Green innovation steals the show at SEED Awards

An Indian enterprise and 27 African ventures win prize for sustainable business models empowering communities

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Thursday 10 September 2015

Loja de Energias, Mozambique, won the 2015 SEED Awards for empowering rural women through disseminating eco-friendly energy sources  (SEED/UNEP)

The 2015 SEED Africa Symposium, held in Nairobi on September 9-10, awarded the prestigious SEED award to enterprises from across the world for their efforts to develop eco-friendly business models benefitting local communities. This year’s theme was “Building Bridges for Impact: Green and Inclusive Growth through Entrepreneurship”. SEED 2015 had a special focus on Africa, with 25 of the awardees being enterprises based in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

The winning initiatives, ranging from providing affordable childcare options in urban slums to access to menstrual hygiene, from solar lamps and fuel-efficient cook stoves to recycling of solid waste, demonstrate how renewable energy and new technologies can drive community-led sustainable development. This becomes more significant as the world gears up to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this month.

“The winners of this year’s SEED Awards are mapping the road towards a sustainable future, and signposting the way to a fully fledged green economy,” a press release by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) quotes UN executive director Achim Steiner. Innovative enterprises like theirs demonstrate the tangible benefits of a low-carbon, resource-efficient approach to economic growth to communities, investors and partners. Their work exemplifies the green economy transition that will help realise the SDGs and the climate agenda to be agreed on this year,” he adds.

Special recognition to Indian enterprise

Tambul Leaf Plates, a dinnerware brand based in Assam, won in the SEED Special Recognition category for producing and marketing biodegradable disposable plates from the fallen sheath of the arecanut plant, thus reducing plastic waste pollution. Tambul Leaf Plates promotes production of arecanut leaf plates as a livelihood option amongst rural communities in the state, providing training, technical, financial and marketing assistance to the rural producers to enable them to establish their own plate-making enterprises. Tambul Leaf Plates provides 100 per cent buy back guarantees to the rural producers and purchases the plates at a fair price, the press releases states.

Apart from this, a host of African ventures made it to the winners’ category. This includes COMSOL Cooperative for Environmental Solutions, which empowers waste pickers in Maputo, Mozambique; SavvyLoo that aims to provide a waterless toilet system to rural areas across Africa; Masole Ammele, a Malawi-based enterprise that builds organic fish farming skills at community level; and People of the Sun, a green and inclusive handicraft-trading enterprise, again in Malawi, which trains and supports marginalised artisans to craft unique homeware products made from recycled materials.

“Across the African continent, local enterprises are tackling extreme poverty, environmental degradation and social exclusion. The 2015 SEED Winners are examples of what can happen when local ingenuity meets innovative partnerships. They offer a new, powerful paradigm for sustainable development and green growth based on community empowerment and the collective will for social change,” says Helen Clark, UN Development Programme (UNDP) administrator.

Boost to green innovation

SEED was founded in 2002 by UNEP, UNDP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to contribute towards the Millennium Development Goals. The SEED Awards for Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Development is an annual awards scheme to discover the most promising, innovative and locally led start-up social and environmental enterprises in developing and emerging economies. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the awards. In addition to a financial contribution, every winner will receive technical assistance, free access to different supporting institutions and tailor-made support to develop their business and skills. The 2015 call for applications, which is now closed, saw contributions from 55 countries, representing the collaborative efforts of partnerships between enterprises, non-profits, women’s and youth groups, labour organisations, public authorities, international agencies and academia. According to the UNEP press release, most of the applications were in agricultural and rural development, energy and climate change, and ecosystem management. The winners were chosen in an online vote by more than 5,500 people worldwide.

SEED also published its 10-year flagship report at the event, titled “Turning Ideas into Impact: Setting the Stage for the Next 10 Years of Green and Inclusive Growth through Entrepreneurship”.

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