Better Living Challenge


(In)vested Interest

Jun 26, 2015

(Left to right) Structural Home winner Chris Whyte of USE-IT, Minister for Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela and Cabral Wicht from 110% Green

A commitment by the Western Cape Government to invest in innovation is creating a pipeline to market for current and future design solutions to low-income housing issues.

The words “government” and “innovation” aren’t always commonly associated – but new models for unlocking innovation in the Western Cape are proving that government, working hand-in-hand with the private sector and civil society, can achieve remarkable things. This is encouraging considering that, since 2013, the number of South Africans entrepreneurs has dropped by an alarming 34% according to the Global Entrepreneur Monitor (GEM) 2014 report released in January 2015.

Commenting on the GEM results from the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), Keet van Zyl, co-founder of Knife Capital and the Course Convenor at UCT GSB, says: “Entrepreneurship does not happen in a vacuum. The main reason why it is not flourishing in South Africa is because the entire ecosystem is fragmented. There is not enough cooperation and collaboration to support entrepreneurship in South Africa and while separate initiatives exist from the side of corporations and government, there is not enough glue between them to really make a significant impact.”

With South Africa’s socio-economic and job creation challenges well documented, it is essential that new approaches are developed to support SMMEs and nurture innovative new ideas. In the Western Cape the push is happening on a number of fronts, and the Western Cape Government is a key player with its focus on addressing issues faced by communities, growing the economy and creating jobs.

In 2013, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille initiated a high-level tour in the Western Cape, known as Smart Innovation on Tour, that showcased sustainable and green solutions; and in 2014, Cape Town’s designation as World Design Capital provided an incredible platform for design thinking and innovative, design-driven solutions as part of the project implementation.

The Better Living Challenge – a Provincial Government-funded vehicle and an official WDC2014 project – is an interesting case of a project that has unearthed and is supporting some remarkable innovations. It focuses specifically on developing low-cost solutions to the daily challenges faced by poorer communities – ensuring that solutions with positive social impact make it into the marketplace.

The project opened for its first round of entries in 2014, and in 2015 it is distributing considerable support services to its winners, enabling product development and access to market. As a collaborative project between the public sector, private sector and civil society, the Better Living Challenge provides proof of how good investment and effective partnerships work well to create value for the greater community and to foster change for the better. The results being shown pay tribute to the Western Cape Government’s commitment to improve low-income living conditions through economically viable and sustainable design solutions.

This collaborative interplay between the public and private sectors and civil society, has not only been critical to the success of the project, but is also a critical ingredient in fostering innovation in the greater context of the developing world. According to the Global Innovation Index for 2013 (GII 2013) published by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), “the interplay of different actors, the transfer of tacit knowledge and deeper cooperation and trust generated within critical relationships to share and impart knowledge and co-create technology solutions is vital.”

Working within this ethos, the Better Living Challenge category winners and several finalists have taken significant forward strides in making their products and services more readily available to the intended communities. Several finalists have installed their products in “living laboratory” situations within actual homes in low-income communities, funded by the Better Living Challenge and facilitated by its implementation partner, Think Inn.

An example is Comfortable Home category winner Lumkani, an early fire detection warning device that is now in use in over 600 homes, with plans to install a further 3000 devices in informal settlements. The Lumkani team is harnessing its Better Living Challenge support services to upgrade the device in order to gain SABS approval, making the product more viable.

Structural Home category winner Chris Whyte of USE-IT‘s Compressed Earth Blocks recently presented to the Minister for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela – bearing out the approach of government openness to new innovative ideas. CEBs are building blocks manufactured from waste material and soil destined for landfills. They’re 3-5 times stronger than concrete blocks, cheaper, ten times more thermally efficient, and environmentally friendly too.

The Better Living Challenge is funded by the Department of Human Settlements, together with Economic Development and Tourism, and is driven by the 110 % Green initiative, which aims at boosting the green economy. Jenny Cargill, a special advisor to the Premier of the Western Cape, and who steers 110% Green said:  “We are very pleased with the results of the Better Living Challenge as these indicate a well-placed investment in innovation which promises to have positive commercial spin-offs in the green economy.”

It is among a host of initiatives to encourage and support innovation – another example is the Western Cape’s inaugural funding fair held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre this year. Over 600 applications were received from entrepreneurs vying for more than R10 million in funding. The project is a partnership between the province’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism and Deloitte.

The Better Living Challenge, as a long-term and proactive commitment on the part of Western Cape Government to finding solutions through innovation, will continue to support products and services aimed at improving the lives of those living in low-income communities where pressing daily needs exist. In 2016, the competition will continue to surface innovative, affordable and green design solutions by opening for a new round of entries. It – along with the many other projects rolling out to develop entrepreneurs and innovation in the Western Cape – provides tangible reasons for optimism that the right “glue” is being developed in the Western Cape to grow local entrepreneurship.