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Giant Flag to mobilise job creation in the Karoo

October 23, 2014 – A multi-dimensional project harnessing several streams of environmental, social and economic activity has been launched in the Karoo in a bid to break the cycle of unemployment and poverty in the Camdeboo Municipality.

Comprising a conference and tourism precinct as well as a 4 megawatt solar panel field, the project takes its name from its most inspired element – a 66 hectare South African flag made up of 2.5 million coloured desert plants (cacti and spekboom).

The brainchild of social change and green activist, Guy Lieberman, the Giant Flag intends generating a socio-economic shift so effective it will change the fortunes of the communities that surround it.

Addressing the crowd gathered for the launch, South Africa’s Deputy Minister in the Department of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa, heralded the Giant Flag as a ‘game-changing initiative’ within the tourism industry praising it for its skills and enterprise development components as well as its value as an engine for creating direct and indirect employment.

“There are myriad challenges facing the tourism and hospitality industry worldwide. In most countries, these are pretty standard, and include economic uncertainty, new patterns of consumer behaviour and demands, keeping pace with technology, for example,” said the Deputy Minister.

“In South Africa, the challenges are different, rooted in historical inequality. The Giant Flag, with its strong desire to level the playing field has broken the mould to significantly change the game. It’s innovative, it’s unique, and the model on which it is based has the potential to do the same in other countries where change is necessary.

“In addition to these socio-economic issues, there are also the questions of climate change, food security and the health of the local ecology. That we can explore innovative tourism initiatives that also address these issues, in blended and robust developments such as the Giant Flag, we begin to ensure that we can — and should — look at things holistically moving forward,” she said.

Camdeboo (which comprises the three Karoo towns of Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen and Nieu-Bethesda), has one of the worst income disparities in South Africa and its people are radically racially and economically divided.

Unemployment in Camdeboo is close to 40%, but its impact on various communities is exacerbated by the associated social problems of poverty, food insecurity, and youth and women unemployment.

It’s a semi-arid area, so practicing agriculture is difficult. There is also limited other economic activity. The Giant Flag will create jobs, most importantly for women, and assist us change our communities for the better.

A trust has been formed to oversee the project, which will cost close to R180 million. Profits from its activities will be fed into an endowment fund, the express purpose of which will be to generate further opportunities in the innovation, green and social sectors in the Camdeboo and Karoo.

Strongly aligned with the National Development Plan, the Giant Flag’s vision is to spark a cycle of economic development that expands opportunities, builds capabilities, and raises living standards while addressing issues of sustainability.

The first phase of the project, the initiation phase, was complete and the project is well into its second phase, the activation phase. The third phase, the build phase, is expected to begin in early in 2015 and cost approximately R170 million. Around R100 million is allocated to the erection of the 60 000m2 solar field and about R70 million for the tourism precinct, plants, white road, and civil works.

With respect to funding, seed funds have been provided by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, Eastern Cape Development Corporation and HRH Princess Irene of The Netherlands. There is a conditional commitment from the Green Fund (Department of Environmental Affairs and the Development Bank of Southern Africa); and exploratory discussions are underway with the National Department of Tourism and the Nedbank Foundation. Additional money will be sourced via a crowd-funding initiative which will be launched shortly.

Other non-monetary support has come from the local municipality (100 hectares of commonage), the SABC Foundation (airtime for a 52-episode series of 2-minute mini-documentaries capturing the making of the Giant Flag), Proudly South African, the Innovation Lab at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (collaboration on technology IP and platforms), Google (an advertising grant of R100 000 per month, in perpetuity, as well as cloud services for the Giant Flag crowd-funding campaign and the web application, and Toyota SA (a Toyota Hilux, Toyota Fortuner, Toyota Quantum and Toyota Corolla).

The following have provided services pro bono: Camdeboo Business Chamber, Camdeboo Local Tourism Organisation, Strategic Environmental Focus SA, SunEdison Solar, Gigawatt Global, Abacus Advisory, Werksmans Attorneys, Africoast Engineers, FCB Redline, Hellocomputer, Green Renaissance, StartUp Nation, EcoMetrix Africa, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), C3 Communications and Threefold.

Layering several streams of environmental, social and economic activity under one over-arching project, that will extend over decades, all the jobs linked to the Giant Flag, either through direct employment, small to medium enterprise (SMME) incubation or contract, will be considered green collar.

Importantly, the Giant Flag will be a direct example of how a low-carbon, innovation economy can function and succeed. And perhaps serve as a blueprint for other projects.

Deliverables of the Giant Flag project include:

• Reduced poverty and inequality, raised employment and investment
• Improved household food and nutrition security
• Broadened social cohesion and unity, redressed inequities of the past
• Boosted private investment in labour intensive areas, competitive and exports, with adjustments to lower the risks of hiring younger workers
• Strengthened youth service programmes, and new community based programmes to offer young people life skills training, entrepreneurship training and opportunities to participate in community development programmes
• Timely interventions to ensure environmental sustainability and resilience to future shocks

There’s more to the Giant Flag than 2.5 million plants and six colours. This is a nation-building initiative that gives back to the community and the country. We get to change lives with this project, which has at its core long-term sustainability and economic development.

CEO of FCB South Africa, the marketing communication group where Lieberman developed the initiative, Brett Morris, said the group wanted to develop a legacy project after witnessing the spirit of unity in its Keep Flying campaign which encouraged South Africans to embrace the national flag beyond the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

“The Giant Flag will be a man-made natural phenomenon, viewable from the flight path that will also generate a national pride campaign, the impact of which will be felt by the local community, throughout the nation, and across the globe. A symbol of the country’s potential, it is intended to mobilise us as a nation to work together for our mutual benefit,” he said.

Itemising the benefits for the environment, community and local economy, Trustee and Legal Counsel, Derek Light, said beneficiaries of the Endowment Fund to be managed by the Trust will be required to enter training and incubation programmes, including life skills and job skills, in order for them to receive microloans.

Outside of the Endowment Fund, the Giant Flag project itself will generate over 700 local, permanent jobs. In addition, all public tenders will favour Camdeboo citizens and companies as a priority, extending to the broader Eastern Cape, he said.

“The sky’s the limit,” enthused Lieberman. “I see opportunity upon opportunity upon opportunity when I visualise the flag and the communities that live around it.

“Local labour will be employed for the construction and planting. In the 18 months it will take to establish just the botanical elements of the Giant Flag, over R5 million would go toward local labour, creating jobs for over 700 people. Up to 60% employed could be women, double the national standard.

“Private sector involvement will have a substantial impact on local tourism and related industries. In addition to increased use of airport facilities and overnight stays, I imagine there’ll be many eco-tourism initiatives directly connected to the Giant Flag.

“Think hot air ballooning and micro-light sky tours of the Giant Flag, honey harvested from the many beehives to be established to pollinate the succulents and cacti, ‘Plant your own Flag’ take away succulent trays.

“South Africa needs initiatives that create ecologically sustainable employment opportunities. The Giant Flag precinct will deliver more than 700 direct jobs, potentially many more, while generating 4 megawatts of electricity which it will sell into the grid and harvesting rainwater for use in the precinct or channelling elsewhere. I cannot think of a more desirable outcome.”

Image 1: SA flag schematic with plants and solar panels
Image 2: The Flag will cover 66 hectares or the equivalent of 21 soccer fields
Image 3: The Giant Flag will be seen from space

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