Across the globe, sustainable development and practices have become a priority for countries and large private firms as it holds potential solutions to persistent problems such as extreme poverty, inequality, climate change among others.
Sustainable development among other things involves organizing principles to meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depend.
However, expertise and the best practices are a challenge for all considering that it’s a new trend with multiple aspects and implications.
Rwanda has had its fair share of progress in rolling sustainable development practices in a wide range of sectors. However, some challenges persist.
The New Times’ Collins Mwai spoke to Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, the Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group at the World Bank to establish Rwanda’s readiness and performance in adopting sustainable practices across various sectors.
At a time when the world is working towards embracing and adopting Sustainable Development Goals, what do you make of Rwanda’s adoption and domestication of sustainable approaches?
It is important to see how we understand sustainable development at the World Bank. We believe that the world has a unique historical opportunity to end extreme poverty by 2030. We work with countries in this aspect.
From research, we have also seen that prosperity is linked to equity. We are working with countries to ensure that prosperity is shared to make sure that the bottom 40 percent of the population is not left behind. We want to achieve the two goals in a sustainable manner; in a way that protects the environment, inclusive and in a cohesive way.
That is our approach and we are using the UN sustainable development goals to measure progress. We can see countries like Rwanda paying attention to that process with some of them being done in very decisive ways.
Others are more difficult and are lagging behind in some ways as they are more than just what the government can do and require private sector input which will pick up with time.
On a sustainability dimension, I have been very impressed with aspects of the Rwandan society.
For instance, in hygiene and solid waste management, Rwanda is a leader. It is partly also because of how Rwandans relate to cleanliness, that is a sure way as there are practical ways that can be adopted sustainably.
There has been very significant progress in a number of areas. That is a good way to progress. For instance, we can show society that it is actually possible to adopt, embrace and expand sustainable practices. It should not only be a responsibility of the government. It requires all players including the private sector and local governments for the concept to be part of the society.
Speaking of the private sector, there have also been concerns of the private sector’s hesitance to adopt and embrace sustainable practices for fear that it drives up the cost of operation and ‘eats’ into profits, what are your thoughts on this? What are the best case practices in this regard?
We are beginning to say more and more private sector companies understanding that sustainable development is an ideal value proposition.
For instance, through energy efficiency in the production process, they can reduce production costs. One needs to understand how they can produce products using less energy.
Over time, it leads to the saving of resources through the most practical actions as well as work closely with their employees to create a large value proposition. It is also common to find that a growing number of employees prefer to work in companies that are good for society. This is an important factor in attracting and retaining talent.
It is, however, important to have a path towards sustainability and be rational about it as opposed to just adopting something from Europe and imposing it overnight. That is the sense that firms should have to innovate around the practice.
Companies are also seeing global sustainability as part of their mandate because they have realized that the consequences of lack of sustainable development to the growth of their firms and returns.
There are many ways where we are seeing the private sector identify their role based on aspects such as profits, attracting talent and understanding that public goods are part of their survival.
But few financiers such as banks are willing to lend money for sustainability practices as they are hard to justify in regards to prove return on investment.
That is where innovation comes in. One of the problems we have seen is in lack of knowledge on the approach. Many of these actions of sustainability from a financier’s point of view or from a firm’s point of view are new. For instance, we have seen that the banks have not been comfortable lending money for instance to an energy efficiency undertaking as it is not a product. In some countries such as China, the government provided a guarantee facility which increased the confidence of the investors.
The second is that we need innovation that is adapted to practices of the various countries. What may be sustainable in one country might not be suitable in another for a range of reasons and there might be better ways to achieve similar results at lesser costs. That is where the innovation of the Rwandan private sector comes in.
That can be reflected in home-grown solutions in various sectors.
What are some of the best practices that Rwanda can use to ensure a broad stakeholder understanding and adoption?
It starts by identification of sectors that hold growth potential for the country such as services and understanding that as the sectors grow, you can make more by adopting sustainable approaches.
The earlier you begin to learn sustainable practices, the earlier you can influence your economy and even export.
This requires research, training and identifying partners who you can work with as a country. The change ought to be reflected in aspects such as high level of awareness in higher learning institutions.
What do you make of Rwanda’s skills capacity and readiness to further rollout sustainable practices across the economy?
We have been very impressed with the level of dedication to sustainability. It is one of the countries where you find there are plans, implementation, and focus. There might be lots of room to improve in some aspects and the challenge is how to acquire the skills that will be needed in the future and how to train the youth to be innovative and adaptable as well as ready to accelerate their learning. We tend to see that we need to start from early childhood education to be able to train the right skills for the future.
We have been trying to measure the factors of education that enable effective and we will be working alongside partners such as Rwanda to implement the best-case scenarios.
Are there aspects that the World Bank Group is committing to support towards sustainability?
In our portfolio, we have been working and will continue to work in urban development and believe that urbanization is growing, which is a good thing. The way a country urbanizes is very important, the way that a city grows cannot be changed. We have seen that the more compact a city is, the more efficient, less contamination risk, better mobility. We are keen on working with cities to help them grow in a more sustainable way and more compact as well as ensuring equitable. We would like to strengthen a low-income community.
From an agriculture standpoint, we see a lot of room for growth given the context of the current state of the sector. We also want to continue to support the development of private sector involvement and exports development.