SEED Symposium Stresses Need to Support Grassroots Entrepreneurs in Green Economy Thu, Mar 29, 2012

Supporting small-scale, green entrepreneurs can help tackle energy and food security challenges and support the transition to a green economy.

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The SEED Initiative supports local start-up enterprises to improve livelihoods, tackle poverty and manage natural resources sustainably.

Pretoria (South Africa), 29 March 2012 - Supporting small-scale environmental entrepreneurs can help tackle energy, agriculture and food security challenges and support the transition to a green economy. This was the message delivered at the SEED Symposium held in Pretoria, South Africa, today, which celebrated outstanding grassroots social and environmental businesses in Africa and other regions.

Participants in the symposium included SEED Awards winners, United Nations representatives, and representatives from the government of South Africa the private sector, civil society and academia.

With the growing interest in looking beyond traditional business models towards those that incorporate social, environmental and economic benefits, the focus has been placed largely on bigger businesses and corporations. Due to their sheer size and global reach, these organizations can undoubtedly be major players in shifting towards a Green Economy.

However, in many of the world's developed and developing regions, it is small, medium and micro enterprises that constitute the economic engine. Social and environmental enterprises can make considerable contributions to their local economy and local communities. Their innovation, concern about pollution, food security, energy and greenhouse gases, and interest in improving conditions at the local level potentially make them influential actors in mitigating carbon emissions, facilitating adaptation to climate change and moving towards sustainable business models.

The SEED symposium was opened by Mapula Tshangela from South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs who said: "South Africa's approach is to ensure that green economy action in the context of sustainable development builds on existing best processes, programmes, initiatives and indigenous knowledge in key sectors for a just transition towards a resource efficient, low carbon and pro-employment growth path; and that government alone cannot manage and fund a just transition to a green economy and that the private sector and civil society must play a fundamental role."

"The world is beset by challenges from climate change and food insecurity to high youth unemployment and poverty," said Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), at the symposium.

"Yet equally, the world is alight with opportunities many of which are illuminated by the fresh thinking, determination, vision and courage of the social enterprises involved in the SEED initiative", he added.

The role of the green economy in sustainable development and poverty alleviation, which is one of the central themes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be held in Brazil in June 2012, was underlined by UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in South Africa, Agostinho Zacarias: "The United Nations continues to offer support to countries that want to strengthen national green economy efforts and to support them align these with poverty eradication efforts and other national priorities. The key strategic and policy issues that UN pursues in regard to this endeavor are: shaping the shift to a global pro-poor green economy paradigm; measuring success of a pro-poor green economy with macro indicators; supporting countries to shift to a green economy; supporting implementation through aid coordination and improved development effectiveness and strengthening the interface between research and policy making".

The symposium provided a platform to explore how to further the contribution that small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) can make to the green economy.

It also showcased the 2011 SEED Award Winners - businesses that have played their part in delivering sustainable goods and services especially in Africa and, in many cases, against all odds.

From over 400 applications from 76 countries, 35 outstanding grassroots social and environmental businesses, mainly from Africa, were selected for their innovation, their potential to scale up and for helping to meet sustainable development challenges in a developing or emerging economy.

With the help of the European Union, who largely supported SEED's focus on Africa, the winners included:

A company in The Gambia that transforms groundnut shells into fuel briquettes, an enterprise in Burkina Faso that has developed solar ovens and a business in Sri Lanka where women produce aloe-based skin care products.

Other winners were an initiative in Ghana that with its business partners produces biomass-fuelled cooking stoves made from scrap metals, a partnership in Rwanda that pioneers the local production of mushroom spores through a laboratory run by a cooperative for HIV infected women and widows and a community based public private partnership that in South Africa aims to augment rural income by manufacturing and marketing products from indigenous trees such as Marula nut oil.

Lucy Morassutti, National Sales Director for Hisense, South Africa, which is the SEED Awards' corporate sponsor on this occasion said: "Hisense has a deep appreciation for small businesses and especially their development, having itself started off as a small radio factory in 1969. Now we are a multibillion dollar global conglomerate. But we have always remembered where we started."

"Hisense has welcomed the opportunities provided by the South African government to enhance the lives of the unemployed and under- privileged, ultimately developing the otherwise lost sectors of society. It's a privilege to be part of these SEED Winners' growth and development and to see them already giving back to their communities and the environment," she added.

Each SEED winne receives a package of individually-tailored support for their business that includes access to relevant expertise and technical assistance, building their networks, helping with developing business plans and identifying sources of finance.

But these positive examples nevertheless disguise the fact, as the discussions at the symposium revealed, that many smaller enterprises struggle to access expertise, financial opportunities and networks. Many start-up enterprises especially in developing countries have no national support networks to fall back on and struggle with non-conducive policy environments. All of this hinders them in becoming more effective, visible and recognised green economy drivers and in realizing their potential.

It is particularly difficult for female entrepreneurs who not only face barriers in setting up their business but also social and cultural barriers in gaining access to networks and social acceptance. As Nomcebo Manzini, Regional Programme Director of UN Women, which sponsored the 2011 SEED Gender Equality Award, noted: "This award is testimony to women's creative potential even in the midst of seeming insurmountable barriers. It remains extremely important that rural poor men and women are empowered to create such opportunities and manage them effectively."

The Symposium also marked the establishment of SEED South Africa, which is hosted by the Independent Development Trust (IDT). The IDT CEO, Thembi Nwedamutswu, pointed out that: "Growing and nurturing SMMEs, including supporting co-operatives, is key to implementing intergenerational strategies for wealth creation. Grassroots-based entrepreneurship anchored on social and environmental consciousness provides a means to redressing inequality and fostering shared prosperity in South Africa. Indigenous knowledge, untapped solutions and creativity is at the heart of these ventures".

SEED South Africa will be officially launched in October 2012, during South Africa's premier development knowledge sharing platform, the Development Week, which is hosted by the IDT.

For more information:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson and Acting Director, Division of Communications and Public Information; Tel: +254 733 632755; Email:

Jade Bethell, Hisense, Mobile: +27 (79) 302 1781, Email:,

Constance Hybsier, Programme Manager, Email:

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Notes to Editors

About The SEED Initiative

The SEED Initiative - hosted at the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) - is a global network founded in 2002 by UNEP, UNDP and IUCN to contribute towards the Millennium Development Goals and the commitments made at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. SEED works through a global network of Partners, Supporters and Associates.

SEED identifies profiles and supports promising, locally-driven start-up enterprises working in partnership in developing countries to improve livelihoods, tackle poverty and marginalisation and manage natural resources sustainably. The Initiative also develops learning resources for the broad community of social and environmental entrepreneurs, informs policy- and decision-makers and aims to inspire innovative, entrepreneurial approaches to sustainable development.


Founded in 1969 as a small radio factory in China, Hisense has grown into a global conglomerate with a workforce of over 60,000 worldwide. Hisense is today recognized as a leading international company for consumer electronics and household appliances. The company puts a strong emphasis on innovation and quality and has a global R&D network of over 2000 engineers as well as a national-level R&D Center, a post-doctoral research workstation, and a state-of-the-art multimedia technology laboratory. It has been the recipient of several recognitions and awards in the name of innovation, technology, design, and quality management.

Independent Development Trust (IDT)

The IDT is a South African development agency that offers programme management and development advisory services for the eradication of poverty to government departments and other development partners. Emphasis is on the eradication of chronic intergenerational poverty, especially among the rural poor.

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