Just transition: Lessons from South Africa’s most mature multi-stakeholder dialogue platform

Last week WWF South Africa took the learning of the Food Lab to the “world’s largest gathering of multi-stakeholder dialogues” (so defined by Chairman of the EAT Advisory Board, Johan Rockström). With over a thousand delegates from 80 countries, Eat Forum in Stockholm was an historic moment in advancing global food transformation.

One of EAT Forum’s steps in the six step path for the great food transformation is to get involved in local dialogues. Additionally, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) is explicit in their Nutrition and Food Systems Strategic Programme that if the continent is to catalyse and support an agenda around food and nutrition as the basis of the continent’s future then multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches, including dialogue, is essential. The WWF funded Lab is the only multi-stakeholder food system dialogue platform in Africa and possibly the longest running food dialogue platform in the world andthis is a powerful endorsement of the dialogue-dependent methodology the Lab has evolved over the last decade in transforming the South African food system.

The side event, which was funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, was titled Just Transition: Lessons from South Africa’s most mature multi-stakeholder dialogue platform and placed its focus on how dialogue as a mechanism for social inclusion supports socio-ecological system transition. The side event drew a range of participants from Africa and Europe all interested in exploring the dialogue process as an option in their own domain.


The panel was chaired by WWF South Africa’s Tatjana von Bormann* and consisted of Dr Scott Drimie, Director of the Food Lab, Kefilwe Moalosi from the AUDA NEPAD, who provided continental insights, Greg Garret, Director of Policy and Finance, Gain, who provided international insights and Kevin O’Brian, Group Risk and Sustainability Executive, Spar Group, who shared reflections from the perspective of industry. Kevin’s input was acknowledged by one participant as being a refreshingly and encouragingly independent self-reflective business voice.

A central theme of the morning was the need to engage business in transparent dialogue processes. One participant highlighted the point that as long as retailers continue to market to children, it remains impossible to build trust. There was general consensus around the point that companies need to accept that they are part of the problem and will fail to become part of the solution as long as the solutions they propose are self-serving.

Other themes that captured the group’s interest were the issues of building trust, managing power dynamics and engaging smallholders along with the challenge of the aspirational appeal of shopping in South African and European retail environments.

The conversation demonstrated that while the Lab was expressed in South Africa, there are common experiences and challenges across the continent, ensuring that what has been learnt through Lab processes over the past ten years, particularly in terms of the value of careful design and facilitation, is of great value in adding to the suite of solutions needed to bring about change toward a food system that holds social justice at its core.

* Read Tatjana’s reflections on the broader EAT Forum event on the WWF South Africa blog here