Driving the change – Dorah Modise


There is a new captain in the driver’s seat at the Green Building Council South Africa. With her impressive track record, Dorah Modise brings tremendous experience and a fresh perspective to navigate the changing landscape ahead.

Modise does not sit comfortably in a repetitive routine – she wants to be part of the action. She is a driver of change and her focus is now set on shifting things up a gear in South Africa’s green building industry.

As the new CEO of the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA), she emphasises that the organisation’s top priority is its members. “I view the GBCSA as an enabler, and it’s our job to increase the visibility of and impact by our members beyond just the current offerings. We must be in a position to create new and innovative avenues for the green building movement,” she states.

This, Modise explains, can be from the ground up, for example through enhanced or targeted education offerings and making available a physical gallery or library space for members to gather best practice and emerging trends, interact and share knowledge. This will ensure that they are part of the GBCSA family. Uncovering business opportunities can also come from the top down, where the GBCSA works with government, through its public sector focus area, to ensure that green building enabling policies are put in place through legislation, policies, bylaws and subsequent procurement specifications for development within the built environment.

Her experience in the public sector, advocating for policy change and moulding policy at all levels, will stand Modise in good stead in this regard.

The green track

Modise began her sustainability journey almost 20 years ago in environmental health – concerned with the impact of the environment on human health through her community development work in rural areas in Limpopo Province. Her focus and expertise steadily shifted to the impact that humans have on the environment and how these can be avoided first and foremost, but also how, in the process of dealing with this issue, key development challenges could  be addressed – i.e. new industry development, employment creation, poverty reduction and overall economic enhancement or development.

Modise gained experience through work at the national Department of Environmental Affairs, where she spearheaded the development and implementation of the National strategy on sustainable development, and her key pride and joy was the establishment of the national green fund. She also worked at the Department of Trade and Industry, where she established an environment function and crafted the work stream on trade in environmental goods and services. Along the way Modise also earned a Masters in Environment and Development from the University of Sussex, an MBA from the Gordon Institute for Business Science, and a post-graduate diploma in Environmental Diplomacy from the University of Geneva.

Throughout this time she realised the greater value of ecology and recognising that everything is interconnected. She started connecting the dots between the environment, society, economy and community, and looked for ways to bring balance and prosperity to each of these aspects simultaneously. It was most recently at the City of Tshwane in the role of strategic executive director: city sustainability, where she truly got the chance to go beyond policy crafting to implement projects that make a difference across all levels. One such project was the Tshwane Food and Energy Centre. Modise also had a hand in ensuring that the City of Tshwane was the only city in South Africa to have a green building bylaw, and the city’s massive new headquarters – Tshwane House – achieved a 5 Star Green Star SA design certification on design. It will receive full certification once construction has been completed.

Satisfied that sustainability was mainstreamed into every department at the City of Tshwane, Modise says she is looking forward to the potential for growth and change in her new role.

Shifting gear

The GBCSA is now 10 years old and has been through a period of accelerated growth, however, the same approach that resulted in growth over the past decade requires tweaking to better align with current trends and the organisation is now venturing into new territory. “Most efforts and take-up of the green building agenda have largely been in the commercial property sector, and it is encouraging to see that giants in the sector ‘get it’,” says Modise. An exciting avenue for significant growth going forward is seen to be across the board in the residential sector, covering all levels of residential development, from social housing through to the most upmarket housing estates.

Education and advocacy will also continue to be a big part of what the GBCSA will focus on going forward. “Beyond just the awareness of members and to the man on the street, we aim to explore strategic partnerships in ensuring that the core objective of transforming the built environment is met,” notes Modise.

The road ahead

“The end goal is to transform the built environment. It’s our members who can do that. We exist because of our members,” Modise says, reiterating that the GBCSA intends to concentrate on how it can improve the value proposition for its members.

“I’m looking forward to the adrenaline rush and seeing how the GBCSA goes to the heights I believe it can reach,” she concludes.

By Christy Borman.

See earthworks Issue 37, Apr-May 2017 for the full feature.