Boosting Climate-Smart Enterprise Solutions: SEED South Africa Symposium 2018

The palpable impacts of climate change have made the search for alternate pathways to a low-carbon economy urgent. Moreover, the low-carbon economy provides a viable means of enhancing the well-being of a projected nine billion people by 2030 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SEED South Africa, as part of its goal of developing a dynamic community of practice centred on social and environmental entrepreneurs, organised the SEED South Africa Symposium 2018 at the Capital Menlyn Hotel, Pretoria. The two-day event (13-14th March), assembled approximately 150 enterprises, financial institutions, policy makers and business development service providers from several countries to foreground interventions and partnerships that harnesses the potential of climate-smart enterprises to maximise their reach and social impact.

The opening remarks were given by Geraldine Reymenants (The Government of Flanders), Alf Wills (Department of Environmental Affairs), Najy Benhassine (World Bank Group) and Rainer Agster (SEED). They highlighted the escalating incidence of unemployment, poverty and inequality and the impact of climate change as a variable for sustainable development with the capacity to reverse development gains.

Furthermore, they pointed to the need to shift focus from mitigation to adaptation and create a national green fund to support the green economy transition. Mr Najy Benhassine alluded to the urgency of climate change and suggested that the World Bank Group will be allocating 20% of its funding to climate related projects. He pointed to the funding of climate innovation centres and green entrepreneurial ecosystems as evidence of the resolve of the World Bank to promote sustainable development.

The event involved round table panel discussions to promote effective business development models for micro, small and medium-sized eco-inclusive environmental enterprises. Furthermore, interactive prototyping sessions were held to engender ground-breaking solutions from the diverse stakeholders encompassing business, politics, academia and civil society. A highlight of the event was the Hogan Lovells Community Solar Innovation Awards 2017. This was given to honour exceptional eco-inclusive enterprises that employ solar energy or related interventions that enhance livelihoods in poor communities. Village Energy from Uganda won the ultimate prize for their “community solar expert” model, which develops the human capital and physical infrastructure needed for a sustainable rural solar economy.

Participants were generally upbeat about the socio-economic potential of the green economy and shared their thoughts accordingly:

Mao Amis (African Centre for the Green Economy); “The SEED symposium was a great event for networking with colleagues working on the green economy issues. This is critical because if we are to transition to an inclusive green economy, it requires collective action through building strategic partnerships for the movement to take root”

Chiloane Kgaugelo (WWF): “It was enlightening and impressive to listen to presentations on the extent of adaptation and green economy work done by rural communities in Limpopo, KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga through SEED support programme. It would be good that SA scale up these activities to build resilience of even more rural communities and sustainable livelihoods”.

Sheraine Van Wyk (Whale Coast Conservation): “I think that the SEED symposium will come to be a defining experience in my career. It marks a moment where my path as an environmental scientist/educator diverts to that of an eco-social entrepreneur.  I have a feeling that the people I met, the networking experience and the topics explored will make a profound difference in the way I do things.  I am grateful to have received at the symposium the things that I instinctively knew I lacked to realise my aspiration of meeting the needs of the community I work.  As a non-business person, I am tremendously grateful to have had the experience”.

Bertha Chiroro (Gender CC): “The Green economy is welcome and should deliver on sustainable job opportunities where inclusivity is the defining factor for women, girls and the most vulnerable communities facing the impacts of  climate change in  society, and it’s important for the green economy to provide gender just and innovative community led based  solutions, that address people needs and new spaces in which women, girls and the most vulnerable should have opportunities both as consumers as well as entrepreneurs  through green sector capacity building and training to ensure that the green economy does not leave anyone behind. If we are to expect wide scale economic transformation to take place, the green economy should ensure that women, girls and the vulnerable set the pace for the innovations that can drive a truly sustainable and alternative economy that is gender just and inclusive and does not place women and girls at the margins of the green economy”.

By Felix Donkor