FLAGSCAPE

When I asked Guy Lieberman, the founder of the Giant Flag how he ever dreamed up such a giant project, he laughed and said “I think it dreamed me up”.

The idea actually did come to Lieberman like dream or epiphany, after being asked by the CEO of FCB, the Johannesburg based advertising agency where Lieberman is head of Green and Social new business development, to come up with an idea for a national legacy project celebrating the South African flag.

The creative idea is called the Giant Flag. Last week, after four years of feasibility and development, the crowdfunding platform launched the huge, 66 hectare dream (that’s 66 football fields), consisting of 2.5 million desert plants and a solar field in the six colors of the South African flag–which will be visible from space.

The project was born in mid-2010, when FCB initiated a nationwide campaign to keep up the spirits of South Africans following the highly successful Soccer World Cup. The campaign was called Keep Flying, and encouraged people to keep their South African flags up on their homes, cars and office buildings. While it was highly successful as a motivator for South Africans, the campaign itself was fleeting.

As Brett Morris, CEO of FCB, put it, “In 2010, we felt that we hadn’t just been celebrating soccer, we knew we’d been celebrating South Africa. We showed the world and our guests our true colors, our true African hospitality. Most importantly, we showed ourselves that with one spirit and a powerful creative idea, we can do anything.”

In what is being described as a multi-dimensional project, encompassing several streams of environmental, social and economic activity, Lieberman speaks of the soul of the Giant Flag. “It is a uniquely South African project, but also an example for humanity of what can be.”

The site for the Giant Flag is in a small town called Graaff-Reinet in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. With a 40% unemployment rate in the Camdeboo municipality where Graaff-Reinet is situated, the Giant Flag project aims to generate a major socio-economic shift in the fight against poverty.

Led by the ethos of social upliftment and sustainable development, the Giant Flag plans to create over 700 ‘green-collar’ jobs and lead the way for a clean tech revolution.

Lieberman explains that the aim of the Giant Flag is to create a circle of socio-economic growth in a rural community, one that addresses issues around climate change mitigation, topsoil rehabilitation and clean technology.

“If we are to move toward a zero carbon economy, the future systems need to be hybrid, self-generating structures, and that’s what we’re exploring with the Giant Flag.”

The solar panel field–the black triangle–will generate 4 megawatts of power, to be sold back to the main grid and serve as the financial anchor for the overarching initiative. The Giant Flag project has also been structured as a social enterprise where profits are recycled into a micro-finance venture and a scholarship program with local schools and universities.

The global community has the opportunity to partner with the Giant Flag through its innovative crowdfunding platform. For USD $10.00 you can ‘adopt’ and monitor a succulent plant, through an online virtual flag, which will be ready for a real-world germination and planting once the first phase of funding has been raised.

While no seeds have been planted in this semi-arid region just yet, the virtual ground has been broken, and the Giant Flag is currently a massive site of hope and anticipation for a better future.

Several big partners have already come on board the Giant Flag, with both commitments of funding and substantial in-kind donations. These include Google, Toyota, the Green Fund, South African Broadcasting Corporation and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation.

Lieberman, who has spent time living in Israel, is a Jewish social entrepreneur with proudly South African roots. “This is a legacy project,” he smiles, “desert plants as resilient as these can live for hundreds of years. It is a botanical embodiment of what Mandela left behind.”

The Giant Flag embodies not only the South African spirit of the Rainbow Nation– one nation made up of many people- but also the Jewish principle of Tikkun Olam, assisting in the transformation of the planet for the betterment of all.

Lieberman believes that the Giant Flag can serve as a successful model of sustainable development for other countries. The Giant Flag project is being called a potential game changer in South African development and it will be exciting to observe how it takes root and inspires the world as a celebration of the heart and soul of South Africa.

For more information on the Giant Flag, go to www.giantflag.co.za