Back to Yale, after a visit to China

Just back today at Yale, after about 10 days away in China. I started off at an International Resource Panel meeting in Shenzhen, and ended off spending a few days with my friend Maarten Hajer in Hong Kong just walking the city and visiting a ‘new town’ of 2 million people. Also spend a day at workshop on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This is a special project of the Chinese President, who recently got voted President for life. He said he needed more time to realize his plans. One of which is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is a $4-8 trillion investment that aims to integrate China into Europe via a new road infrastructure linking China through Europe, into London. Plus a maritime infrastructure that links in South East Asia, India and East Africa into a new constellation of high-end ports, cities and maritime capacity. Maarten and I visited Mong Kok, the most densely populated suburb in the USA. The Resource Panel went well – I was the reviewer of a great report on the Governance of Mineral Resource Extraction in light of the SDGs, including the proposal to market a Sustainable Development License to Operate rather than just a Social Licence to Operate.

From Costa Rica to Yale

Had an amazing few days in Costa Rica last week, and back now at Yale, New Haven. The blossoms have gone and the tree-line streets are lush and green. The bicycle path I ride each day stretches for a hundred miles, through extra-ordinary countryside, and many different kinds of suburbs. Costa Rica was beautiful – I could see myself living there, for sure. The highlight was visiting the Earth Charter Institute at the University of Peace – so similar to the Sustainability Institute. Moves already afoot to work closer with them. Also nice discussions with United Nations Environment rep about getting our time involved in a new national planning initiative for the Caribbean island of Guyana.

Lorenzo Fioramonti may be Minister of Economic Development in Italy

This morning I received this extra-ordinary email from my colleague Prof Lorenzo Fioramonti who has up until now headed up the Centre for Governance Innovation at Pretoria University:

“Dear WE-Africans:

as many of you will have seen through social networks and mainstream media, I have just been elected to parliament in Italy, where I’ve just relocated (my family will follow in July). I’m now also running for the post of Minister of Economic Development on a post-GDP ‘wellbeing’ political agenda, which is becoming massively mainstream. It is incredible how fast our ideas are gaining ground and the party I have been running with, the 5 Star Movement, has fully endorsed my vision of a wellbeing economy as opposed to the conventional growth-centric model. With such a policy programme, we have won 33% of the votes and have become Europe’s largest party, on par with Angela Merkel’s.

I will be on leave from UP until 2020 and then we’ll see what happens. I think that the success of our ideas is evidence that we need to keep pushing for a radical shift all over the world, especially in Africa.

A big hug,


Starting my sabbatical at Yale today

I started a 6 month sabbatical at Yale today! Wow, I have dreamed of something like this for years and years, and somehow never taken a proper sabbatical. I will return to Stellenbosch for a few weeks of teaching in August, but should be here almost continuously until mid-October. I am hosted by the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS) and they do not expect me to do anything other than deliver the annual Bass Lecture in April. My aim is to write a book provisionally entitled Just Transitions in a Complex World: Reflections of an Enraged Incrementalist. I want to build a theory of change that is commensurate with a widely held view that we need radical structural transformation to address the polycrises we now face. However, when you look at what people actually do to bring this about, it is primarily about facilitating multiple dialogues between stakeholders. There is something incommensurate about the depth of radical change we think is needed and the somewhat anemic practice of facilitating dialogues. We no longer believe in revolution, and yet we have not fully conceptualised what radical incrementalism really means. While revolution creates the delusion that on the morrow of ‘seizing power’ it becomes possible to impose structural change, facilitating dialogues creates the delusion that talking is good enough to engender structural change. What seems to be missing is an appreciation of what Roberto Unger has called radical incrementalism – the increasingly large number of experimental practices that seem to be coalescing into a transformative force that lacks a coherent sense of directionality and identity. Granted, some of these are more radical than others, but often it is difficult to tell what the outcome of any given experiment is likely to be. This is what I would like to address via a wide range of discussions that will characterise each chapter. A key part of this exploration is going to be a thematic discussion of rage. While writers like Mishar in his book Age of Anger follow a long mainly Western tradition of fearing the power of rage (by psychologising, pathologising and spiritualising it), from Fanon, to Sloterdyk, to the Nigerian feminist novelist Adichie, rage can be a positive force. However, rage is usually associated with the revolutionary, and the incrementalist is regarded as tame and marginal when it comes to radical change. But can we conceive of an enraged incrementalist? Maybe the most radical person in the room is not the revolutionary who calls for the seizure of power (whatever that may mean in practice), but rather the person who asks ‘What is the next step?’ …. I’m so looking forward to exploring this core set of ideas – certainly hope I don’t get lost as I wind my way through them.

Class of 2018 has arrived ….. and its a force of nature!

The Class of 2018 has founds its way to the Sustainability Institute and the Lynedoch EcoVillage. It is our largest class since we started in 15 years ago, with a total of 58 registered! 40 out of the 58 are women, which means there are more men this year than last year. Just under 50% are black (28) and the remainder are white, even though over 60% of the original group offered positions were black. There are more black students who do not show up for registration than white students because of lack of finances for fees and accommodation. There seems to be an uptick in the number of people from the public sector, after many years of decline – total of 12 out of 58, with the remainder from the private sector (21), non-profit sector (5) and 17 full-time students (our highest ever). Interestingly, 37 out of 58 are doing the degree full-time, which I also think is the highest number to date doing the degree full-time. There 9 non-South African students – 2 Brazilians, 2 from Lesotho, 1 Namibian, 3 from the USA and 1 Zimbabwean. For the first time ever there are no East Africans, which has got a lot to do with the unwise decision to significantly increase the fees for non-South Africans, coupled to the usual problems of getting study permits in time. In general, our University system is unfriendly for non-South African Africans, which is tragedy. This year we included a new process during orientation which was to ask everyone to think of the question they are bringing to the course, and then to mould in clay a symbolic representation of their question. I have included a few pics of some of these, especially for the benefit of past students.

Morning stretches

Morning stretches

Morning work - preparing lunch

Morning work – preparing lunch

Washing the feet of students

Washing the feet of students

Theo and Mark - feet washing ceremony

Theo and Mark – feet washing ceremony

sharing about the river

sharing about the river

listening to a lecture

listening to a lecture

deep ecology at the river

deep ecology at the river

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Yoliswa, permaculture teacher, introduces the students to the garden

Yoliswa, permaculture teacher, introduces the students to the garden

welcome lunch

welcome lunch

Masters students present their completed work next week

The most exciting moment in the academic year is upon us again: next week the students who have completed their masters research will present their completed research to the academic staff and to the masters students who are commencing their respective research projects. Attached is the detailed programme. Visitors are welcome to come listen to this cutting edge research by a new generation of sustainability researchers. Topics include the following:

Nomandla Bongoza: Education for Sustainable Futures: an approach for early childhood development

Karen Koen: Creating shared value in corporate South Africa

Tasneem Steenkamp: Spatial transformation in practice: the case of the Two Rivers Urban Park, Cape Town

Elzette Henshilwood: Exploring sustainable urban mobility transitions in Cape Town

Therese Luyt: Domestic Waste Flows in Cape Town

Olive Zgambo: Food system transformation in Cape Town

Angela Coetzee: Free range chickens in the Western Cape

Amy Giliam: Agroecology training of smallholder communities in Mopani, Limpopo

Megan Lindow: The art of storytelling with food innovators in the Western Cape

Jeeten Morar: Development impact of the REI4P in SA’s small towns

Fezeka Stuurman: Black woman owned businesses in the renewable energy sector

Andre Troost: Exploring strategic investments in mini-grids in Sub-Saharan Africa

Elijah Sichone: Exploiting renewable energy opportunities through integrated regional power systems: analysis of institutional perspective of barriers in Southern Africa

To download the programme:Colloquium invitation 2017

Centre for Complex Systems in Transition – two years on

Yesterday the core CST research team met to reflect on how far we have come since our first strategic retreat in about March 2015 which took place in Stanford. We met for most of the day and one of the issues discussed was progress towards achieving one of our goals, namely the founding of a ‘Stellenbosch School of Thought’. Two major papers have recently been completed by core staff, one on Complex Adaptive Systems by Rika Pelzer, Oonsid Biggs and two colleauges from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), and the other on transdisciplinary case study research by John van Breda and myself. These papers bring together a decade of thinking within their respective fields. They provide the foundation stones for what we are calling the ‘Stellenbosch School of Thought’ – the first being our conceptual framework, and the second our methodological framework. These two, plus a set of thematic areas (cities, food, socialecological systems, governance, cell systems, entrepreneurship, complexity and systems dynamics) constitute the building blocks of a ‘Stellenbosch School of Thought’. It was incredibly inspiring to work through all these conceptual, methodological and thematic  issues, and to see how much progress we have made. I am also amazed by our impact locally, nationally and globally. We decided to try write a journal article with contributions from everyone followed possibly by an edited collection.

Mncebisi Jonas, Desta Mebratu and me at the Conference on Towards a Human-Centred Sustainable Economic and Social Systems for the 21st Century


As I said last Thursday during a session where we three were the speakers, it was a privilege to speak with two of my mentors – Desta Mebratu, from Ethiopia, who wrote a paper in 1998 on Sustainable Development that has been compulsory reading for all my students for the introductory module of the Masters in Sustainable Development for the past 16 years! And Mncebisi Jonas has since the 1980s been the model of what true South African political activism and leadership is all about – and as I told the conference, this was the man who, when he was Deputy Minister of Finance, refused a bribe of $60 million to sell the National Treasury to the corrupt power elite that has captured South Africa’s state institutions. He lost his job in April 2017.

Towards a human-centred sustainable economic and social system for the 21st Century

From 10-12 May (next week), my research centre is hosting the 14th international colloquium of a network of progressive economists who have been collaborating for some years to develop a new economic theory appropriate for the world we currently live in. The colloquium is co-convened by the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, University of  Brasilia and World Academy of Art and Science. Click on the link below to access the programme for the colloquium. If you want to attend, please contact Vanessa on