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The sustainability dilemma

Sep 21,2020 - Last updated at Sep 21,2020

Several problems stand between us and the outcomes we desire. One of which is sustainability. When we establish a project of any sort, we devote a lot attention to it and we give it a lot of focus at the start. As time goes by, however, our enthusiasm and focus seem to abate and the results end up most often unsatisfactory. The success we achieve at the beginning in much of what we do, slowly comes to a halt, and we end up with frustrating results.

This is especially true with the public sector, of course.

Soon a lot of dissatisfaction surfaces, and we start talking about strategies of reform and change, without doing much in reality.

Things become business as usual, and many start criticising, satirising and lamenting. A culture of negativity flourishes, and each is blaming others for what went wrong.

And we are good at the blame game, drowning ourselves in a sea of words, rather than taking the initiative to act and fix matters.

The true cause of our failure to deliver the desired results is, among other things, due to absence of the sustainability culture; and this is the story behind many of our key ideas, key projects, key facilities and key institutions in the public sector.

To be sure, several of our projects and institutions do live up to our expectations, and we have several stories of success to tell; many, however, do not.

Look around, and you find this pattern reflected in the status of many of our roads, our hospitals, our schools, our playgrounds, our companies and our institutions.

It is as if what is important is the establishment phase, and not the succeeding phases of assessment, development, diversification, rehabilitation, enhancement  and refinement.

The best way to explain our dilemma could be the car metaphor.

When one buys a car, one must continue to take care of it, focusing on its continuous maintenance, in accordance with a strict plan. A well-maintained car continues to function well, and experiences either zero or few problems or breakdowns.

If we do not maintain correctly and meticulously, the car fails us.

The car metaphor epitomises well what happens at many of our institutions a few years after their establishment, many of which fail to receive the expert attention from those in charge, who think of uplifting, improving and developing as somewhat unnecessary.

Institutions cannot take care of themselves; we have to take care of them. It is those in charge who need to prioritise their maintenance and putting in place the necessary quality mechanisms.

This is especially true at present, more than at any time before, as developments and changes in our contemporary world are quick and voluminous.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has dawned on us for a couple of decades at least, and the Fifth Industrial Revolution, which is dawning upon now, are marked by so many complex changes in a variety of realms and spheres.

To catch up with the emerging developments, we have to be on top of things; and people who are in charge of our institutions need to be alert to new challenges and developments, and new ways of fixing matters.

We need also when thinking of the welfare of institutions to prioritise budgets for sustenance, maintenance and improvement; and not just those for the establishment phase.

A healthy institution is like a healthy body: periodic checkups, the right diet and the right exercise yield positive results.

Sustainability is key, and we seem to be better at establishing than at maintaining or enhancing.

This is our sustainability dilemma.


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