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Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

Q&A: Why Young and Smart Greenpreneurs are the Future of Sustainable Development

IPS correspondent Busani Bafana speaks to Global Green Growth Institute's Greenpreneurs programme manager Juhern Kim.

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. GGGI has developed a new platform for young entrepreneurs with a flair for business development that is environmentally and socially sound, i.e. green growth business. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe , Sep 25 2018 (IPS) - Young people – a growing population segment in developing countries – are intrepid innovators and entrepreneurs who can help solve pressing climate and development challenges today.

Believing in the potential of the youth, the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI), in partnership with Student Energy and Youth Climate Lab, has developed a new platform for young entrepreneurs with a flair for business development that is environmentally and socially sound.

Greenpreneurs is designed to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs to transform innovative ideas into green businesses in sustainable energy, water and sanitation, sustainable landscapes and green cities.

GGGI’s manager leading the Greenpreneurs Programme, Juhern Kim, says the institute has been working with developing countries for the last six years as an inter-governmental organisation and realised the need to work with young people in those countries as a new engine of green growth. Many young people have innovative ideas on green growth but do not have a proper ecosystem to convert them into business opportunities that create jobs.

“Based on my experience, I learned firsthand about the limitation of an aid-based development approach, and recognised the need of partnering with business as a solution provider of traditional development issues that we want to tackle through a green growth intervention,” Kim tells IPS. “There might be a role of us – solely dedicated to promoting green growth – as a facilitator or platform creator to serve the needs in developing countries, working with various stakeholders including investors.”

Excerpts of the interview follow:

GGGI’s manager leading the Greenpreneurs Programme, Juhern Kim, says the idea behind the programme was to ultimately develop locally-driven, locally-originated green businesses. Courtesy: Juhern Kim

Inter Press Service (IPS):What was the motivation behind the Greenpreneurs Programme?

Juhern Kim (JK):To promote young entrepreneurs developing green business and contributing to green growth. Young entrepreneurs in developing countries have a lack of access to the right technical training, network, mentorship, (strategy to access to) investment capital. They require coaching to convert their ideas into solid business plans.

But incubating young entrepreneurs is not a simple task, since the demand is varied depending on diverse stages of business development, e.g. idea stage–prototyping–testing–commercialisation. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to help entrepreneurs, particularly for those who are committed to green growth. And we are not talking about Silicon Valley here, with abundant capital, intellectual and physical infrastructure, and advanced ecosystem. These types of platforms are not always installed in every country in the developing world. For young entrepreneurs in the developing world, [we have to] level the playing field.

IPS: Why the youth for greenpreneurship?

JK: I was working in Cambodia from 2011 to 2013 and realised that young people in rural areas were leaving their towns looking for new jobs. I wondered if rural areas are losing their young people who could look after the future of those villages, from economic, social, and environmental perspectives.

The idea behind promoting Greenpreneurs was to ultimately develop locally-driven, locally-originated green businesses. Ideas created by local people are authentic and ultimately sustainable if the business is taken care of with local ownership, since they know what they need, in terms of culture and practice. We thought, if that worked, that would provide green jobs for the youth.

IPS:Are green jobs possible in achieving the SDGs?

JK: Yes. Depending on the country situation and our intervention, we are focused mainly on goals #6, #7, #11, #13, #15 and #17 on climate change, energy, water and sanitation, land, agriculture, forestry and green cities. We want to grow the green economy sector and this can be associated with green finance and education and support social goals…the idea is to support and boost innovation in terms of green growth and provide some support. We believe ultimately these early stage investments will create jobs and, if successful, will ensure the hiring of local people and these kinds of businesses can be expanded.

IPS: Talk me through the business plan competition behind this initiative?

JK: Through our pilot programme this year, we have received 349 applications globally from youth startups. From these applicants we shortlisted 10 finalists and they have been working with us since early August through the 10-week web modules. We thought the online modules were ideal instead of developing a physical incubator, since we targeted youth entrepreneurs who do have enough support on the ground.

We started off with a webinar with GGGI’s director general Frank Rijsberman’s message to young entrepreneurs while providing content-based modules dealing with customer segmentation and problem-solving techniques to financial/impact modelling. We are now on Week 7 and up to Week 10 we will be help them organise their ideas to customise them for a final business pitch.

This will be a five-minute video pitch in which they will quantify social and environmental returns and show a robustness of the financial model to evaluate the proposal. We will then select three finalists who will come to Seoul in late October to be awarded the prize, during the side event of GGGI council.

IPS: Green growth is quite a fancy concept especially in the African context and in your experience do you see a lot of interest in this low carbon based development given that developing countries have technically argued they pollute less than developed countries but bear the brunt of the impact of climate change? 

JK: I would dare to say this is an old argument. The kind of radical confrontation is over. The situation is different now. The facts are there. Simply put, in 2016 solar power became cheaper in terms of clean energy – there is no reason to not pursue an economically beneficial and social sound renewable business. It is not just about limiting development for the sake of the environment, but more about thinking of ways of using the natural capital wisely in the growing economy.

One of the examples is bio-economy, which could be considered a subset of green growth based on biological resources. Agriculture and food production are part of the bio-economy as one of the easiest entry points for the development of innovative bio-economy opportunities – agriculture is the largest driver of global environmental change, and is most affected by these changes. Therefore, a transformation to a sustainable agriculture and food system is a must.

IPS: What next?

JK: We have tried to make this programme as flexible as possible, focusing on actual impacts on the ground nurturing promising entrepreneurs. We do not want to re-invent the wheel, as there are many players in entrepreneurship such as incubators and accelerators.

We will partner with them leveraging our comparative advantage of working directly with our partner governments. After this year’s competition – equipped with the seed capital for entrepreneurs hopefully from our new private sector partners – we hope to make a better global and national programme giving more opportunities to young people in developing countries dedicated to green growth with an aim of actual job creation.

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  • greg gerritt

    Recent studies suggest rather strongly that even the best delinkage between economic growth and ecological devastation is unlikely to work. The human economy is already taking more from the planet than the planet can sustain. Green growth is a fraud.

mahendra ramsinghani