Africa's game changers and the catalysts of social and system innovation

Swilling, Mark (2016)

CITATION: Swilling, M. 2016. Africa’s game changers and the catalysts of social and system innovation. Ecology and Society, 21(1):37, doi:10.5751/ES-08226-210137.

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It is widely recognized that many African economies are being transformed by rapid economic growth driven largely by rising demand for the abundant natural resources scattered across the African continent. I critically review the mainstream game-changing dynamics driving this process, with special reference to a set of influential policy-oriented documents. This is followed by an analysis of less-recognized game-changing dynamics that have, in turn, been affected by the mainstream game-changing dynamics. These less-recognized game-changing dynamics include energy infrastructure challenges in a context of climate change, securing access to water, access to arable soils, slum urbanism, and food security responses. These mainstream and less-recognized game-changing dynamics provide the context for analyzing a range of African actor networks engaged in social and system innovations. I use a transdisciplinary framework to discuss these actor networks and how they construct their understanding of the game changers affecting their programs and actions. Based on a case study of the iShack initiative in Stellenbosch, South Africa, I conclude that social and system innovations will need to be driven by transformation knowledge co-produced by researchers and social actors who can actively link game-changing dynamics that operate at multiple scales with local-level innovations with potential societal impacts.

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