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Making green and social entrepreneurship work for all in the developing world

Ilo Asia Pacific 4
Image: ILO Asia Pacific


With the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaching, consultations are taking place globally to draw out insights that can contribute to the “Post-2015 Development Agenda and Framework”. In this context, the SEED Initiative recently took part in the interactive, multi-stakeholder discussion: “Scaling up partnerships in food and nutritional security and marine resources”, which was part of the joint General Assembly/ECOSOC Partnerships Forum, held on 09 and 10 April 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The 2013 Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)  clearly shows that while some progress has been made in achieving the 2015 MDG targets, 12 percent of the global population, or 842 million, still suffers hunger every day, the vast majority (827 million) being mainly in Southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia.

At the same time the growing world population is causing increased pressure on resources resulting in their depletion and degradation, which in turn affects food availability and prices. Hence our collective challenge is to provide a more consistent supply of high quality and affordable food while protecting our resources, all the while taking into account and adapting to climate change and other impacts on the environment.

Grassroots solutions

Throughout the discussions that took place during the panels of the Partnerships Forum, a strong view emerged that small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) are vital in making growth happen, and especially in reaching the most vulnerable population at the grassroots. However this growth can only be maintained if resources are used sustainably - ‘Green and Blue’ growth. And for this to happen, SMMEs need urgently and increasingly to incorporate social and environmental benefits within their business model in addition to economic performance: in other words, to become, or at least move towards becoming, Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Entrepreneurs

By the end of 2014, SEED will have studied over 1300 and worked alongside nearly 190 start-up TBL enterprises across the developing world. Our research shows how those SMMEs are contributing to their local communities and their role in poverty reduction through supplementing the income of community members.

We have also seen some impressive successes relating particularly to food security and sustainable resource management:

  • the Global Marketing Partnership for SRI indigenous rice developed an organic rice sector in Cambodia which has stimulated a dialogue in the food industry about healthier and more sustainable rice production and rice biodiversity. The partnership now spans Africa and Asia and exports significant amounts of certified organic and fair trade rice grown by small scale farming families.
  • Blue Ventures have shown that food security and coastal protection can go hand in hand, by developing sustainable aquaculture for isolated coastal communities in Madagascar while protecting local fish stocks and coastal habitat, impacting the lives of more than 100,000 people.
  • Adapta Sertao in Brazil, estimated more than a twofold increase in income for approximately 30 local farmers using their irrigation  systems and a 20-50% increase in income for a further 40 farmers. 

“It is now up to national and international actors and policy makers to develop appropriate measures and methodologies to capture and report on this data and give such inspirational entrepreneurs the recognition and support they deserve to scale up their impact.”

Why more recognition is vital   

As far as we are aware, little research has been conducted so far to quantify the impact of triple bottom line entrepreneurs. While many use business approaches, a significant proportion describes themselves as “not-for-profit”, attaching significance to that status which reflects their motivation. Their contribution to  economic  development  may  therefore not  be  registered  by  economic  planning  departments  looking only  at conventional  SMMEs. But their contribution warrants attention, together with those operating on a for-profit basis.

We can start by appreciating that they are changing the model of how to deliver sustainable development on the ground through their setting and working towards a combination of social,  environmental  and  business  targets  and  identifying  a  diverse  range  of  benefits  to their communities.

What may be even more relevant is that in order to meet their environmental and economic objectives, they address more complex and deeper systemic problems such as  population  pressures, food shortages, overfishing,  infectious  diseases,  and  widespread  poverty, effectively  becoming  specialists in  local sustainable resources management, food security, institution building, and policy influencing.

It is now up to national and international actors and policy makers to develop appropriate measures and methodologies to capture and report on this data and give such inspirational entrepreneurs the recognition and support they deserve to scale up their impact.


Amélie Heuer & Helen Marquard, SEED Initiative

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