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Repetition Reimagined

Entrepreneurial approaches to climate challenges

In its symbolic form, fire embodies a paradox: it has the power to annihilate and to catalyze new life. This past summer, the reality of the former was inescapable for many of us. The relentless news of devastating wildfires infiltrated our daily lives — tainting the air we breathe, encroaching on leisurely retreats, and, for some, striking close to home.

The ravages of this year’s fire season, alongside an array of other unprecedented natural disasters, underscore a stark truth: the repercussions of climate change are not a distant threat but a present and urgent reality. Yet, there remains a palpable disconnect. As the smoky veil of climate denial thickens for some, many with privilege — those who can seek refuge in the aisles of a Home Depot for an air purifier — are only beginning to confront a stark reality: the experiences that have shaken us recently are not new but rather a longstanding norm for marginalized communities. It is within this context that the climate justice movement gains its urgency and purpose.

Climate change does not strike evenly. Its severe repercussions fall hardest on immigrants, refugees, and communities of color. They face a compounded vulnerability: their often-precarious geographic locations and the systemic barriers that exclude them from political and economic power severely hinder their ability to develop resilience against climate change. These communities do not merely face the immediate brunt of environmental disasters; such events intensify their ongoing struggles. The path towards resilience is multifaceted — requiring support not only in the face of immediate climate crises but also in building sustainable foundations for prosperity, such as economic opportunities, homeownership, access to credit, health services, and educational advancement.

Clock with hands heading backwards

The call for decisive action on climate change has been a constant refrain, directed urgently at governments, corporations, and global leaders. Yet, as this plea becomes almost rote, I’m drawn to contemplate the essence of repetition through a philosophical lens. Sören Kierkegaard, in his musings on repetition, distinguishes it from mere recollection. He posits that while recollection is a backward glance at what has been, genuine repetition is a forward-facing act. It is recollection directed ahead, carrying the past into the future. “What is recollected has been, therefore, is repeated backward. In contrast, genuine repetition is recollected forward” (Kierkegaard, Sören, 1813-1855. Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs).

In grappling with climate change, we often look back to identify where we’ve faltered, but this backward gaze can’t chart the course ahead. Equally, a relentless pursuit of novelty without anchoring in our core values risks losing our identity in reactionary change. Kierkegaard’s repetition challenges us to embrace our past actions and identities not as an anchor, but as a compass — to inform and guide our journey forward without foregoing our essence. It’s about leveraging our history as a launchpad for innovation in our quest to address the climate crisis. Thus, Kierkegaard invites us to a deeper level of reflection: to engage with our past actions and visions in such a way that they become a continual opportunity to evolve into the individuals and collectives we aspire to be. This philosophical framework encourages us to reconsider how we can support impactful change and remain authentic to our mission as we explore new pathways to convey the critical nature of climate urgency.

In grappling with climate change, we often look back to identify where we’ve faltered, but this backward gaze can’t chart the course ahead.

The struggle for climate action is as wearying as it is urgent. Leaders, creators, and activists have long faced the Sisyphean task of advocating for swift, meaningful action, often feeling that their calls echo without response in the face of the accelerating pace of climate change. Our entrenched systems — with their byzantine bureaucracies and the inertia of public opinion — present formidable barriers to rapid change. This complexity does not, however, excuse inaction from those who wield influence; institutions, policymakers, and corporations bear an unwavering duty to rise above these challenges.

Yet within this landscape, there is a catalyst for momentum: startups. Agile and unencumbered by the weight of legacy systems, startups are philosophically equipped to ‘recollect forward’, as Kierkegaard might say. They are born from a necessity for innovation, positioned uniquely to escalate their solutions to systemic levels — the kind of scaling that is imperative to confront climate change head-on.

Globe, plug and gears illustration

The unique vantage point of startups and entrepreneurs, especially those embedded within or adjacent to communities bearing the brunt of climate change, is invaluable. Their lived experience affords them an intimate understanding of the nuanced challenges these communities face, including the intricate geographic, political, and economic systems at play.

Take Inno-Neat Energy Solutions, based in Nairobi, Kenya, for example. This enterprise is pioneering off-grid clean energy solutions and providing a critical resource: access to safe, clean drinking water. Their innovation, Safisolar, harnesses solar power to purify water through filters integrated into pumps, all powered by recyclable batteries — a beacon of sustainability.

In the United States, Detroit’s own JustAir is making strides with a platform that offers localized air quality data. This tool empowers communities with the knowledge needed to foster healthier environments, underscoring the value of actionable insights in the pursuit of public health.

Agile and unencumbered by the weight of legacy systems, startups are philosophically equipped to ‘recollect forward’, as Kierkegaard might say.

Meanwhile, Nucleário from Copacabana, Brazil, is revolutionizing reforestation efforts. Their products enhance the growth of seedlings while demanding minimal upkeep, thereby streamlining tree planting and monitoring — critical elements in the rewilding efforts of our planet.

Clean water, clean air, green lands. These should be the most basic of expectations, yet in the context of the climate crisis, they represent profound challenges. Julia Kumari, CEO and Founder of ISeeChange and an esteemed alum of Village Capital, articulates the magnitude of this shift in perspective: ‘Climate change is asking of us something that humanity has never been asked before: It’s asking us to think about ourselves beyond our homes, being members of a city, and actually contributing to the way our cities run and adapt. And to think of ourselves beyond countries, beyond boundaries, and to work together in meaningful ways.’

Inspired by the forward-thinking spirit of entrepreneurs like Julia, we must acknowledge the necessity of carving new paths. It is crucial to rally behind and amplify the reach of impact-creating startups that are not just proposing, but actively building solutions to replenish and restore our planet. This isn’t mere repetition; it’s a clarion call for a profound and collective stride towards an avenue that leads to regeneration and sustainability.

Investors, capital providers, and organizations championing entrepreneurship, let us converge in a purposeful echo of our beginnings. Let’s remember the core reasons that propelled us into this arena of impact. It is time to firmly root ourselves in the achievements and identities we have cultivated, using them not as a crutch but as a springboard into the future. By doing so, we can unlock new opportunities to advance these transformative solutions at a systemic level. This is not just repetition for its own sake; it is a deliberate act of recommitment to our collective mission, to support and scale the innovations that address our planet’s most pressing challenges.

At Village Capital, we’ve supported close to 100 startups working in the sustainability sector solely in 2023, and there are multiple ways in which you can engage and support their sustainable development. Sign up to mentor in our 2024 programs here and join our matching tool within Abaca here.

Allie brings nearly two decades of experience working with entrepreneurs and innovators at the intersection of tech and social change to her role as CEO of Village Capital. Prior to joining the organization in 2016, she served as a senior executive at Revolution and the Case Foundation, the venture capital ... Read more
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