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Social Entrepreneurship and Resilience

How Climate Change Impacts People and Poverty.

Findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Climate Change 2021 caused UN Secretary General António Guterres to declare the report a “code red for humanity.”

And according to the World Bank, “Climate change hits the poorest people the hardest…. As the effects of climate change worsen, escaping poverty becomes more difficult.”

More bad news from the World Bank: Unchecked climate change is poised to push 132 million people into poverty over the next 10 years.

Most Climate Action Stresses Environmental Impacts

Realizing the realities of climate change, some governments, corporations, and individuals are trying to do their part to address the impacts.

For example:

  • Resources for the Future’s “Climate Insights 2020: Policies and Politics” survey summarizes government opportunities to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions, including consumer incentives, carbon pricing policies, regulations, and tax incentives.
  • The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) has found that leading companies are taking steps both internally and externally to reduce their own emissions and become more resilient to inevitable climate impacts.
  • As we become aware of the causes and effects of climate change, more individuals are doing things like driving and flying in planes less often, embracing electric cars and appliances, making our homes more energy-efficient, and eating less meat and dairy.

While the fight against climate change is necessary for our survival, it’s not a sufficient response. In parallel, we need to help vulnerable populations become climate resilient.

Farmer in Asia

The Role of Social Entrepreneurship in Climate Resilience

Social enterprises assess their success by measuring combinations of both financial and social/environmental impact. Accordingly, they occupy an important space that’s different from that of corporations, governments, or nonprofit organizations. In the realm of climate change, many social enterprises are uniquely positioned to help people in their communities build climate resilience and move out of poverty.

Over nearly 20 years, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has accelerated more than 1,200 social enterprises globally, witnessing first-hand the value they deliver to their communities. These social enterprises, and thousands like them worldwide, contribute to climate resilience and poverty alleviation in at least three major areas: clean energy, clean water, and climate-smart agriculture.

Promoting Clean Energy

According to “Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report 2021,” 759 million people lacked electricity in 2019 and 2.6 billion people had no access to clean cooking fuels—numbers expected to worsen because of COVID-19. More broadly, the Energy for Growth Hub estimates that 3.5 billion people globally lack access to “reasonably reliable” electricity services.

Inadequate access to energy and clean cooking fuels helps drive the cycle of poverty. People without other options must rely on energy sources such as coal, kerosene, and wood, which can be costly and time-consuming to gather and use. Plus, burning them adds to the atmospheric carbon buildup.

Miller Center has worked with more than 200 social enterprises providing affordable, reliable, sustainable clean energy solutions such as solar lights, clean cookstoves, village-level mini-grids, and solar water pumps. Collectively, these enterprises have enabled more than 75 million people to work and study at night; cook their food without breathing noxious fumes; and avoid excessive outlays of money and time purchasing and gathering sub-par fuels.

Unchecked climate change is poised to push 132 million people into poverty over the next 10 years.

By providing their communities with access to clean energy sources, social entrepreneurs can reduce their customers’ use of environment-degrading fuels while also expanding opportunities for earning a better living.

Providing Access to Clean Water

As UN Water puts it, “Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change.” At one extreme, flooding from heavier and more frequent storms can contaminate fresh water sources and damage or destroy crops and entire towns. At the other extreme, drought worsens water and food security.

Already, according to Water.org, 785 million people—1 in 9 of the world’s populace—lack access to safe water.

Social enterprises tackle water issues from a number of perspectives. For example, AquaSafi builds kiosks that distribute purified water affordably to communities in India. Nazava, based in Indonesia, sells clean water filters for home use. And companies like Ecosoftt in Asia install solutions that help communities conserve and manage limited water supplies.

Encouraging Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices

Worldwide, some 500 million smallholder farmers produce about 80% of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Climate change alters weather patterns, making growing seasons and water availability more unpredictable. Among social entrepreneurs helping smallholder farmers cope is Farmerline, a Ghana-based social enterprise providing location-specific weather and planting data.

In the realm of climate change, many social enterprises are uniquely positioned to help people in their communities build climate resilience and move out of poverty.

Growing populations combined with climate change makes it harder to feed everybody. When smallholder farmers can’t get their harvests to market, much of it goes to waste. A Deloitte report estimates that annual post-harvest food loss quantities could feed all the world’s undernourished people. Social enterprises like Taimba in Kenya and ONganic in India are helping to reduce the friction of connecting farmers’ produce to markets.

Recognizing the Interconnectedness of Energy, Water, and Agriculture

Promoting clean energy, providing access to clean water, and encouraging climate-smart agriculture practices don’t unfold in isolation. They’re all connected. It takes energy to clean and move water. It takes water to grow food. And in some cases, it takes agriculture to produce energy. Recognizing this interconnectedness, some social enterprises tackle two or three of these areas simultaneously.

Simusolar, in Tanzania, uses a pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) model to provide affordable solar irrigation systems to smallholder farmers, delivering clean energy solutions for agribusiness. In Uganda, REPARLE (Renewable Energy Powering Agriculture and Rural Livelihood Enhancement) uses agricultural waste as fuel for off-grid energy generation in rural farming communities. And Sistema.bio offers affordable biodigesters that provide homes and small communities with energy made from plant and animal waste.

AquaSafi builds kiosks that distribute purified water affordably to communities in India. Nazava, based in Indonesia, sells clean water filters for home use. And companies like Ecosoftt in Asia install solutions that help communities conserve and manage limited water supplies.

Taking a People-Centric Approach to Climate Resilience

While governments, corporations, and individuals all must do their part to address climate change, social entrepreneurship has a special role to play by delivering solutions that directly improve climate resilience of people, especially those living in poverty.

Social enterprises offering solutions that promote clean energy, clean water, and climate-smart agriculture can help people in communities hard hit by climate change to become more resilient. Supporting and scaling these social enterprises is one way to accelerate their people-centric climate resilience impact.

Brigit Helms is Executive Director, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the premier university-based social enterprise accelerator dedicated to eliminating poverty. For 30 years, Helms has created and delivered solutions to social and environmental challenges in 45 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in both the private and public sectors.

This article was produced in collaboration with the Magazine's Content Partners.

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