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27 African Startups Prove Worthy Grassroots Solutions for Sustainable Development

Image credit: SEED Africa Symposium

27 African social and environmental startups were recognized with awards last week at the 2015 SEED Africa Symposium. The recipients’ business models benefit local communities and help meet sustainable development challenges. Two of the awards were specifically designated for women-led ventures that focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

"Across the African continent, local enterprises are tackling extreme poverty, environmental degradation, and social exclusion,” said UNDP administrator Helen Clark. “The 2015 SEED Winners are examples of what can happen when local ingenuity meets innovative partnerships. They offer a new, powerful paradigm for sustainable development and green growth based on community empowerment and the collective will for social change."

Each SEED Award winner receives a financial contribution, technical assistance, free access to different supporting institutions, and other support to develop their business and skills. Over 200 enterprises have received the award so far. The 2015 winners include:

  • Kidogo Early Childhood Centres (Kenya, Gender Equality Award): Childcare options for families living in urban slums, which employ local women and allow mothers and caregivers to work and attend school. The company also supports a local microfinancing program that provides women with a “business in a box” to help them start their own small businesses in childcare.
  • STM Solar Technologies Manufacturing (Ethiopia): The first private Ethiopian enterprise to offer solar lamps and solar home systems to rural households in the country. Sales are in local currency and there are microfinance credit options.
  • RK Renew Energy PLC (Ethiopia): Provides improved cook stoves to refugees in camps across Ethiopia. The fuel-efficient stoves reduce the need for refugees to trade some of their food rations for cooking fuel, reduces the number of trips to collect firewood (which can pose safety risks for women related to sexual violence), and reduce other environmental and health impacts of fuelwood burning.
  • East Africa Fruit Farm and Company (Tanzania): Provides training, advice, prepared land, and fair prices for produce to smallholder farmers; reduces post-harvest losses with cold storage and the use of renewable energy; trades and markets locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Alternative Energy Source for Heating (Malawi): Creates self-employment opportunities by training youth to produce rice husk briquettes, which are sold to households as an alternative energy source to charcoal and fuelwood and reduces deforestation.
  • Masole Ammele (Malawi): Builds organic fish farming skills at a community level, facilitating extra income for participants through the breeding of fish and raising awareness for ecosystem preservation.
  • O Viveiro (Mozambique): Offers training sessions in organic farming and technology-enhanced food processing practices to underprivileged girls. Products are sold through a cooperative system, at two shops and a restaurant.
  • Lighting Up Women’s Lives (Nambia): Supports 150 women weavers in six rural villages, expanding into selling solar lights and batteries.
  • SavvyLoo (South Africa): Waterless toilet system for rural areas and temporary settlements that is easy to install and relocate, saves water, and is hygienic.
  • P.E.A.C.E. Thinana Recycling Cooperative (South Africa): Cleans up neighborhoods and reduces waste to landfill while creating employment, educating communities about the benefits of recycling, using non-motorized trolleys and donkey carts for transportation, and operating a waste recycling and buy-back center.
  • Vula (South Africa): Mobile phone application that allows frontline rural health professionals to communicate directly with specialists to improve primary care and reduce the impact of treatable and reversible illnesses.

The SEED Award winners offer some hope that the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved; they are grassroots solutions to combat the pressing problems related to poverty, hunger, health, education, equality, clean water and sanitation, energy, decent employment, and climate change.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 will take place as a plenary meeting of the General Assembly in New York, September 25-27. Leading up to the General Assembly, Climate Week NYC is releasing exclusive content and hosting events throughout the month.


Hannah Furlong is one of Sustainable Brands's Contributing Writers, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]


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