Only when organisations stop viewing sustainability as a destination, and start appreciating that it is an ongoing journey, will they recognise the responsibility they have to include as many fellow travellers as they can along the way.
That’s the philosophy behind Nedbank’s latest sustainability initiative that sees the bank packaging the sustainability framework and many lessons it has learned over the past 20 years, and offering local South African communities the information and tools they require to be able to set off on their own sustainability journeys.
The Nedbank ‘Caring for our Communities and Saving our World’ initiative is a comprehensive consumer education programme aimed at enlightening entire communities on the need to take responsibility for their own sustainability and providing them with the knowledge and ability to do so. The programme reflects the interdependence of the four key pillars of sustainability; environmental, social, economic and cultural, and the benefits of integrating these four pillars into the everyday lives of communities.
Educating the poor
Nedbank recently piloted its Caring for Communities programme, with great success, in three rural and semi-rural communities in Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The programme, which was specifically developed by Nedbank in conjunction with specialist human capital development agency, Enele Consulting, comprises two distinct, but inter-related components. The first is aimed at engaging with adult community members, including principals, teachers and parents, via a two-day intensive workshop that walks them through the meaning of sustainability and enables them to apply these principles to an existing or new community project.
The second component of the programme is targeted at grade 6 and 7 learners from schools within the same community. This four-hour interactive lesson imparts the message of sustainability to the children via story-telling and role-plays.
The practical stage
The knowledge provided to both groups is brought to life at the end of the programme through the practical application of sustainability principles in the construction, usually at one of the schools, of a community vegetable tunnel, a rainwater harvesting tank, or a solar cooker, depending on the identified community priorities.
The vegetable gardens erected in the pilot phase will be feeding up to 600 eager learners at three schools each day, and the rain harvesting tanks will be storing essential rainwater to maintain these gardens.
According to Nina Wellsted, Retail Sustainability Manager for the Nedbank Group, the Caring for Communities programme was born of an understanding by Nedbank of the need to demonstrate the benefits of true sustainability to as many South Africans as possible, at the same time instilling in them a sense of personal responsibility.
She explains that the Caring for Communities initiative dovetails with Nedbank’s existing involvement with the Nedbank Eco-Schools Volunteer Programme, a partnership between Nedbank, WWF-SA and the Wildlife & Environmental Society of Southern Africa through which all three organisations are working together to bring about positive social change by improving the quality of people’s lives and make a lasting difference in disadvantaged communities.
‘Together, the Caring for Communities and Eco-Schools programmes also afford Nedbank employees a unique opportunity to experience the personal growth that comes from active volunteerism,’ she explains, ‘by allowing them to make a lasting contribution to the sustainability of entire communities by constructing vegetable garden tunnels, rainwater harvesting tanks, solar cookers and even small-scale electricity installations.’
Based on the success of the 2009 Eco-Schools pilot, which saw 600 Nedbank staff members volunteering on the project, Nedbank extended the programme to incorporate an education component, and Caring for Communities is the result.
Nedbank recently piloted the Caring for Communities programme, with great success, in three rural and semi-rural communities in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. According to Wendy Selebi, Community Integration Manager for the bank, the pilot programmes were extremely well attended and received by both adults and children from the communities concerned, many of whom expressed their deep appreciation to the bank, both for the interest it had taken in their lives and futures, and the value they derived from the programme content.
Selebi also points out that the programme is likely to be as much of a valuable learning experience for the facilitators as it is for the participants.
‘We were surprised by the level of understanding of sustainability that already existed amongst many of the attendees of the pilot programmes,’ she says,’ and touched by the obvious desire of some of South Africa’s poorest citizens to be able to make a lasting positive difference to their communities and their country.’
‘True sustainability requires a commitment to contributing to the economy, enhancing the lives of South Africa’s people, and preserving our planet for current and future generations,’ she emphasisies, ‘and by blending environmental awareness with social, economic and cultural investment in this way, the Caring for Communities project not only demystifies the concept of sustainability, it allows Nedbank to provide basic mechanisms by which all South Africans can involve themselves in ensuring a better future for themselves, their communities, and their entire country.’