The SEED Initiative: Africa’s green economy, climate change and the role of grassroots entrepreneurs

The SEED Initiative was a high-level symposium held 29 March 2012 as part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) International Convention in Pretoria, South Africa. The event offered an opportunity to meet some of South Africa’s key actors in the drive towards a ‘green economy’, a key area of discussion at the upcoming Rio+20 sustainable development conference, to be held June 2012.

Amongst the day’s keynote speakers were such noteworthy names such as Nomcebo Manzini, Regional Programme Director for UN Women, and Richard Young, Head of Development Cooperation of the EU Delegation to South Africa. Founding partners included the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The discussion saw views shared by people from government, CSOs and businesses.Much of the discussion focused on how the green economy could encompass employment creation and economic growth, and on the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs), in which small micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs) have a vital role to play. The conversation also explored initiatives in South Africa, where SMMEs were understood as a great driving force in the expansion of markets for larger enterprises. Against this, knowledge gaps and the need to promote more innovation were acknowledged. One recommendation for South African business was to redirect corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds towards the development of local small-scale business ventures, particularly those associated with greener practices.

The SEED Initiative is contributing towards creating a global standard for sustainability, emphasising the call for green innovation, but more importantly towards the ‘greening’ of consumer attitudes as a force to make green development more viable. The potential for this was evident in the myriad of marketable products created by the SEED Award winners showcased at the meeting. These were local, small-scale entrepreneurs whose remarkable contributions to green innovation included items made from recyclable waste, such as handbags, hand-woven cloth and jewellery. Two award winners were SEPALI from Madagascar and the Women Environment Preservation Committee from Nepal.

Although SEED winners continue to face a challenge in attracting investments for their entrepreneurial work, their initiatives are essential to proving the workability of economic greening from the ground level. The SEED Initiative helps raise awareness of something fundamental to greening the economy: in order for people to buy into the idea of the ‘green economy’, small businesses need to have incentives to maximise the value of their greener products, encouraging more consumers to want to buy them.

Creating more markets for greener products is a fundamental task for the SEED Initiative and its award winners on the road to Rio+20.

More on the SEED Initiative

Akashni Pillay, Policy and Advocacy Intern, CIVICUS

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