The world is facing unparalleled multidimensional crises. This leads some to fear that it has become even more difficult to live up to the challenges of climate change and sustainable development. At the same time, fortunately, the resolve for action on climate change and sustainable development is getting stronger. Scientists, non-governmental organisations, also more and more leaders in industry are urging governments to move faster on climate change.
They are right. Based on the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, we need to accelerate the work for a fair and fast transition to a decarbonized world. Successfully shaping the transformation process to the post-fossil era requires us all to make bold decisions for rapid and unprecedented change. Effective international alliances should facilitate such decisions so that the implementation of climate and sustainable development goals becomes unstoppable. This is even more important as increased social inequality puts progressive policies in peril.
Since 2015 it is evident that it takes a paradigm shift away from business-as-usual. It is now even better understood than then. The Global Risks Report 2023 of the World Economic Forum, the Circularity Gap Report published a few months ago, the Working Group III Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of 2022, they all point in the same direction: We have to change course now, and we need all hands on deck to get this done.
That is why the work of SEED is so significant. For more than twenty years now and across some 50 countries, SEED has been supporting local eco-inclusive micro-small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) which are coming up with market-based solutions to social and environmental problems, creating lasting collective impacts across their value chains, serving the communities at the base of the social pyramid and promoting the inclusion of disadvantaged groups, while tackling environmental issues.
Donors interested in sustainable development tend to fund programmes that are large scale and benefit specific social, economic and environmental purposes. Seldom they honor the richness of very small start-ups which are not in a position to absorb large funds, but need careful assistance during their development process, including business plans and implementation, all along from the conception phase to a long-term profitable business case.
SEED does exactly that. It both supports the most promising innovative and locally led social and environmental start-up enterprises in developing countries and enhances the quality and capacities of business development service providers. It focuses on the individual local circumstances of each enterprise, better to anchor the benefits to the local community and environment. No two eco-inclusive enterprises are the same – neither in terms of business model nor the context within which they operate. SEED’s approach helps to develop an enabling ecosystem which empowers them to succeed and scale up.
Having started as a biennial awards scheme with a very small research programme and a tiny budget, SEED now offers tailored programmes to awardees of its extensive annual competitions designed to equip aspiring entrepreneurs and growing enterprises with tools for business development and to offer a network of collaborators and supportive instruments required to promote environmental and social entrepreneurship. More than 100 tools were developed, and 500 business development service providers trained.
SEED’s Ecosystem Building Programmes cultivate networks of collaborators, finance and policy to support eco-inclusive entrepreneurship, with more than 600 finance lab and 500 policy lab practitioners. SEED provides platforms for dialogue between concerned stakeholders and works to improve the quality of relations between these stakeholders and enterprises. SEED Grants support eco-inclusive enterprises and aspiring entrepreneurs through its Enterprise Support Programmes to finance their immediate necessary activities, measures or machinery while providing tailored technical support to start-up or scale-up their activities. SEED also works on the facilitation of the replication of success stories of micro and small-sized enterprises from one region to another.
Most of the enterprises SEED is supporting contribute to decarbonization and local resilience. Many were started by women, about 40 percent in all programmes. Building resilience to future shocks is essential to protecting local incomes and long-term employment for communities, in particular through a series of resilience workshops to help micro and small sized enterprises to prepare for the unknown.
What SEED has demonstrated, with hundreds of enterprises, with tailored support and lessons, deserves scaling up and partnerships so as to maximize their impact. In the words of Helen Marquard, a former SEED Executive Director, it is “easy to see the significant contribution that eco-enterprises can make to the SDGs. Not just to one, but to nearly all. For eco-enterprises are active in all the sectors, and are championing social – including women’s and youth – empowerment and justice, creating jobs and often reaching out to the informal economy, and developing innovative ways of using and managing natural resources in a sustainable way.”
SEED, hosted by adelphi research in Berlin, was founded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) more than twenty years ago. Active partners of SEED, in addition to the Founding Partners, are inter alia the governments of Flanders, Germany, the Netherlands, as well as the European Union, UNIDO, UN Women, Conservation International, Hogan Lovells, and Hisense.
Under the leadership of its present Executive Director Arab Hoballah SEED has broadened its range of activities, became partner of the GO4SDGs network of UNEP and the FAO SDG Agrifood Accelerator Programme, while working with organizations and programmes such as the UN Global Compact and EU SWITCH-Asia. As he put it recently: “SEED has made the case at various multilateral conferences that it makes good environmental and social as well as economic sense to support and enable the micro-small and medium-sized enterprises to support their region in moving forward in the areas of climate, biodiversity and circular economy. The acceleration of efforts for a green transition should include scaled up support for innovative small enterprises, if we are serious about delivering on decarbonization, circular economy and sustainable development.”