SEED History and Growth

The SEED Initiative was initiated in 2001 by the German Ministry for the Environment (BMU). It was presented as an "Example of Excellence" partnership inter alia by UNEP and BMU at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. SEED was then registered at the Summit by UNEP, UNDP and IUCN as a partnership. Subsequently the initiative was launched at simultaneous events in 2004, at the fourth World Social Forum held in in Mumbai, India and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Early development 2005-2008

In 2005, and again in 2007, the first SEED Awards were given to five Award Winners, with five finalists. On both occasions, the winners were selected from over 250 applicants in about 70 countries through a global competition and a rigorous, independent judging process. Following a year of tailored support services from SEED, most of these awardees were on the road to establishing their initiatives. SEED brought together all ten 2005 and 2007 Award Winners at the 2007 SEED Annual Forum in South Africa to share their knowledge.

In 2008, the SEED Awards had a first scale up, moving to Awards on an annual basis. Five Award Winners were selected in 2008, and ten finalists.

Scale up: 2009 and beyond

Since 2009 SEED has continued to scale up significantly. In 2009, 20 Award Winners were selected out of nearly 1100 applications from 97 countries. In contrast to previous years, the 20 winners each received business planning support and subsequently, 5 were selected as Gold Winners; they received additional tailored capacity building, a financial contribution and were networked and profiled at high level events in their own countries, and internationally.

From then on, SEED has increased the number of awards significantly, with between 35 and 40 annually. All winners receive a comprehensive package of tailored business and capacity building support, a financial contribution, networking, and profiling at national and international level. The first SEED country scheme in South Africa has also been launched.

Special focus on Africa

Co-funded by the EU, and in partnership with the UNEP Green Economy Initiative, SEED introduced a special focus on Africa from 2010 with the aim of supporting African countries looking to encourage green and sustainable economic sectors and socially responsible initiatives. The project combined economy-wide assessments with localised support for individual enterprises. This initial project, in 2010-2012, was piloted in seven countries in Africa (Burkina Faso, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa) that had requested cooperation and support from UNEP on the Green Economy. They were selected on the basis of start-up activities already initiated by them and, given the strong interest of the EU, through discussions with the EC country focal points.

In 2012, the EU approved the SEED project on ‘Stimulating the Green Economy in Africa through Social and Environmental Entrepreneurship’ for 2013-2015. Building on the experience gained in 2010-2012, SEED continued its work with social and environmental entrepreneurs at the local level in a further 6 pilot African countries (Ethiopia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Uganda), while consolidating the establishment and operation of SEED South Africa. A key consideration for extending the support for social and environmental entrepreneurship to other African countries is the opportunity for African entrepreneurs to connect with one another, allowing them to build business relations and more importantly to act as a collective force in promoting a Green Economy in Africa. 

Through the support of the government of Flanders, from 2013 SEED has introduced an additional focus on South Africa, where activities targeted primarily the provinces of Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal.

Promotion of Gender Equality

While women own about a third of all businesses in the world, and nearly half of those in developing markets, women’s potential contributions to small and medium size ‘green’ businesses have only recently been given attention. Investing in women entrepreneurs is not only good for gender equality and women’s empowerment but is also a smart poverty reduction strategy, smart economics and smart sustainable development.

For this reason SEED started partnering with UN Women which subsequently sponsored the first SEED Gender Equality Award in 2011. In 2013, two Gender Equality Awards were made available to outstanding women enterprises; these were sponsored by UN Women, UNIDO, and supported by Hogan Lovells. Again in 2014, two Gender Equality Awards were made available to outstanding women enterprises, one of them to an enterprise in Kenya; these were sponsored by UN Women Kenya, adelphi research, and supported by Hogan Lovells. In 2015, one Gender Equality Award was made available to an outstanding women enterprise in Kenya; sponsored by adelphi research.

Gender equality has further been mainstreamed throughout the whole SEED programme.

Introduction of Low carbon Awards

While the significant role that small, micro and medium-sized enterprises play in the global economy, generating employment and helping communities out of poverty, has been recognised, little attention has so far been given to their potential to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. In 2013, SEED entered into a partnership with the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety to gain insights into their potential by adding a focus on innovative start-up enterprises that are addressing mitigation and adaptation. The Low Carbon SEED Awards were available for enterprises in 5 target countries (Colombia, India, Tanzania, Uganda and Viet Nam). This created a distinct and dedicated effort to promote climate-smart enterprises, and tap into the pool of innovative ideas for addressing climate change at the local level. Until 2014, 20 SEED Low Carbon Winners were selected and supported in scaling-up their successful low carbon enterprises.

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