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BKCOB | Energy | We need to return to an economy driven by the makers, the fixers, the doers!

By • Sean Allam | Energy Committee Chair | Cloudstrength

The double crisis we currently find ourselves in needs no introduction. By now most of us have come to realise that between the global pandemic and load-shedding, our businesses are at the mercy of challenges that do not have any mention in a chapter of your business textbook. In addition, this has been compounded by a national government that continues to serve self-interest before that of the people. Consequently, we need to find an economic operating model that is much more resilient to the impact of external factors, and technological improvements are making this possible.

The Energy and Information & Communication Technology (ICT) committee at the chamber is tasked with establishing a platform for improving the energy and ICT commercial sectors within the Border-Kei region. These two sectors have emerged as critical vehicles for getting us all out of this mess. Consider for a moment the impact that an integrated energy and ICT strategy could have on our local economy. Also consider for a moment the collective power of combining the engineering minds of energy and information technology.

Then reflect on a time in which engineering was at the forefront of an economy, not finance. A time before so much engineering was outsourced to the east. We simply have to return to an economy driven by the makers, the fixers, the doers… the engineers.

South Africa was rich with engineering skills. Unfortunately, our political landscape has driven many of these skills out into the global market, and most are never coming back. This has resulted in massive fragmentation and an extraordinary skills vacuum in nearly all engineering disciplines, but especially in the areas that this committee oversees.

A weakened economy has also pushed many of the remaining skilled workers into the relative safety and comfort of major international corporates, at the expense of entrepreneurial energy and innovation. East London is, frankly speaking, not an attractive destination for entrepreneurs or skilled professionals.

To see any progress, we need to move from dialogue to action. We can do this by starting to implement locally conceived, designed and developed proof-of-concept solutions, and these need to be tested and refined here in local businesses. Of course, some will fail, and that is fine. For too long business around these parts have relied on external solutions and expertise from our bigger provinces or further afield. There are however still a small number of highly talented individuals operating in organisational and project silos. For innovation to foster this committee is seeking to become the catalyst for bringing these individuals together, along with local business, towards establishing a good mix of projects to kick start the sector once more.

Among other things the committee is reviewing renewable energy projects, exploring smart city initiatives, engaging with industry experts and seeking ways to improve regional digital strategies. Many of these projects are at early engagement or discussion, with long term processes underway for full realisation. There is also urgent necessity to increase the number of persons working in these fields, but especially among female and black demographics.

The committee does not discount the importance of healthy dialog, and will continue to encourage stakeholders to come together to do so, the emphasis is however on the need for action. We simply do not have the luxury of delaying our response any longer.

The sooner we have something tangible to show for our efforts, the sooner we can start to demonstrate that we are a destination that welcomes innovation, entrepreneurship and smart thinking. Consider this a formal invitation to you or your organisation to make contact and offer your support where practical and feasible. Ultimately easier access to more skills and technologies will greatly benefit you. Please, take action and offer us your support in any way, keep an eye on the Chamber communication channels for further information in the coming weeks.