By Charndré Emma Kippie
Janine Espin is currently the Co-Owner and Managing Director of Economic Development Solutions (EDS) (Pty) Ltd, a consulting firm focusing on Economic Transformation and Community Participation. With over 15 years’ experience within corporate transformation, she was a frontline leader in the implementation of BEE and the development of the ICT Sector Transformation Charter in South Africa. Thereafter, Janine branched out into independent consulting within the fields of transformation and BEE, in 2005.
After relocating to Johannesburg in 2010, Janine met her current business partners, and after merging her consulting firm with a newly formed entity, EDS was born.
She has worked in various African countries, namely Angola, DRC, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania, to name a few. Janine is a strong social facilitator and enjoys working with both rural communities and corporate top structures to ensure a holistic approach to transformation and inclusion, whilst managing the business imperative. She is an entrepreneur and social philanthropist who remains passionate about economic transformation and equal opportunities for all.
Please tell us a bit about your organisation/business.
Economic Development Solutions (EDS) is a consulting firm which specialises in Economic Development (ED) compliance management and reporting, particularly in relation to industries such as construction, large-scale renewable energy projects and mining (termed Social and Labour Plans for the mining industry). The company also focuses on programme implementation management such as socio-economic development, enterprise, and supplier development programmes, particularly within the rural areas. This includes monitoring, evaluation, return on investment assessments, reporting, and stakeholder engagement.
EDS has additional business interests within Mining and Exploration through its sister company, Mhloli Mining and Exploration (Pty) Ltd, and within the Tourism Sector, through its wholly owned subsidiary EDS Systems. Via our IT Systems Development experience, we have branched out, into Carbon Tax reporting and have recently launched our online system called EcoGauge.
The EDS team members have 35+ years of collective experience within the B-BBEE, Economic Transformation, Strategy, Business Development, Monitoring and Evaluation, Compliance Reporting and Project Management sphere.
We support the principle of appointing local persons when required. This company principle has been demonstrated on numerous occasions when we have worked on long-term projects in the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and the Free State. In these instances, EDS has implemented a rigorous upskilling programme in order to ensure that all the required competencies are met, whilst our head office team provides the overall support structures and regular onsite assessments.
What does your role at EDS entail?
As the Managing Director and Shareholder, I work closely with my business partner to identify opportunities for strategic development both internally and externally. I am very lucky to work with a well-balanced middle management team who helps to ensure that our business objectives are continuously being met. As a management team, we continuously engage to ensure that our teams meet the project obligations within the stipulated budgets and deadlines.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, our team has shrunk and with that comes added responsibilities with a limited workforce. I have therefore had to step in, where necessary to assist the various project teams and provide operational leadership, support, and guidance in a greater operational capacity.
Lastly, I find that when it comes to business development or networking, even though we do have someone who is responsible for business development, most companies still want to interact with the management of the business, so I find myself participating in these ventures as well.
From a community development project perspective, I believe that ‘sustainability’ means that the project must have community-based buy-in, support and participation, which will allow us to eventually exit the project in the long-term, whilst the project continues to run successfully.
‘Sustainability’ also means that we need to manage our waste. For example, in urban areas many of our landfill sites are near capacity, and in rural areas, many towns do not even have functional landfill sites. Waste is therefore piling up, which could be repurposed and used for secondary consumption in different ways; so recycling or upcycling is crucial to the overall sustainability management. Water management is also currently top of mind. From a business perspective, we have developed EcoGuage, our Carbon Tax monitoring and reporting system in order to participate in ensuring that businesses operate in a sustainable manner.
Why are you passionate about ESG initiatives?
I have worked as a transformation facilitator for many years, including corporate sensitisation to help prepare for cultural integration and community and social development in the rural areas. Honesty, transparency, and good communication are all key fundamentals when engaging within these sectors. Therefore, ESG is a natural extension to this thought process. I also love nature, and therefore environmental well-being is close to my heart.
What important trends have you witnessed in the last year in terms of Sustainability in SA?
In my view, the Covid-19 pandemic has side-lined many sustainability and compliance issues in order for businesses to focus on survival. Despite the number of waves we have endured, it seems we are moving towards recovery which will enable businesses to reprioritise sustainability. However, we will remain conscious and aware of the costs associated with this compliance.
Sustainability, compliance and in particular, Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) compliance requirements are intertwined. For businesses to actually have an effect on their industry, their environment, economy and communities, compliance needs to be viewed holistically. As businesses must comply with many regulations that apply to their business or industry, I am seeing many compliance issues and/or strategies begin to overlap. In some instances, this means that approaches begin to contradict each other, and organisations become more susceptible to surprises, whilst also being bogged down in the administration of compliance. The cost of this compliance is also often looked upon negatively and viewed as a grudge purchase. Furthermore, politics in South Africa will always play a big role in how business perceives legal compliance and with all of the allegations of corruption and negligence by the Government, unfortunately, I believe that many businesses understand the need. However, that put together with the current survival mode, businesses may opt to regard ESG as a ‘nice to have’ and not a ‘must have’.
As such, businesses are starting to recognise the need to integrate ESG into strategic decision-making processes and the benefits, such as resilience and creating certainty within the organisation and the surrounding communities, are being recognised. Ultimately, businesses will need to find ways to incorporate ESG into a way of life.
What are some of your favourite milestones that you’ve achieved in your career thus far?
Firstly, I think my work experience within the rest of the continent will always remain a major achievement, especially because at the time I was working in these countries, it was not acceptable for women to travel and consult to large corporates.
I have always worked in male-dominated industries and believe that I have reached a point where I am respected by my clients, colleagues and associates, irrespective of race and gender. This is a personal achievement.
Lastly, the fact that our business has remained trading throughout COVID-19. We have continued to make inroads, deliver on our remaining projects and have leads for new and great opportunities in the near future.
Do you have any good recommendations for books on Sustainability?
I recommend Strategic Sustainability by Daniel Fogel and Sustainability Principles and Practices by Margaret Robertson.
If you could solve one ESG-related problem in the world, what would it be, and why?
Perception – because we have so many people who don’t realise that we are in a crisis and we need to change how we do things in order to survive. Waste Management and Water Management are two of the most crucial elements which need to be focused on as a matter of urgency. How we engage with each other is also crucial as this relates to how we interact both in business and within social development.
Do you have any words of inspiration to get the youth more involved with Sustainability efforts?
To our youth, I would say that they need to be aware of the broader environment and to follow life journeys that will allow them to be exposed to different cultures and social environments. I think once they are exposed to the issues of sustainability and how to address or manage sustainability efforts in the future will come naturally to them (I hope).
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