This proposed project is titled Sustainable Smart Communities (SSC for short). It is about promoting more sustainable development patterns in South African and Namibian settlements. This means improved housing, better access to energy and clean water as well as economic and social development in terms of training, youth employment and entrepreneurship, for instance. In short, it is supposed to be an integrated approach to develop urban and urbanizing areas where resources are scarce, and poverty exists.
One of the most fascinating parts of this effort is that it has been designed, from its very beginning, together with the Namibian and South African partners. They have brought in such insights that we in Finland could never have thought even though there are many of us in the Finnish part of the consortium that have former experience of those countries.
It is a project where research and business are put together for mutual benefit: our research team will benefit from being in the center of many activities and thus gaining in-depth knowledge and understanding to further develop our model of ecosystem-based research and innovation projects for sustainability. The companies, I hope, will benefit from our research and coordination activities by receiving frequent feedback on their prospects, solutions and impacts. The project would serve them as a testbed to see how their products could fit in to the African circumstances and possibly how to modify them. Ultimately, people living in those existing or new enhanced settlements will benefit from increased welfare. They will also have more assets to build their own prosperity – if things go as planned.
Now we just must wait for the financer to study our application and the plans that were included. Immediately after I had pushed the ‘submit’ button in the financer’s electronic application system, I began my summer holiday (of course I informed all partners about the successful submission of the application first). I have rarely, if ever, felt such an immense satisfaction from submitting a project proposal than I did this time: the whole process from the first project preparation meetings to this point had lasted about one and a half years! I must admit that, as the process took so much time and consisted of many hindrances and drawbacks, I sometimes had my doubts if I would ever see the day when we would be ready to submit. I felt such a relief for that process to be over that laying back and resting had seldom felt so good.
The covid-19 pandemic did not help the process. During the spring and the beginning of the summer, the last critical miles had to be walked in isolation where we were able to communicate only through video conferences or phone conversations. Those were not ideal circumstances to begin a collaboration with somebody new to you when you are not able to meet face-to-face to build mutual trust. But somehow, we succeeded. Of course, it is possible that some potential partners were left out because of these unusual conditions. Nevertheless the pandemic has not gone away and actually it is still diffusing further in the Southern Africa, so it may be that we still have to wait a long time for the actualization of the project, if we will be lucky with the funding.
Now that my summer holiday is over, my feelings are exceptionally relaxed and calm. For decades, it has always been a life of “project after project” whereas now I can have some time to properly breath; I feel that somehow, I deserve some time to be careless. But I also know that if we can go ahead with the Sustainable Smart Communities project, this very special time of being careless will soon be over… I know from my earlier experiences that an effort to integrate research, business and development impacts in a different culture than my own is far from easy.
And yet, I am so eagerly waiting for it. Of course, it is because the project is so important as it may mean a lot for hundreds of people (hopefully even many more than that) that are at present living in precarious conditions and are exposed to different risks such as flooding, disease, or hunger. It also feels good to have a prospect to work on a project where there are so many chances of collaborating and getting to know people who share similar goals but who live on the other side of the planet. Work can’t get better than that.
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But what if we won’t get the funding we have applied for? I am actually very confident of our chances simply because I feel that the already existing Finnish-Namibian-South African consortium and its plan is so lucrative. But what if, after all?
Uh, I do not want to think about that too much or else my carefree times would become just a nice though fading memory…. and now once I had reached such a state of mind.