sort of got tiny taster of what's going on, in this field across different parts of the African continent. It's quite exciting to get the chance to sort of review it all and have a think about how far we've come since we did that little teaser episode a few months ago. How are you feeling that we've come to the end of the season, Barry?
[0:00:45.8] BOK: I feel sad, because I feel we talked about how we're just scratching the surface, and how we're barely beginning. I think that's hit even more sort of home, if you like, than it did at the start. There are so many fascinating conversations we had, and so many more than we could have had, that it just feels like a mountain. So really exciting what we managed to do, and that we could have gone on forever, but we just ran out of time. But at the same time, as you said, it's really a privilege to be able to have had these conversations, and then now to be able to sort of take a little bit of time and reflect back on them.
[0:01:22.2] ES: Yeah, I kind of feel the same way, like part of me is like, "Well, maybe we could just do another season about African circular.“ Because there is really a lot happening. I think, over the course of the episodes that we've done, even with this small sort of insight into this particular part of the world. I mean, I personally, I feel like I've learned a lot from the people that we've spoken to, from those conversations, and also from the process of setting up those conversations and like learning about the people outside of what we actually recorded. And yeah, just sort of the broader context as well. So yeah, I love an opportunity to reflect.
[0:02:13.6] ES: Looking back at that first episode, we did a little teaser, we were very excited about this whole season. Understandably, lots to be excited about. And we did focus a lot on that learning thing, what we're going to learn, we're excited to learn, we use that word about 17 times, I think.
[0:02:31.6] BOK: It's still very true, that we're very much this season, even more than in Season 5, we're kind of coming at it as outsiders, having only a limited understanding of that local, as Europeans looking at from the outside having little understanding of the local context. And that was the both the challenge and the real enjoyment, I think, in this season. I really wanted to learn a little bit about the differences between the kind of, and particularly from a technology point of view, the differences between the kind of solutions, circular solutions that people are working on, or innovations that are happening.
I remember reflecting, talking about that in the teaser episode, and it was definitely a major, major theme throughout the whole season. That sort of the strengths and the weaknesses of being able to look at these conversations from the outside, ask the dumb questions, and really try and understand from our context, what the amazing challenges that some of these organizations are tackling, and also the kind of opportunities and different innovations that they're therefore able to bring to their local situations.
[0:03:45.0] ES: Yeah. What sort of hit me, I think, over the course of our conversations, is how every layer of what we're talking about, there's a context specific angle. So, that we're talking about basic, how do we think about the circular economy? And from season five to this season, I feel like there was such a difference in even just like the concept of how we're perceiving what circular economy is. We got the chance this season to dive into what circular economy looks like when we're talking about agriculture and working on the land, which is just something we didn't even consider in season five.
We also talked about sort of public perception of circular economy and how does this question of even social status, we talked about, in some of our conversations, of how that reuse trend, that is part of the circular economy is in some parts of the African economy, sort of what people have lesser means rely upon. It's not sort of trendy circular economy thing, it‘s like a survival thrifting thing and can actually be seen as, I guess holding a lower social capital, which is just sort of turning on its head a bit, a lot of the trends that we're see Europe, that I see in Europe.
So, it just felt like with every sort of angle that we were looking at, every perspective had that different twist on it, that different context, and any assumptions that we came in with, at the beginning of this season was sort of proven to be a bit arbitrary. We have the thread of like circular economy from Season 5 to season six. But really, there's just a lot of difference here.
[0:05:33.8] BOK: Yeah. I think, the broader sort of systemic thing that you're alluding to there is something that Joanna and Deb's talked about from Footprints Africa that when we talk to them about, or they were explicitly calling out things like global inequality, power, global power, dynamics, colonialism, and then there's a kind of hidden underneath, not hidden, sorry, very much underneath the conversations we're having, is that sort of context not to say that we can address any of that directly in a few conversations. But that is the when we say context, that is one of the big foundations to what we were in that context. I think that's what you're touching on there. The difference in wealth between somebody who's working on a circular economy project in Western Europe, versus rural Ghana is obviously one of the major contributing factors to that difference in context.
[0:06:28.8] ES: Yeah. And it's really good to say explicitly, Barry, thanks for that. You know what, implications that has the like, difference in wealth, as you mentioned, but that leads to difference in resources, difference in resources, not just being sort of like financial, but all kinds of things, including time. There's a whole element of how much time people can spend on these new ideas and the amount of time it takes if you don't have something like reliable internet, or the connections that you might necessarily have, if you're in a very different context in Northern Europe, then, as you say, something like rural Ghana. And the social context of perhaps different attitudes towards innovation and change. Yeah, particularly in this case, sort of more sustainable circular solutions. Super interesting to learn about all these things, and hear the stories of people who are doing it.
[0:07:25.7] BOK: Yeah. I mean, we shouldn't fall into the trap to saying that everybody's destitute and poor across the whole of Africa as well. One of the things that we talked about in several of the conversations was obviously the differences across geographically and within within Africa as well. In a moment, we'll do a little recap of a real reflection on each of the conversations. But I'm particularly thinking of the conversation we had about food waste, and how luxury hotels are – and the potential for them wasting food or reusing that food. There's a lot of parallels there to what some places in Europe are working on as well.
Before we kind of jump in and do a little chat a little bit about someone reflect on the specific conversations we had, I think it's also worth noting, and we'll share in the show notes, that there are several places that for those listening who are interested in finding out more, finding more of the case studies, we were only able to pick a very small selected number, to learn more about the organizations, both within different countries and across the whole continent that are working on the circular economy. I'll mention things like the Knowledge Hub, and Footprints Africa and African Circular Economy Network and the African Circular Economy Alliance, and all these organizations that are for those interested in genuinely connecting and learning more, or the stuff that we've barely touched on, those links are the places to go.
[0:08:48.0] ES: So much more to learn.
[0:08:50.5] BOK: Let's quickly talk about each of the conversations that we had, or that we were lucky enough to have. We started the season, talking to Joanna and Deb's from Footprints Africa, as an attempt to try and help us understand the context. What do you think you remember strongest from that conversation?
[0:09:09.4] ES: I remember feeling going into the conversation. It was our first attempt at diving into this. I remember feeling quite nervous about I guess, facing this topic. When we did Season 5 in circular economy just generally and we were often focused on Europe and North America, that's sort of a place I feel quite comfortable talking to. I am not necessarily directly in that scene, but close enough that I felt I could really be a part of that conversation. And then all of a sudden, we had this specific geographic context that I completely am not an expert in or even have knowledge in.
I just felt quite nervous about that. What I loved about the conversation that we had with Footprints is that there were so many any things that I was sort of like too shy to go to, and they just really explicitly were like, “Yeah, this is how it is.“ I think that that helped me a lot in relaxing into it and sort of trusting our guests, maybe. It's not about me, it's about the guests and about their story and everything. So, yeah, that was really a nice way to kick off for me, I think, settled me in.
[0:10:23.3] BOK: Yeah, agreed. Fairly much agreed. Both Joanna and Deborah talked, are very knowledgeable. Since we spoke to them have produced a couple of really interesting reports, and another one recently on regenerative agriculture across Africa, and they do a lot of work with in Ghana to help organizations look at through the lens of the B Corp certification, to look at sustainability and sort of good business, whatever, that broad, definitely. So they really have experience on the ground, and understanding on the ground, and that I think really came across and was really helpful for us. And anybody who wants to go back and listen to this season, I think it's really important. Don't miss that conversation.
[0:11:07.1] ES: Start at the beginning. We next spoke with Chris Whyte, from the African Circular Economy Network. This is one of those resources that you just mentioned, Barry, that there's a growing, gathering around this topic, I suppose across the continent. As Chris was describing, sort of, like hubs around in different parts of in different countries, where people are coming together to sort of support this whole movement, which, yeah, it's really good to hear.
[0:11:39.8] BOK: Yeah. I think the African Circular Economy Network has an interesting working across the continent, and powerful network and doing amazing work as well. One of the things that I enjoyed about, or that stands out for me with the conversation we had with Chris was when he was talking about sort of basically connecting to reality, and how the impact and the outcome of the work is more important than obsessing about the process and about starting where they are, I think, is actually a phrase he used in terms of things like starting with waste. As we know that the circular economy isn't just about, you know, trying to improve recycling or, or handle waste. But very often, and particularly in some of the contexts that he uses it examples. That's the place to start. It's like the big visual problem, for example.
[0:12:23.2] ES: Yeah, starting where we are, it’s a great mantra.
[0:12:26.2] BOK: Chris also talked about how it's not just about taking European or North American, or non-African technology and just selling it or using it in Africa. Obviously, there's a lot of negative potential spins to that as well. There's a lot of innovation that's happening within the continent, and within a number of countries, and that's what I think is really exciting about some of the conversations we had next. And how Joanna, Footprint’s also talked about kind of learning from and allowing the rest of the world to learn from Africa as well as vice versa.
[0:13:01.4] ES: Yeah, really encouraging, really inspiring.
[0:13:03.9] BOK: Next, we talk to Sarah from Hello Tractor. This is one of my favorite conversations from a technology point of view.
[0:13:10.6] ES: Why is that, Barry?
[0:13:12.0] BOK: So, Hello Tractor are using some cool tech, IoT, and using data in a really smart way. Sarah is a developer lead. And she was able to talk very passionately about her desire to use her skills and her sort of professional career to have a real impact on the ground. It was fun to be able to look at – to geek out, I guess, a little bit on briefly in that conversation with her. But not for its own sake, not obsessing about, “Hey, this is cool technology. Just isn't it? Cool.“ Full stop. But what was cool about it is how clearly she was talking about how Hello Tractor‘s mission is using these, this technology and these approaches to drive the purpose and impact that they're looking to have.
[0:13:59.9] ES: Yeah, I liked that conversation as well, for different reasons. I could see you geeking out on the technology stuff, but I was sort of – we already mentioned this thing about resources. And just, it's a reminder of that superpower of the circular economy, that resources don't have to be something that we're like constantly liking and fighting over and treasuring. Resources are something that we can share and get the most out of collectively, which I think is the whole sort of business model of Hello Tractor, right? That it's the sharing economy in practice.
The other interesting part of that conversation for me was that we talked about the implications also beyond sort of this circular perspective, looking at the use of fossil fuels in driving these tractors, that this is sort of another layer that they're like, okay, so getting resources to people who are doing work in agriculture. And then at some point, there's a step of thinking about other implications of that. I was really happy to have that conversation with Sarah and sort of hear her perspective of what comes next, and what's the future steps of all this?
[0:15:16.7] BOK: After Sarah, we spoke to Fela from SALUBATA. And to sort of emphasize the theme that we were picking up before about the differences in the fact that we are having so many very conversations, Sarah and Hello Tractor are using technology to enable people who don't have access to heavy machinery to be able to do so, as one of their goals. Fela is working on shoes, cool modular shoes made from waste.
[0:15:45.9] ES: Yeah. Such an entrepreneur. I just love this sort of very sort of innovation startup vibe of this conversation. We were just talking about his ideas and the whole thing of a modular shoe. How cool is that? Just a very cool project. And to be able to speak to him was really, really nice. I follow him on LinkedIn now and there's loads of stuff that he's sort of posting about things he's doing and all things that are happening with the business and things. It's really inspiring to meet these people and get the chance to speak to them.
[0:16:19.7] BOK: Yeah, and, as you say, an entrepreneur. So, somebody who is creating a business with an innovative product that I really hope succeeds. It's kind of exciting to see those sorts of stories, regardless where they are. And I think it's especially exciting to see it coming out of Nigeria and out of this context. I think that's pretty exciting.
[0:16:40.1] ES: Yeah, super cool. In episode five, we spoke with Keiran from Mr. Green Africa. And I remember this conversation as a sort of relearning about recycling, just as we were talking about, with all that question of context, that waste is a huge problem around the world. We talked about it so much in season five and with every new place that has its own ways to comes new problems, and, you know, new solutions as well, which is exactly what this is all about.
[0:17:19.7] BOK: Yeah. One of the things that I really liked about what Keiran talked about was kind of pulling together many of the things that I think demonstrate somebody who's really tackling circular economy from a systemic point of view. He talked about throughout the hallway, like so value chain, all the way from starting with low income waste pickers through to working out how to do more than just kind of reuse the waste in low value ways, but also to try and produce high quality raw materials that can go back into the cycle again. He talked very passionately and knowledgeably about all of the different actors and all of that process. I felt that he was approaching that with a very systemic and a very ambitious point of view.
[0:18:07.7] ES: Yeah, that was a really admirable focus as well on the human element, the people that he's working with. The people in the community that impact that his work has on all those people and ensuring that it's a positive one. Yeah, it's really great to hear.
[0:18:27.8] BOK: In episode six, we spoke to the team behind the DigiYard project, which came out of a project in South Africa, originally from Arup, internal project, to tackle or to look at ways to help construction waste, be used more practically. This is, again, a very different sort of origin story of this project. And again, a different sector and a different problem that they're trying to solve.
I enjoyed this one, for different reasons. I'm kind of talking using that as the thing that a lot I'm using different a lot. Their product is an app based service that is trying to enable those with construction waste, for that to turn into a supply, into a source of construction material for some of the local, more local construction suppliers. I think there's so much potential there and what I enjoyed about that was how they were able to focus it on, again, on the context of the informal building sector in South Africa.
[0:19:28.1] ES: Yeah, and seeing that need, and also that potential waste stream which actually isn't waste at all. It's a perfectly good building materials, just of leftovers and matching them up in a way that means that those who might not have had access to that kind of resource before, now do. It seems quite simple, really. But the work that goes into this and the learning behind it all it's really impressive. The system isn't set up traditionally to do that, and to say, “Okay, we're going to set up our own system that is going to do that“, is no small task.
[0:20:12.8] BOK: Yeah, absolutely. So, many of the stories we spoke to, in Season 5 and in this season are that I think you've picked out something really crucial. They're like the systems don't exist, the whole momentum, the whole weight of our current system is all linear. And so to try and do something as superficially simple as, okay, you have a pile of really high quality wood, never-mind waste wood, but there's no way for it to be easily put back into and used by somebody else. It seems so crucial to the circular economy that that on the surface seems like a simple thing. And yet, we have so much work to do at so many levels for that to be able to sort of happen.
One of the thing I enjoyed about their project is from a very sensible startup point of view, they didn't jump into building cool technology, even though that was their background. They did a pilot with WhatsApp and really spoke to people on the ground and try to understand how can we make this work.
[0:21:09.3] ES: Yeah, the thing about the system is, it's sort of what it's all about, really. Of course, as humans, living in a complex society, we all rely really heavily on the systems to work to help us get what we need. I rely on the whole water system so that when I turn on my tap, water comes out, and I rely on energy systems that I can be on my computer, and I can have WiFi and all of this. I rely so much on systems that are in place, and thinking about the fact that not only are there so many systems around the world, that just are not reliable, and don't work well enough for people to get what they need, other systems around the world that actually designed some people out of the system. Some people are actually left out of that system entirely. But also that so much of the systems don't incorporate what the planet needs and what we need to survive on this planet in a healthy way.
There's so much to sort of battle against in that sense. This sort of whole big picture was coming to me when you were just speaking about the systems thing there, Barry. And I think it's worthwhile mentioning, like how big a deal this is, because it's not, yeah, somebody has made this nice project, somebody set up this app and it's cool. Like, there's a lot behind it so much. So many layers.
[0:22:40.8] BOK: That can seem daunting. But I think it's also where the real opportunity is, and where some of the impressive and exciting people. I know that the next episode, we spoke to Audrey and I and I know, I think that was one of your favorite conversations.
[0:22:56.2] ES: Yeah, definitely was. Audrey is amazing. I was so inspired by the fact that she was like, so there was this problem and we had like sugarcane factory that was like coming and going, and nobody really knew. It wasn't reliably a source of jobs and whatever. So, I just decided to figure out what the problem was. I just loved that. I was like, yes. If the world was filled with people who just decided to figure out what the problem is, and like, how can I best solve this in a way that's going to be beneficial for my local community, and the physical world around us, if everyone lived that way, what a world we’d have. What a world?
[0:23:36.0] BOK: If everybody was Audrey?
[0:23:37.1] ES: Yeah.
[0:23:39.4] BOK: The other thing that was really enjoyable over that conversation is we touched on something that we haven't touched on hardly at all in either season five, or season six, and that's the biological half of the circular economy cycle for those who are familiar with the butterfly diagram, where one half is about technical products, physical things that we manufacture. The other side is about agriculture and growth of growing products. So, it was really fun, I think, to talk to Audrey about the work that the many different projects that she has in that area.
[0:24:12.9] ES: Yeah. And we brought in this word, regenerative, which, in a way describes the whole circular economy and is currently used mostly around sort of agriculture, and that organic side, as you said, and just sort of gives us a chance to think about the potential, what the circular economy can bring, the re-generating power of these potential systems. It's super cool.
[0:24:43.6] BOK: In the final episode of this season, we spoke to Julia Venn from FoodWise, which is I mentioned earlier, the social enterprise who are working on food waste. There's several things I thought were really fascinating about this conversation, but one that really stood out for me, was again, going back to this theme of working with where we are, she talked about not wanting to create, going in with good intentions, but actually creating problems. So, for example, using existing delivery infrastructure, in order to do the reverse logistics of getting the food waste back to organizations that can use it.
[0:25:22.8] ES: Yeah. And her specific context as well. She is European, and now works in many different nations across Africa, like Mauritius and Morocco, Madagascar, a lot of the Ms, actually. I loved to hear what she had to say about what she's learned in, in that process. The diversity and we've talked a lot about context, almost as if we can say the African context is this, which of course, you cannot say. I mean, you can't say that about the European context either. And that's exactly what Julia highlighted that she has sort of learned and adapted to all of the places where she's now working, and that I think, is really a sign of her success.
[0:26:10.3] BOK: Very much agreed. We talked as well there about, and sometimes this is easy trap for even for us to fall into is sort of seeing the wealth gap, if you like between on average Europe and parts of Africa. But that doesn't mean that Africa is, as you just said, is all the same thing. There is massive differences within each country and between countries, as there is everywhere. That means that there's opportunities for things like this food waste work that Julia was focused on.
[0:26:43.7] ES: Yeah, much like the conversation with DigiYard about sharing the resources that for some people in that context feel like waste and actually are very valuable. It's such a sort of perspective thing, this whole – I think we've talked about perspective a lot over the past couple of seasons, but it's it is really important, the circular economy sort of challenges us to change our perspective. Because we're talking about wealth across various contexts, urban and rural, and global north, global south, different countries, et cetera. And when we say, wealth, we automatically sort of mean financial wealth, and resources, like building materials, or electricity, or good WiFi, sort of technological, modern resources.
But speaking to a lot of the people over the past two seasons, just like the idea of resources, there's really an abundance of resources. We're not faced with a shortage of what we need, collectively. But the spread of those resources, the distribution, and also the definition of them. I love that we brought the land and agriculture into this season, because that is such a huge, important resource. It feeds us. It literally holds us, nourishes us in so many ways, and this word resource can just be so huge and fast. It's quite nice to like sit in that world of, how do I define my resources? It sort of, yeah, can be a bit of a bigger question. Not to get too philosophical, but why not?
[0:28:34.9] BOK: Yeah, absolutely. And there's so many bigger questions that we had to – I mean, it was so much fun to touch on so many of them this season. Thank you for joining me, once again as my co-pilot on another adventure.
[0:28:50.3] ES: Thanks for having me, Barry. I love it.
[0:28:50.8] BOK: Looking forward to the next season. But for just a reminder for everybody. We will share some links to places like Africa Circular Economy Network, Footprints Africa, The African Circular Economy Alliance, which is a policy organization, and the work that people like Ellen MacArthur are doing in Africa, and the Knowledge Hub, which is an awesome resource for stories and case studies, and other interesting things to connect and learn more. Thanks for joining us in Season 6.
[0:29:20.5] ES: Thanks, everyone.
[0:29:24.7] ES: Thanks for listening to this episode of Happy Porch Radio. Hope you enjoyed it. You can hear more of our episodes at happyporchradio.com You can also get in touch with us there. Let us know what you think. Let us know if you have any ideas or if you want to talk to us about something. We'd also love it if you can share this podcast, review, rate, tell your pals, tell your neighbors, tell everyone.
[0:29:47.4] BOK: Tell your dog. Listen along with the whole family.
[0:29:52.6] BOK: And my name is Barry and I founded happyporch.com and Happy Porch Fund and Support podcast. At Happy Porch we do technology and so for development for purpose led businesses, and we are particularly excited about the role of digital as an enabler for the circular economy.
So, if you're working on solutions to the big problems we face today, problems like climate change and biodiversity loss and global inequality, then let's connect. Visit happyporch.com and get in touch.
[0:30:20.8] ES: My name is Emily, and I am a coach, a facilitator and a podcaster. My projects focused on personal development, innovation for a better world connecting with nature. My latest podcasting adventure, alongside Happy Porch Radio, is exploring the world of carbon removal. Find out more about this and everything that I do at emilyschwaddle.com, or you can get in touch with me at email@example.com.