S.E.T. for socio-economic growth
Dr Abimbola Olukemi Windapo
Sponsor: Eskom since 2003
The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for Engineering Research Capacity Development Award was won by Dr Abimbola Olukemi Windapo, Associate Professor: Department of Construction Economics and Management, University of Cape Town, received the award for her research of construction business and management that confronts the problems of poor project and organisation performance from a practice perspective.
Professor Abimbola Windapo recognised early in her career the importance of infrastructure, and finding new ways of adapting approaches and materials so that people could have the basic right to accommodation and housing. Her research focus area has been on construction industry development and business and project management from a practice and performance perspective.
Over the past nine years, her research has found that the construction techniques used by industry stakeholders are not aligned with sustainable principles. This has impacted on construction project performance and adherence with health and safety regulations.
“There is so much scarcity in infrastructure in Africa that there was a need for this dialogue to change,” she says. “I started my work in South Africa in response to the high failure rates of many construction companies, particularly in the small to medium enterprise sector, and the poor health and safety records in the industry. There were gaps in knowledge, as well as societal needs, that called for the research.”
There was no previous recipe for contractor development and sustainability. The practices used by construction companies in ensuring health and safety were not established in literature. So, the goal was to establish ways of transforming the construction industry while providing jobs, alleviating poverty, developing scarce skills and reducing the impact of construction on the environment.
Resources for the projects were provided by the University of Cape Town, the Construction Industry Development Board, the National Research Foundation (NRF) Thuthuka, Collaborative Postgraduate Training and Incentive Funding for Rated Research Grants and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The result is research that delivers continuous, incremental improvements over time on the basis of well-established knowledge in the construction and business management areas. The research process pulled together pilot studies, field work and data, and used mixed methods approaches to enable the output to benefit from qualitative and quantitative views. The work also spanned several disciplines.
“We worked towards the development of a model that allows construction to become more affordable so that we can build increasingly affordable housing and use more cost-effective building materials,” concludes Windapo. “Labour and building materials are two key resource requirements that make infrastructure expensive, with building materials taking up at least 60% of the construction cost. We recognised that if we can find ways of using our local building materials and technologies, we can change the infrastructure conversation.”
To date, the research has resulted in a series of technical papers and reports that have emphasised the cost factor, but also revealed that poor management and poor financial acumen have affected the growth of many companies in the construction industry. The goal is to help the industry overcome these challenges in a sustainable and intelligent way to foster growth and further innovation and change. — Tamsin Oxford
To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.