From a “take, make, dispose” to a “make, use, recycle” model, the circular economy has become a catalyst behind social innovations. Social enterprises are now integrating the circular economy into their core functions of production and service processes to protect the environment and tackle climate change. Impact players in the Southeast Asia region took no time to embrace this model as the foundation for their futuristic innovations to shift to a low carbon economy, but the implementation is not as simple as it seems.
A great number of potential initiatives never get off the ground because of lack of entrepreneurial knowledge — including marketing strategies and financial models — funds, recognition, and networking opportunities. There is a need for equalized access to skills, tools, and technologies for all kinds of organizations in this sector, regardless of their size, structure, and location.
Biji-biji Initiative, founded in 2013, is an impact-driven organization based in Malaysia. Its primary aim is to inspire and empower individuals to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and to promote the principles of the circular economy. By democratizing access to technologies and skills, Biji-biji Initiative addresses the knowledge gap, fostering the growth of environmental enterprises at every level, with a particular focus on grassroots initiatives and startups. The organization serves as a potent role model, demonstrating how the integration of the circular economy into operational models can drive growth, profitability, and job creation. Some of the initiative’s key programs include Beyond Bins, the Environmental Accelerator Program, and Planet Us. These initiatives aim to facilitate recycling, educate about the circular economy, and assist local environmental organizations in their expansion, all as part of Biji-biji’s overarching mission to promote sustainable living.
Beyond Bins is the flagship program of the organization that transforms waste into recycled products in the form of home decors and accessories. A Social Return of Investment (SROI) study on Beyond Bins has found that for every RM1 spent on the project yields a RM7.32 return to the environment and the community, thus concluding the positive environmental and social impacts through this circular economy solution. The recycling process employing a plastic recycling machine is carried out by women and young people from marginalized communities, it in turn provides them with a platform for alternative sources of income. The fact that other companies are willing to buy these recycled products as their corporate gifts shows that an effort is being made to alter the way in which corporates think about trash management besides the communities.
Biji-biji Initiative has made significant strides in plastic waste management through its Beyond Bins program. However, recognizing the challenges faced by small and medium-sized environmental organizations, the initiative has developed several accelerator programs, including its latest Environmental Accelerator Program. This program offers mentorship, workshops, access to seed funds, and opportunities for networking and partnerships. While accelerator programs are increasingly popular for fostering early-stage business growth, there is a discernible lack of programs specifically tailored to the circular economy and environmental sectors. By designing more accelerator programs, Biji-biji Initiative hopes to encourage the emergence of environmental solution-focused startups such as Bioloop, Diribumi, PKKOAP, GRASS, Materials in Works, ECOMY, PRORECA, SEAD, GEMS, My Clean Beach.
Explaining how their accelerator program is driving the growth of the regional impact economy, Juliana Adam, the CEO of Biji-biji Initiative, noted, “Our accelerators have the unique opportunity to provide a platform for grassroots and relatively new impact organizations to build their capacities to scale their impact. We’ve learned from our experience and realize the importance of having expert mentors and access to further resources and a network as keys to achieving greater impact.”
The primary objective of this program is to align environmental organizations, irrespective of their structure (whether not-for-profits or impact enterprises), with broader goals. These include incorporating a circular economy, adopting a sustainable development framework, and attaining financial stability to facilitate long-term impacts on a national or global scale. Participants also learn about marketing strategies for enhancing their digital presence and advanced tools for fostering impact growth. These tools include Design Thinking, the Social Business Model Canvas, and the Theory of Change, which help organizations develop SMART pitches to secure seed funds from program partners. Additionally, the program offers networking opportunities with regional industry players, furthering participants’ exposure and recognition.
While accelerator programs are powerful tools, their effectiveness in achieving environmental sustainability hinges on people’s intrinsic motivation to innovate solutions within this sector. It requires an ecosystem that shifts the entrepreneurial mindset towards more environmentally-focused innovation. Biji-biji Initiative addresses this through its Planet Us program. This multi-platform campaign features a diverse array of activities, including talks, workshops, competitions, exhibitions, and online games. Its aim is to enhance environmental literacy among Malaysian youth, inspiring them to adopt sustainable habits and actively participate in climate action efforts.
The Planet Us program primarily focuses on three core areas: encouraging responsible use of natural resources, preserving environmental resources, and promoting innovative technology and research to address environmental challenges. This program specifically targets high school groups, particularly those with limited resources and access to comprehensive environmental education. Its aim is to sow the ‘biji’ (seed) of environmental awareness among these young students, as they possess the potential to offer fresh perspectives and generate diverse solutions.
While the concept of a circular economy has been a hot topic within the industry, transforming it from a buzzword into standard practice is a significant challenge. Biji-biji Initiative demonstrates how an ecosystem can be crafted to guide individuals’ behaviors, encouraging them to be more mindful about plastic waste management and actively participate in implementing a circular economy.
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