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The South has a Good Story to Tell

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The fast-changing modern world is raising the living standards of billions in the South – China alone has lifted 400 million people out of poverty since the 1980s – but it is also risking the loss of many rich cultural traditions. One of them is storytelling.

Oral storytelling is a critical tool for passing on history, while teaching morals and ethics, especially in societies with low rates of literacy and little formal education. But with the rise of modern media and advertising, few traditional storytellers – many of whom are old – stand a chance. Populations are on the move like never before. As more and more people end up in sprawling cities, many are becoming disconnected from their roots.

Yet across the South, people are finding ways to re-invent story telling — and also to make money, preserve cultural pride and feed the appetite for novelty in hungry, modern media and business.

In 1997, storytelling was acknowledged by UNESCO, which pledged to back humanity’s oral and immaterial heritage, and to protect a vast number of oral and musical traditions, crafts and knowledge – plus the “living human treasures” who possess them. It backed this up in 2003 with the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It supports storytelling through its International Programme for the Development of Communication.

But what about the young – the most important generation for storytelling to have a future? In Bogota, Colombia, students have started a movement of urban storytellers. Aged between 17 and 35, they draw on the things they have learned in university. They eschew linear narration and instead adopt the popular language of films and advertising. Inspired by one television commercial, a story revolves around a drop of tomato sauce falling from a high-rise building, sparking a gun battle. The staccato narrative takes inspiration from post-modern authors like Italo Calvino. It is also the perfect narrative to capture modern, urban audiences who live in a world saturated with media.

By blending together ancestral and post-modern tales, these student storytellers are luring Latin Americans back to listening to stories. Live storytelling, when done well, has an ability to connect with other people like no other medium. This new generation also is helping make Colombia a gathering place for storytellers in Latin America, expressed in events like the Hay Festival Cartegena, a literary event that draws authors from around the world.

But is there any money in storytelling? Tale-spinners like Argentinian Juan Moreno say yes. Moreno quit teaching 17 years ago to tell stories for money in theatres, bars, universities and libraries, tapping into a contemporary marketplace for storytelling.

In fact, it is better paid than acting in the theatre, he claims, and if you are good, it comes with lots of travel. There is a global round of congresses, festivals and seminars to keep storytellers connected, inspired – and paid.

Moreno now makes money teaching many professions how to use stories to be more powerful communicators. He told the UNESCO Courier, “the value of the spoken word, words that heal and restore, that can give life but also take it away,” are key to many fields, like law and social work.

The world centres of storytelling are very much focused on the South. The International Congress of Oral Storytelling, part of the Buenos Aires Book Fair, has been running every year since 1995. At the Congress, tips are exchanged over the subtle tricks of timing and voice, gestures and facial expressions. Other Southern cities with storytelling events, include Bucaramanga, Colombia, Monterrey, Mexico and Agüimes, in the Canary Islands.

While young people are breathing new life into storytelling, Morocco’s legendary storytellers have been facing a common dilemma seen across the developing and developed world: how can they compete with flashier and more distracting pastimes like computer games and TV?

Illiteracy in Morocco affects 40 per cent of the population, so telling stories is an excellent way to reach this non-reading group. Stories and parables have long been seen as a great way to convey ideas, values and philosophies.

But Morocco’s storytelling sages, or halakis, are using their heads and turning to computers to get their stories told, and prevent their thousand-year tradition from dying out. With the help of UNESCO, the halakis have created a digital archive of their stories in audio and video.

Based in Marrakesh’s famous main square, Jemaa al-Fna, they compete in a hury burly of street entertainers and aromatic foods; it is a place where men with monkeys vie with snake charmers for your attention. Morocco’s storytellers would set up in the public squares of the cities of Fes, Meknes and Marrakesh to entertain crowds and educate about morality. These would include the ethical values of kindness, honour and chivalry. But Marrakesh is now the only place where a half dozen old men (there used to be 20 in Marrakesh) still practice this ancient art form.

UNESCO declared the square in 2001 part of the world’s “Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Video recorders have been documenting the storytellers and chronicling them on the internet.

Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo, who spends part of his year in Marrakesh, has championed the halakis in his book, Marrakesh Tales, and in bringing UNESCO in to help them. He has defended their corner against the plans of city planners and developers.

Seventy-one-year-old Moulay Mohammed is blunt about the current state of storytelling: “Young Moroccans would rather watch TV soap operas than listen to a storyteller, much less become one themselves,” he told the BBC. Mohammed’s stock-in-trade is the Old Testament and all of A Thousand and One Nights: both tales of sultans, thieves, wise men and fools, mystics, genies, viziers and belly dancers. And he has been telling these tales for 45 years.

In South Africa, digital technology is also breathing new life into storytelling – and infusing the stories with urgent, contemporary issues like HIV, and domestic and sexual violence. South African women are using digital technology to preserve traditional storytelling: A collection of 15 digital stories – called “I Have Listened, I Have Heard” – made in 2006 are being distributed along with books. They assembled the stories using audio recorders and made movies of the readings with digital cameras. It was funded by the Foundation for Human Rights and made at the Women’s Net Computer Training Centre in Johannesburg.

The storytellers worked together on each script, taking a day. They would tell the group a story focusing on particular experiences or meaningful moments in their lives. The group would comment and draw out the best bits of the story. The whole process helps the story teller to flesh out the story with metaphors, narrative techniques and milestones.

Resources

  • The basics of story telling are answered in this webpage: www.timsheppard.co.uk
  • Singapore International Story Telling Festival 2008: This year’s festival also includes a new addition: Asian Digital Storytelling Festival
  • International Congress of Oral Storytelling: Held from 2-4 May 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Website: www.el-libro.org.ar
  • Folk Tales: Online project where Pakistani students and their teachers share folklore and fables with students around the world. Website: www.edutopia.org
  • Thirsty-Fish: Story and Strategy: A consultancy that helps businesses build their brands based on age-old practices of storytelling. Website: www.thirsty-fish.com

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Global South’s Rising Economies Gain Investor Spotlight

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A new book is arguing that the world’s attention should switch away from BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and take another look at nations and regions elsewhere across the global South. It argues many are lodestones of future growth and prosperity in the making and will see dramatic changes over the next decade.

The story of the BRIC and BRICS countries is an impressive one. In just eight years from 2000 to 2008, the BRIC countries’ combined share of total world economic output rose from 16 to 22 per cent. This led to a 30 per cent increase in global output during the period, showing how key these countries were to global prosperity in the 2000s. BRIC countries make up nearly half the world’s population and are regional leaders. Taken together, their gross domestic products (GDPs) are not far behind the United States.

Ruchir Sharma’s Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles (http://www.amazon.com/Breakout-Nations-Pursuit-Economic-Miracles/dp/0393080269) argues that the BRICS are now entering a more stable growth path and thus will not see the rapid-fire expansion and quick profits investors have become used to in the past decade.

“The BRICs,” Sharma told Forbes magazine, “were last decade’s team.”

The BRIC acronym (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRIC) was coined in 2001 by Goldman Sachs managing director Jim O’Neill, in a 2001 paper titled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs” (http://www.goldmansachs.com/ourthinking/brics/building-better.html). O’Neill predicted that this handful of countries would dominate the growth and economic development story for the years 2000 to 2010. This was because they all shared a similar stage of advanced economic development.

The BRIC states first began meeting together in 2006. South Africa was added in 2010 to form the BRICS acronym.

The buzz surrounding the BRICS countries over the past decade has been justified by their impressive growth rates, declining poverty levels,modernizing economies and societies and growing middle class populations.

China alone had seen its gross domestic product grow by US $5 trillion between 2001 and 2011.

Now, Sharma argues, it is someone else’s turn.

Sharma is head of emerging markets with Morgan Stanley Investment Management in New York, and Breakout Nations looks at where the next economic surprise stories will take place.

“A breakout nation is a nation that will grow above expectations, and will grow more than nations with similar per capita income,” Sharma told Forbes. “You can’t bunch all of the emerging markets together anymore. The last decade saw these countries behaving the same economically, but I think that is behind us now. Investors today will really have to pick their spots.”

He points out that Indonesia was the best performing emerging market in 2011 and has an economy that will surpass a trillion dollars in the coming years.

He also believes Sri Lanka and Nigeria are economies to watch.

Sharma says funds flowing into emerging market stocks grew by 478 per cent from 2005 to 2010, a massive jump compared to 2000 to 2005, when they grew by 92 per cent.

As he sees it, China has now reached middle-income status and its growth rates will not be as high as they have been for the past two decades. In his research, he found that countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all slowed down once their per capita income went past US $5,000.

Investors who watch the emerging markets predict the hot growth areas for the next decade will be around energy, technology, and agricultural resources.

Sharma picks out Indonesia, Turkey, the Philippines, Poland and the Czech Republic for future investment interest, but urges caution with thinking all emerging economies are on course to boom.

“You’ve got to pick your spots, rather than just assume that because you put a tag of emerging on a particular nation, it’s going to boom,” Sharma told The Globe and Mail newspaper.

To make sense of the complexity of fast-emerging economies, a flurry of new investor acronyms has popped up. One of the country clusters is called the CIVETS: Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIVETS).

The MINTS (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) are also set for great growth in the next decade, many investors believe.

Then there is the N-11 or Next 11. This is the MINTS plus Bangladesh, Egypt,Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.

And after that there is VISTA (Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina). While clearly the creative juices are flowing at investment houses as they come up with ever-catchier acronyms, a more serious point is being made: many countries in the global South, for the first time in history, are no longer solely dependent on the Western economic system for demand.

These countries, investors note, now have an unprecedented range of options uncoupled from the political, financial and economic legacy of Western developed nations. They say that many nations in the global South are set for a runaway investment boom because they are making changes and modernizing their economies faster than many expect.

As the BRICS economies mature and slow down and take on different priorities based around improving the quality of life of their citizens, those seeking faster profits will look elsewhere. This trend is even happening within the BRICS, as Chinese and Brazilian companies offshore work to Vietnam and Colombia.

There are many new centres of economic activity and rising prosperity across the emerging markets that often fail to gain wider attention. Few would probably know that the Northeast Asian nation of Mongolia – mired in the 1990s in the worst peacetime economic collapse in half a century (http://www.scribd.com/doc/20864541/Mongolia-Update-1998-Book) – is now the world’s fastest-growing economy (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/2012/02/28/what-behind-mongoliaeconomic-boom) and one of the top places for mobile phone usage and penetration (http://www.businessmongolia.com/mongolia/2012/03/19/mongolia-ringing-the-changes/).

Then there is Myanmar (formerly Burma), where many are hoping recent moves toward democracy and improvements in diplomatic relations will lead to an economic boon for the region. Investors are also targeting Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

Reflecting these changing realities, Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank, has been documenting the rising role played by the Chinese currency in international trade. A recent report forecast US $100 billion (R768 billion) in Sino-African trade would be settled in the Chinese currency, the renminbi, by 2015. This would be double the trade between China and Africa in 2010. It also found 70,000 Chinese companies are using the renminbi in international trade transactions.

Resources 

1) Beyondbrics blog: A blog by the Financial Times calling itself “The Ft’s emerging markets hub”. Website: http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/

2) BRICS Summit: The Fourth BRICS Summit was hosted in New Delhi on 29 March 2012 under the overarching theme of “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity.” The Summit has imparted further momentum to the BRICS process. Website: bricsindia.in

3) Market Oracle: A good source for updates on investor sentiment about the emerging market economies. Website: marketoracle.co.uk

4) Monocle magazine: “A briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design” often featuring trends in the emerging market countries. Website:

monocle.com

5) BRICS Information Centre, University of Toronto. Website: brics.utoronto.ca

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.

This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.

But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.

Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.

The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.

China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.

But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.

The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”

The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.

The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.

Construction is well underway and can be followed on the project’s website (http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal.htm). It will be completed in 2020.

This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.

Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.

An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.

The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.

It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.

Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.

An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”

The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.

This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.

Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.

The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.

The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.

“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”

Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.

Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.

To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.

The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.

The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.

“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”

The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.

It is possible to visit Masdar City and take a tour (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/105/visit-masdar-city/) and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/32/built-environment/).

Resources

1) Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE): Located in Texas, USA, CITE is a fully functioning city with no residents to test new technologies before they are rolled out in real cities. Website: http://www.pegasusglobalholdings.com/test-center.html

2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website: http://www.eco-city.gov.cn/

4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com

5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com

6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

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Press Release 1 | Southern Innovator

Press Release for General Distribution

New Magazine Targets Innovators in Global South

United Nations, New York, 20 September 2011

  • Global magazine Southern Innovator profiles innovation culture ending poverty
  • 60-page color magazine gives snapshot of fast-changing world

Southern Innovator (SI) is a new magazine for a fast-changing world. It profiles and celebrates the innovators across the global South finding new ways to tackle poverty, create wealth and improve human development and achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs). In its first issue, Southern Innovator features the people who are re-shaping new technologies – from mobile phone ‘apps’ to Internet technologies – to overcome poverty and to improve the quality of life in some of the poorest places on earth.

SI is based on intensive research and is produced by UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (www.southerninnovator.org). The Unit is the leading organisation in the world tasked with the goal of sharing knowledge across the global South. It organises events including the yearly South-South Expo (www.southsouthexpo.org), a roaming celebration and gathering of Southern innovators previously held in New York and Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s Expo will be held in Rome, Italy (5 to 9 December 2011).

SI is being distributed around the world through the United Nations network and partners and reaches some of the poorest and remotest places as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics. The magazine will evolve based on reader responses and this first issue is very much the beginning of a journey. As became clear while researching this first issue, many things can change in a short space of time. Few could have imagined the rapid take-up of mobile phones in Africa and how these phones have become integral to development goals across the continent.

SI magazine is a quarterly publication and the next issues will launch in September and December of this year.

A summary for publication is here:

“Southern Innovator (ISSN 2222-9280) is a quarterly magazine published by the United Nations Development Programme’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation. Launched in May 2011, SI is a new magazine celebrating creativity and innovation emerging from the global South. It explores entrepreneurial solutions to development challenges and uncovers the trends and events shaping the rise of the South in order to spur action on ending extreme poverty and toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”

We hope you enjoy the magazine and find its content interesting and illuminating: a snapshot of a fast-changing world awash, as we found out, with innovators, creators and do-ers making their world a better place.

For more information on Southern Innovator contact Cosmas Gitta at cosmas.gitta@undp.org or editor David South at southerninnovator@yahoo.co.uk.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022