10 years of SEED Awards

SEED 10 years logoTen years ago, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in New York, 5 enterprises received the first SEED Awards. They were chosen, from a pool of over 260 entries from 66 countries, for their potential to advance sustainable development in their communities and contribute to the UN's Millennium Development Goals. At the Ceremony, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the time said: “The time for talking is over; the time for action is now. If we are to deliver sustainable development, achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and overcome poverty, we need partnerships”.

’Action’ has been the keyword since then. Over the last ten years, SEED has recognised over 200 SEED Winners spread over 40 countries and helped them scale-up through tailored capacity building, involving over 550 communities, non-governmental organisations, businesses and public authorities. These social and green enterprises are living proof that entrepreneurial partnerships between various stakeholders can create innovative and novel solutions for delivering sustainable development at the grassroots.

Growing Award numbers and increased interest in SEED Symposia

In 2005 however, the notion of channelling or even promoting sustainable development through entrepreneurship was still a fairly nascent idea, as was the concept of social and environmental enterprises (also known as Triple Bottom Line enterprises or eco-enterprises). From our work with start-up enterprises as well as with policy makers, we have witnessed a growing awareness of the role entrepreneurship can play in sustainable development and significant interest from numerous institutions. For instance the increasing number of SEED Awards over time (from 5 in 2005 to 41 in 2014), the yearly surge of participants to the SEED Symposia, the growing support from donors and even more prominently, the rapidly growing number of Awards scheme and support programmes for entrepreneurs worldwide, are good reflections of that.

Nevertheless, social and environmental enterprises still constitute an almost vanishingly small proportion of small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs), largely due to the challenges they face. While conventional start-ups experience considerable barriers to scale up, our experience shows that building a business model which integrates social and environmental as well as economic benefits at the outset is an even more precarious undertaking. Some of the challenges are quite familiar, for instance access to finance, help with developing business and administrative skills, and access to technology and research. But eco-enterprises also show a strong need for assistance in setting and monitoring suitable targets, and for recognition of the value of the triple bottom line approach.

It is for this reason that more enabling ecosystems are needed to allow a noticeable increase in the number of small, micro and medium-sized eco-enterprises. Maybe even more importantly social and environmental impacts need to be considered and recognised by investors, funders, enterprise partners and consumers as valued and tangible results, in addition to economic performance. Only then can such enterprises develop competitive advantage.

Broadening horizons and diversifying the portfolio

It is in this context that SEED is broadening its horizon and diversifying its portfolio. 2016 will see more collaboration with local business development service providers (BDS), through the BDS+ project, as these play a vital role in the development of local enterprises and in helping to bring about an enabling environment for eco-enterprises to flourish. Training business development service providers will also help in the outreach to conventional businesses: they will be able to demonstrate how they might incorporate social and environmental goals into their bottom line, without compromising on their economic bottom line. SEED is also looking to facilitate financing for some of the SEED Winners and Alumni.

Ibrahim thiaw smallIbrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP said in 2014 that ‘a first step in moving towards a resource efficient, low carbon economy is to be able to point to exemplars of eco-entrepreneurship and to understand which policy enablers to put in place at the international, national and local levels’. This is exactly what SEED intends to do in 2015 and 2016 with the SEED research by providing case studies and insights for policy-makers on the impact of eco-entrepreneurship and the barriers they face.   

Engaging in new partnerships and joining forces

To reach impact it is again, more than ever, time to work in partnerships and join forces. As we head into the implementation phase of the 2030 development agenda and working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the enormous role that the private sector can play has to be recognised. It can make contribute decisively to sustainable development and we have to make reference to entrepreneurship, as it will be crucial that there is an accelerated growth of ‚social and environmental entrepreneurship’. Helen Marquard, former SEED Executive Directo said in 2015, prior to the final adoption of the SDGs: “We hope those Goals will be sufficiently ambitious to stimulate the incorporation of social and environmental aspects into the ‘conventional‘ way of doing businesses so as to effect the changes that are needed to combat and manage climate change, the depletion of valuable natural resources, and to open up opportunities and empowerment for the majority of the world’s people to allow them to develop and grow sustainably”.

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