Sustainable development specialist
‘I am most thrilled by the power of thinking and imagination to change the way we solve social, environmental and economic challenges,” says Lauren Hermanus, a specialist in sustainable development who focusses on urban resilience and energy innovation. “Our ability to think up new futures for our cities and societies presents us with blueprints that allow us to act differently today.”
Resilience is essentially the ability of a system — composed of people, ecosystems and built infrastructure — to recover and even thrive after a lasting change or a shock, she explains. “I’m interested in urban (city and town) resilience. We can ask, for example, how resilient the City of Cape Town is, given that we are not doing very well in the face of this drought.” Complexity thinking — an approach to making sense of the world which emphasises the interconnection between things in the world, and the fact that these multiple relationships unfold in time — formed the basis of research for Hermanus’ first master’s degree and has continued to inform her approach to all her work. Hermanus works in both the public and private sectors, applying complexity thinking to development challenges.
In 2016, she co-founded Massive Small Collective, a global network of researchers and practitioners focused on incremental and citizen-led urban development. Hermanus — who has just completed her second masters in development — is also a researcher on the international European Union-funded GreenWin project, which promotes bottom-up solutions to energy poverty and resilience. From 2014 to 2016 she served as the green economy coordinator for the Western Cape government, developing the first green economy indicators in the country. These indicate progress in the development of a greener, more sustainable economy: for example how much carbon is emitted through electricity generation. Hermanus led the process of getting this information, working with people across government departments and drawing on advice from national and international stakeholders.
“It is critical that human beings find more viable ways of interacting with each other and with natural systems if we are to increase wellbeing and opportunities to thrive for all people,” she says.
— Fatima Asmal