Kibera is Africa’s largest slum (with over 1 million inhabitants) and one of the most spectacular testaments to the transforming power of human ingenuity I’ve ever seen.With huge limitations on land, energy, water and food, people’s survival depends on how ingenious and innovative they can be. My favourite story is of how a local farming company Green Dreams is working with a group of reformed young criminals to convert garbage into organic manure and transform the slum garbage dump into an organic farms. The google earth shots are amazing.
Three months after clearing the dump, a community of 30 families were harvesting, eating and selling organic produce, and are now selling their expertise to raise funds and help others.
The French might call it ‘bricolage’, Csikszentmihalyi describes it as generating energy from entropy – a key to Flow. My friend’s nana would say it was making a silk purse from a sows ear, and my kids did it every time they dove into the ‘making box’ of discarded milk cartons and loo rolls to create a mythical creature or a full suit of armour. The business equivalent is leveraged resourcefulness – the ability to see what’s possible, then to use what you’ve already got to achieve it. I call it ingenuity. It is the core ingredient of all innovation and change and is absolutely intrinsic to all human beings, teams, organisations and brands.
You can transform your garbage dumps in two ways, both of which require that you see things with fresh eyes, looking beyond what you assume is there to what is really there. Either you can start with the possibilities of the materials (it’s not garbage, it’s stuff, so how else could you use it?) or start with a vision of what you would like to create and reassess what you’ve got within that context. The Kiberans recognised that under the garbage was land, and that much of the garbage or waste could be recycled to provide nutrients. Fred Walker & Co recognised that leftover brewers’ yeast extract (a waste product of beer manufacture) could become a nutritious spread, and ultimately the cultural icon that is Vegemite. FujiXerox’s waste toneris sold to local steel mills for use in production, and they are investigating its use as a non-renewable fuel replacement.
What resources have you failed to recognise in your garbage heap? And what farms could you build instead?