Martin Herrndorf

Ten Years From Now … A Day With the SOCAP/Europe Entrepreneurs

Editor’s Note: How could impact investing make a difference? In the first of several previews ahead of SOCAP/Europe, NextBillion writer Martin Herrndorf takes a pleasant stroll through “Socapia” in May 2021, observing the impact of the winners of the SOCAP/Europe Social Entrepreneur Scholarship ten years from now.

After “snoozing” twice, I finally wake up. There’s already noise in the narrow streets around my small downtown hotel. I look out of the window. I am in the provincial capital of Socapia. It is exactly ten years after my first SOCAP/Europe Conference, in 2011. The conference had grown to become the major “impact industry” event over the years, and I continued to attend. Still, I always wanted to go back to see what had become of the first round of winners of the SOCAP/Europe Social Entrepreneur Scholarship I met back in Amsterdam in May 2011.

Morning Run

So, I finally realized my plan to take a trip through Socapia. I want to leave the provincial capital I stayed in, and get out to the rural areas. Before coming here, I had discussed the area’s progress with staff Solaron Sustainability Services. They know the area, and have repeatedly consulted local organizations – but I was eager to see it myself.

As there’s still time for the bus to leave, I put on my running shoes to make my morning round through the city. On the first street corner, I encounter the source of the morning noise. Workers in new and clean uniforms load a bio-diesel powered truck. Since the city introduced the new material management system inspired by Ciudad Saludable, the hazardous and dirty job of a “waste-picker” has become a reputable job – the employees greet me with a smile.

I take a turn, and enter a well-kept park that citizens proposed and designed when Smart Cities Advisors developed the new urban plan. Here, the noises change: I hear birds – and shuffling feet and sharp shouts – here, there, go! What was an abandoned (and somewhat scary) lot some years ago is now a football camp. The organizers, volunteers from Caramundo, had developed the plans for their local “football academy” at an event by Streetfootballworld – and used the Dutch crowdfuning site Play It Forward / Pifworld to get the resources together. I join the youths from the neighboring quarter for some trips around the training compound, amazed by their energy and motivation to, hopefully, one day join a big and important football club – and have a sense of community and belonging in the meantime.

I get picked up by one of the hosts at the Hub back at the hotel. We use two of their Zambikes to arrive just in time for the networking breakfast of SAARC, an organization for women entrepreneurs at the Hub. The buzz of social entrepreneurs discussing their projects reminds me of the Hub Zurich, in Switzerland, or La Ruche, in France, the curious questions of sitawi, a local social investor – change is in the air!

Leaving the city

After heated exchange and brainstorming, the time has come fast to leave the Hub and jump on the bus heading out of the city.

The first stop is a market hamlet, half an hour off the main road. We pass a larger Husk Power Systems, where farmers unload (and get paid for) their rice husk that was previously burnt on the fields, or just left rotting. Vehicles from Buvghana, powered with biomass-based fuel from Agni, help them to collect their agriculture byproducts (formerly known as waste) and bring them to the collection station.

The farmers are proud of helping to bring electricity to the local community. Most households had first accessed solar energy when SolarNow and JanSun brought affordable solar lamps, and then full solar home systems, to the village. While most households in the village are connect to the husk power plant by now, both organizations keep an office – to reach out to the smaller villages and single farms out of reach for the micro-grid. Recently, Emergence BioEnergy Inc. entered the rural areas as well – allowing customers real choice among the different technologies and lower prices for energy, as solar providers lowered their prices to keep up with the new competition. For most of these new, carbon-neutral technologies, people receive carbon-offset payments via MicroEnergy Credits, some of which directly goes to paying of the micro-credits they took when purchasing the equipment.

Meeting the farmers

Just outside the village, farmers have gathered in front of the impressive Amal milk collection and treatment center (that they own as a cooperative). We meet one farmer who has come to town for the final exam in his long-distance teaching program from The Smallholders Foundation, helping him to finally become literate and write cards with his two daughters studying in the provincial capital of Socapia. He uses the seeds and equipment provided by the Backpack Farm Agriculture Program together with his Driptech low-cost irrigation system to earn the money for the university fees. He proudly tells us of his, by now, five healthy cows, and how he uses the solar-fridge, developed by Promethean Power Systems, to store his fresh produce before the collection vehicle comes around.

Inside the building, farmers are show how to receive payments directly to their online mobile accounts, relying on the free software provided by FrontlineSMS:Credit. Mobile payments have also helped the SAHAJ group, taking orders for their local handcraft through v-shesh, sometimes from customers or interior designers on the other side of the globe!

For refreshment, we head to the local village store. It was built up years ago by to Frontier Markets, and is owned and managed by a local cooperatives. It’s much more then a store by now: It’s the meeting place of Participatory Development Initiatives (PDI). It includes facilities for health training and monitoring, offered by specialised NGOs like Operation ASHA. And it offers a wide range of educational material and training material from BRAC and other local NGOs working to raise farmers’ productivity and help them to develop new income streams.

Moving Up to the Mountains

We leave the farming area, and move up the gentle slopes of the nearby mountains. The air gets fresher and the vegetation thicker. I doze off, as I regularly do on bus rides, and wake up only when we stop in front of a street blockade, in the middle of thick forest around us. A large sign warns of illegal logging, and guards check cars and trucks for illegal wood extraction. The guards tell me that they have been employed from the local community, and live nearby with their families. Their modest but decent salaries are paid by the local Uganda Carbon Bureau Ltd. Through its long-standing working relation with the Carbon Neutral Planet project that collects carbon offset payments from the (by now commonly called) over-industrialized countries, it has arranged a scheme that allows the local tribes to manage the forest in a sustainable manner.

The community tells me how they were anxious about the development of the new global carbon economy before the groundbreaking treaty of Lagos in 2015 (at the COP39 meeting). In Lagos, the world’s nations finally adopted the “one person, one carbon allowance” principle, also helped by the drastic reductions of energy consumption demonstrated through tools like Treemagotchi. Additionally, the over-industrialised nations agreed to pay off their historic carbon debts by 2040. Through the efforts of Adopt a Negotiator and similar websites, the local community we stop in understood what the treaty meant for the local biosphere projects. More, they could even coordinate with other projects, and communicate directly with delegates from their own and other countries to push for a climate treaty that finally brought development and climate issues under a single and integrated framework.

As the sun settles, we take an evening stroll through the lush forest, and stop at a small lodge. After dinner, we settle in the comfortable hammock for an evening beer. I doze off, listening to the strange forest noises…

When my alarm clock rings, again, I finally wake up, completely, back in my Amsterdam city hotel, in May 2011. After a strong coffee I walk through the morning mist along the canals of Amsterdam towards the last day of the 2011 SOCAP meeting. And while I’m slightly hung-over from last night’s drinking with the amazing bunch of social entrepreneurs present there – the dream of my Socapia journey 2021, still ten years away, is surprisingly clear and vivid in my head!

While the “dream journey” described above is virtual, all of the above-mentioned organisations and some more will take part in the 2.5 day SOCAP / Europe Conference on 30 May to 1 June 2011 to make this dream come true. NextBillion will provide live coverage of the event, so stay tuned!

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Agriculture, Energy, Environment
impact investing, solar