By Raoul Klein
Simplifying Complexity is not as simple as it sounds. Working with communities that have very different cultures can lead to conflicts faster than any desired progress. However, Green Corridors is making huge advances towards finding common ground, and Jonathan Welsh is here to tell us how.
Green Corridors is an NGO working with local communities in Durban, South Africa, aimed at improving environmental conditions in a socially sustainable way.
National and Municipal Context:
Durban, just like South Africa in general, faces significant corruption issues that call into question the entire governmental structure. But it is important to note that the municipal is the main funder of Green Corridors, so they need to maintain a favourable relationship with politicians. They do so by letting the municipal choose part of their staff, this ensures the municipal does not lose trust in the operation and cut funding.
Apart from corruption, the country is struggling with its economy and unemployment, leading to a plethora of subsequent issues, Durban however, has huge potential as the biggest port of the country and pulling tourists from everywhere with their beaches, showing the importance of good environmental conditions.
Durban has a rich Zulu heritage that strongly influences the region's political structures and cultural practices. The Zulu language is often the only language spoken by the people in the communities. Cultural differences are also prominent, with work ethics differing significantly from Western standards. Similarly, gender roles and divisions of labour often reflect outdated and sexist views.
The Zulu people have a strong connection to witchcraft, superstitions deeply rooted in their culture, as well as their relationship with medicine and traditional healers.
Green Corridors amidst the two:
The Green Corridors team must navigate these differences carefully, as a misstep can lead to distrust and dire consequences.
Overcoming the language barrier is a crucial component, often requiring the involvement of a respected community translator, especially for delicate matters and to ensure that work is done as expected. Misunderstandings are the most common cause of conflicts between the communities and Green Corridors' workers. If conflicts or misunderstandings arise, a lot of time and energy is needed to resolve them.
In order to build trust and learn more about the community's culture and customs, sharing a meal plays an important role. Bonding over food can go a long way towards diffusing tensions and gaining the community's trust.
All in all, cultural differences should be embraced, even ones that seem outdated and blatantly wrong when trying to work with people, their ways need to be respected, otherwise the risk of low productivity and resentment is far too high.
Work and Accomplishments:
Green Corridors is involved in various areas, with the same goal of building projects with the people, for the people.
Jonathan Welsh focuses on reducing the amount of non-reusable trash going to landfills, this trash is going to their green concrete paver production. These pavers incorporate various materials, such as shoe rubber from a local Nike factory, shredded plastic, broken glass, and building rubble, to name a few.
The collection of these materials creates job opportunities, as many are collected from streets or through informal channels. The pavers are surprisingly durable and can compete well in the current market, with demand exceeding production capabilities at the moment.
Additionally, Green Corridors is tackling the issue of widespread invasive plants negatively impacting Durban's biodiversity by cutting them down and converting them into Bokashi compost, an anaerobic composting method.
Green Corridors' Goals:
Scaling up is of great importance for Green Corridors. So far, the limiting factor has been funding. However, to apply for further funds, one key component is missing: quantifying Green Corridors' impact on the land and the people. Also interesting for the NGO are carbon credits, this would require further quantification of the climate gas impact that Green Corridors' products have but could serve as an additional source of income.
Green Corridor supports the poorest of often forgotten population of Durban, South Africa, to find their whole spectrum of products and fields of work, visit their website.