Employment & Entrepreneurship

Green entrepreneurs helping ecology and economy to thrive together

Over the past decades, we have seen significant economic progress across nations resulting in wealth generation, improvements in education, particularly for girls, better health outcomes and more diverse employment opportunities. But while the quality of life has improved for many people, it may not sustain for long.

In many parts of the world, there is still a huge gap between the number of people entering the labour market every year and available employment. At the same time, we are consuming resources and producing waste in alarming proportions. If our current level of consumption continues, we will need two planet Earths by 2030[1] to provide resources and absorb waste.

This unsustainable pattern challenges our economic models and pushes us to reimagine a world where we can optimise our use of resources and regenerate more than we consume. We are convinced that it’s possible to balance economic growth with environmental protection. We need to act now and accelerate the shift towards a green economy to enable people and planet to thrive together.

We need green entrepreneurs

We believe green entrepreneurs, a dynamic force, can help us in building green, inclusive and localised economies. There is growing recognition of the role green entrepreneurs are playing and can play at scale. Green entrepreneurs have the resilience and innovative thinking to turn environmental challenges into green growth and business opportunities by building and growing ventures. We are witnessing increasing enthusiasm from young entrepreneurs to innovate, set up and grow green enterprises in the areas such as waste, sustainable use of forest resources and clean energy.

The role of small and growing enterprises in employment generation is well recognised. This becomes significant in certain regions, where the gap between the number of people entering the labour market every year vis-à-vis number of jobs available ranges from 20% to 80%[2], such as in East Africa or South Asia. Green entrepreneurs provide opportunities to look beyond formal jobs and at solutions that can generate employment, improve incomes and contribute towards addressing environmental problems.

Challenges create opportunities

We can’t make the progress towards a green economy without green entrepreneurs—we need them! However, they face a plethora of challenges at every stage, from setting up an enterprise, to business growth, and connections into value chains. We also see low entrepreneurial uptake due to a lack of exposure to an entrepreneurial culture and mindsets. Those who do set up enterprises have little access to the resources needed to start up and grow, including financial (seed finance, grants) and technical support (coaching, mentoring, skilling). This is especially true in poorer communities.

Enabling green entrepreneurs

We believe these barriers are surmountable and that it is possible to create an enabling environment for green entrepreneurs to grow and thrive. An increasing number of mission-focused organisations have been supporting green entrepreneurs with early-stage idea generation, access to finances, business development and advisory services that provide entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to start and scale up.

We take pride in sharing the efforts of our partners, Enviu and Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC). While Enviu is turning textile waste into high value handcrafted products and creating employment for local communities in India, KCIC is supporting climate technology enterprises to create employment opportunities for young people in Kenya.

Developing entrepreneurial mindsets towards green and sustainable businesses is a less travelled path. It is proving to be effective in helping young people to develop skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, communication and leadership that help them prepare for entrepreneurial opportunities. Introducing entrepreneurship into the curriculum at secondary school level can orient young people at an early stage in their lives. Our partner, Going to School works with government schools in India to build entrepreneurial mindsets, encouraging students to consider starting a business when they transition to work.

Working together

As well as rallying behind green entrepreneurs, we need to build knowledge and expertise in this field and convene other stakeholders to support them. We must generate evidence on what works to show that green entrepreneurship is a viable pathway to generate employment, improve livelihoods and address environmental problems. We, at the IKEA Foundation, are doing our part by supporting pilot initiatives and generating evidence on scalable solutions. Our Green Entrepreneurship Initiative is a step in this direction.

To amplify all such efforts and create systems changes at scale, we need to collaborate to strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems. This needs visionary thinking, bold actions and agility to break silos and bring stakeholders together, acting at scale and engaging strongly with governments and the private sector. Our partnership with the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) adopts an alliance model approach for galvanising the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India.

Let’s celebrate green entrepreneurs

We are encouraged by the growing enthusiasm in young people, against all odds, to find entrepreneurial solutions to planetary challenges. Our mission is that green entrepreneurship becomes a viable option for the many people. We urge like-minded organisations to work together to create conducive and inspiring opportunities that help green entrepreneurs to enable ecology and economy to thrive together. Let’s celebrate green entrepreneurs on World Entrepreneurs’ Day, today and everyday!

Vivek Singh, Head of Portfolio – Employment & Entrepreneurship

[1] Overshootday.org

[2] ILO Stat; World Bank Data; Indian Labour Bureau Report on Employment & Unemployment Surveys, 2015, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics; Ethiopian Urban Job Creation Council, 2018; Planning Commission, Govt. of Bangladesh, Report of the Sixth Five Year Plan, 2019