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  • Steen Hunter

From Kigali to Helsinki: Sustaining Momentum in the Circular Economy

Lessons and Opportunities from Rwanda's Journey and Future Perspectives for Africa

In a world marked by rapid environmental change and resource depletion, the transition towards a circular economy is no longer just an ideal; it has become an urgent necessity. It is against this backdrop that we reflect on the significant strides made during the 6th World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF), that took place in Kigali, Rwanda, from 6-8 December 2022. The event brought together 4,167 forward-looking thinkers and doers from around the world to discuss and present game-changers in the circular economy[1]. This was the first time the forum was held in Africa, and it was co-organized by the African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), the Republic of Rwanda, and The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, with support from international partners[1][2].

During the WCEF 2022, Rwanda unveiled its first Circular Economy Action Plan and Road Map, which includes a 14-year, US$211.3 million action plan for African waste management[3]. The plan provides 17 concrete policy proposals aimed at promoting a circular economy in the region. Additionally, Rwanda was approved and endorsed as a member of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), which will help create an enabling macroeconomic environment and financing to accelerate the circular economy agenda for Rwanda[4].

There is expected significant African representation at the 2023 World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) in Finland. The forum will take place in Helsinki from 30 May to 2 June 2023 and will be co-organized by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and Nordic Innovation, with international partners[1][2]. The event will mobilise numerous partners and socio-economic actors, particularly from Africa, focusing on innovation in the protection of biodiversity[5].

To ensure that the momentum from the 2022 WCEF event carries into the 2023 event from an African perspective, a deep and well-founded strategy should include the following steps:

Collaboration with African organisations and stakeholders: Maintain strong partnerships with organisations like the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) and the African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA). Involve African governments, businesses, and civil society to ensure their perspectives and needs are addressed in the event planning.

Showcase African innovations and success stories: Highlight successful circular economy projects, innovations, and case studies from Africa. Encourage African participants to share their experiences and knowledge, fostering cross-continental learning and collaboration.

Focus on relevant themes and challenges for Africa: Ensure that the event covers topics relevant to Africa's development, such as climate and nature, youth, infrastructure, and sustainable resource management[2].

Engage the African diaspora: Involve members of the African diaspora living abroad in the 2023 WCEF event, leveraging their knowledge, connections, and resources to facilitate collaboration and support for African circular economy initiatives.

Capacity building and skills development: Organise pre-event workshops, training sessions, and webinars focused on building capacity and skills in the African circular economy sector. Facilitate networking and collaboration opportunities for African participants during and after the event.

Monitoring and evaluation: Track the progress and impact of circular economy initiatives in Africa since the 2022 WCEF event. Share the results and lessons learned during the 2023 event, and use this information to guide future actions and policy recommendations.

Ensure accessibility and inclusivity: Make the 2023 WCEF event accessible to African participants by providing scholarships, travel grants, or remote participation options. Offer sessions in multiple languages and create spaces for underrepresented voices to be heard.

Foster long-term relationships and networks: Encourage the formation of strategic partnerships and networks among African participants, international organisations, and businesses. Support the establishment of regional and national circular economy hubs in Africa that can continue to promote the circular economy beyond the 2023 event.

With Rwanda unveiling its first Circular Economy Action Plan and Road Map, the WCEF laid out tangible goals and policy proposals aimed at fostering a circular economy in the region. The coming 2023 WCEF in Finland holds a promise of continuing this trajectory of progress, with a significant African representation expected.

We identify Rwanda's membership and endorsement of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) as one of the most important steps in their integration into the circular economy. The PAGE is an international alliance of five UN agencies aimed at supporting nations in transitioning to a green economy. As a member, Rwanda can benefit from the Partnership’s resources, expertise, and international network to advance its circular economy agenda. Here are four significant benefits that Rwanda can hope to achieve by continuing their work with PAGE:

  • Firstly, through PAGE, Rwanda can gain assistance in creating an enabling macroeconomic environment, which is crucial for the implementation of the circular economy principles. This might involve policy adjustments, legal reforms, or financial incentives to encourage circular practices in different sectors of the economy.

  • Secondly, PAGE membership offers a platform for Rwanda to access technical and financial resources needed to realise its Circular Economy Action Plan and Road Map. This aforementioned 14-year plan has the power to demonstrate the scope and potential of circular economy initiatives in Rwanda. Support from PAGE can help catalyse these efforts, making the plan’s goals more attainable.

  • Thirdly, PAGE offers an opportunity for peer learning and collaboration with other member countries, UN agencies, and international partners. This global network can provide valuable insights and best practices, helping Rwanda to effectively navigate its transition to a circular economy.

  • Lastly, PAGE's recognition can enhance Rwanda's credibility and visibility on the international stage, which can attract more investments and partnerships to the country. These collaborations can lead to the sharing of technology, knowledge, and resources that could further strengthen Rwanda’s circular economy initiatives.

In conclusion, Rwanda's membership in PAGE represents a significant opportunity to accelerate its circular economy agenda, benefiting from policy support, resource access, international collaboration, and increased visibility. This could be a major factor in carrying the momentum from the 2022 WCEF into future events and initiatives, bolstering the regional growth of the circular economy. By incorporating these strategic steps as discussed in this article, the momentum from the 2022 WCEF event can be carried into the 2023 event, ensuring that the African perspective remains a central focus and that the circular economy continues to advance in the region.

As we gear up for the next chapter of this transformative journey at the 2023 World Circular Economy Forum in Finland, the lessons learned and the relationships forged in Rwanda provide us with a blueprint for maintaining and enhancing African momentum. With strategic partnerships, targeted capacity building, and a keen focus on showcasing African success stories, we are poised to witness a further embedding of the circular economy principles within the continent. Furthermore, Rwanda's membership in PAGE offers a unique opportunity for the nation to accelerate its circular economy agenda and become a beacon for other African countries. This momentum, fostered by strong collaboration, innovation, and commitment, is not just about economic transformation; it is a step towards creating sustainable societies that value and preserve our shared Earth. Let's carry forward this spirit, ensuring that the 2023 WCEF continues to inspire and contribute to the growth of the circular economy globally, and particularly in Africa.

References (2022). Rwanda to host the World Circular Economy Forum 2022. (2022). Rwanda will host the World Circular Economy Forum 2022.

PackagingInsights. (2022). WCEF 2022: Rwanda unveils US$221M circularity action plan for African waste.

UN-PAGE. (2022). Engaging with Rwanda at the WCEF 2022 in Kigali.


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