BERLIN, Germany — The SEED Initiative presents awards each year to small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries that have shown a commitment to environmentally sustainable development innovations. Forty-one awards were given away this year to help enterprises continue their work. The purpose of the SEED awards is to “identify and support innovative social and environmental start-up enterprises which can tackle key sustainable development challenges at a community level in developing and emerging economies.” All enterprises that receive SEED awards showcase SEED’s criteria of a triple bottom line, meaning they impact the communities they operate in environmentally, socially and economically.
SEED was founded in 2001 by the German Ministry for the Environment, or BMU, and was officially recognized as a UNEP and UNDP partner in 2002 at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. In 2005 and 2007, SEED gave awards to five enterprises which were selected from a pool of more than 250 applicants from 70 countries. Winners from 2007 were then brought together at a SEED Forum in South Africa in order to share their knowledge and discuss their enterprises with other winners.
In 2008 SEED began awarding enterprises on an annual basis, awarding 10 enterprises that year and then 20 in 2009. While previous winners received only an award, winners from the 2009 awards were given business planning support to help with their enterprises. The top 5 from 2009 also received specialized capacity-building support and the ability to network with high-level officials in their home countries.
SEED now gives out between 35 and 40 awards on an annual basis, all of which come with business planning support, a financial contribution and the ability to network at high-level events. SEED has also implemented focus areas in which enterprises can apply for more specialized awards. The three special focus areas currently within the SEED awards are African enterprises, gender-conscious enterprises and environmentally or low-carbon focused enterprises.
The African focus award was implemented in 2010 in cooperation with the UNEP Green Economy Initiative and the EU. It focuses on entrepreneurs that seek to eradicate poverty on the continent through green economic growth and development. The initiative is especially important because it allows African entrepreneurs from across the continent to interact with each other and share their ideas, creating a business network of green entrepreneurs on the continent.
One such African SEED award winner is a small energy enterprise in Malawi called “Electricity4All,” which sells solar battery kits and other solar energy accessories to people who live in rural areas and are thus without access to the electric power grid. Another enterprise that won the African SEED award was the Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group in Uganda, which helps women sell handcrafts they make from elephant-dung paper. It also trains women how to make energy-efficient cookstoves that they sell to people in the local communities.
The gender-focused SEED award recognizes that women own approximately one-third of the small- and medium-sized enterprises worldwide. SEED provides a gender-focused award because it not only empowers women, but such enterprises play a crucial role in breaking cycles of poverty and contribute to environmentally sustainable development efforts.
The Women’s Off-Season Vegetable Production Group in Nepal won one of the three gender-focused SEED awards given out this year. The initiative grows vegetables, using agricultural techniques such as poly-tunnels and greenhouses, in the region where year-round agricultural production is severely limited. The enterprise has been successful in improving local nutrition and food security as well as remaining environmentally conscious through its commitment to organic agricultural techniques.
The low-carbon-focused SEED award rewards small- to medium-sized enterprises that contribute to helping communities adapt to climate change. Climate shock that results from climate change can reduce food security, further exacerbating the effects of poverty on vulnerable populations. Therefore in 2013, in conjunction with the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the SEED initiative began researching the potential that these enterprises have in reducing poverty by helping communities to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
One recipient of the low-carbon focused award was Fundación Huellas Verdes from Colombia. The enterprise helps protect communities from landslides by planting tiva, a type of grass that stores carbon in its roots. Tiva helps prevent soil erosion when it is planted, thereby reducing the risk of landslides and allowing the community to flourish and develop without worry.
According to the SEED Initiative, small- and medium-sized enterprises have significant positive effects on economic growth in developing countries. Many studies have shown that small entrepreneurship is the driver of economic growth in developing countries. Small community-based enterprises employ locals and produce goods and services at lower costs than large businesses. This helps keep down the cost of living within the community while at the same time fostering local economic growth. SEED also found that government policies that encourage opportunistic enterprise start-ups are good drivers of economic growth in developing countries.
For these reasons, SEED continues to award “green” entrepreneurs in developing countries that simultaneously work to reduce poverty and maintain environmentally sustainable innovative business practices in their communities.
– Erin Sullivan