The idea of transformation to sustainability (T2S), though not entirely a literature of controversy, still means different things to different people.

I consider it to mean a process whereby an individual or groups influence existing functional rubrics of a society towards a higher level of positive change in such a way that generations of today and tomorrow benefit from it. From this perspective, T2S involves large-scale change that leads to multi-faceted positive outcomes. What do I mean by large-scale change? A change that fully or partially embraces ideological, environmental, economic and social (including political and cultural), innovations. It should be a change that improves the living standard and conditions of people and their environment. Granted that transformational processes do not always have positive outcomes, I prefer to align to the positive.

My reason is a very simple one. Having positive outlook is an important factor for achieving outcomes that lead to development at every level (local, national or global). It is noteworthy that the idea behind T2S goes beyond mere development. It embraces values, attitudes and place-based attributes that define human existence and survival. It is not just about the individual or group of people. The social system forms the core of any T2S process while the quest to attain sustainability brings into the focus, in addition to the social, the economic and environmental concerns.

The sustainability factor in the search for T2S of societies is a strategy for all of us, as the Human Elephant Foundation of South Africa puts it, to “think big” and “tread lightly”. Considering the social system component, a T2S requires a shift in the collective lifestyle a society. Again, the individual or group have roles to play here. At least in propelling the external or internal stimulus necessary for creating a shift to a better situation.

Such individual or groups can come from the leadership, followership, and academic/research communities, among others. The objective should be to instil or restore social revitalisation, economic improvements and environmental prosperity — based on principles of good, effective, efficient and developmental governance. When the process of T2S adopts these efforts, they can form pivots for tackling the many global challenges facing us today. For instance, poverty and growing inequalities, energy consumption, water and food security, climate change and biodiversity loss, among others.

Eliminating or alleviating these challenges through T2S calls for an understanding of social dynamics surrounding the problems, the people affected and those working to improve them. However, the sustainability factor in T2S is very difficult to implement because it requires more than social adaptation to solving the problems. It requires economic and environmental adaptations to dealing with these challenges. That is why the sacrifice is so high that it requires long-term planning, high technological investments, considerable material resources and funding, and huge natural and human resource pooling. It cuts across cultural borders, academic disciplines and multi-interest ideas. It is necessary for achieving many development objectives. For instance, it can enthrone the promotion of developmental governance and sustainable natural resource management. It can lead to the attainment of efficient land tenure, land management and environmental risk management. It can help in the achievement of functional rural and urban development, responsible use of information and technological, among many others. ISSC’s 2012 publication, Transformative Cornerstones of Social Science Research for Global Change (p.4), clearly notes that:

In the face of ever-expanding environmental problems and disaster risks on the one hand, and converging crises of climate, inequality, food, water, finance and social discontent on the other, the focus of demand falls sharply on innovative, sustainable social solutions.

These challenges form the core reasons on why all human species should work towards achieving T2S within their immediate societies and beyond. However, critical hurdles exist. The difficulties encountered in meandering through development ideologies, political systems and cultural boundaries constitute challenges. But local knowledge and local conditions and realities provide opportunities for action. And the invaluable role education and information availability play in the T2S of societies means that academics and multidisciplinary researchers (especially social scientists) should work as promoters and facilitators of T2S.

This short statement represents my understanding of T2S. It surely means different things to different individuals, groups, cultures and academic disciplines. I believe that the more we grasp T2S from the each other’s perspectives, the more we shape the general import of the term. That is the purpose of presenting my opinion on the issue here. I know there are many other opinions out there.

So, what does T2S mean to you?

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