Giulia Christianson and Sreyamsa Bairiganjan

Enabling Green and Inclusive Markets: Four Entrepreneurs’ Perspectives

NextBillion has published several posts on various panels and discussions emerging from Rio+20. But what did entrepreneurs think of Rio+20? What are their impressions of how donors, governments, and organizations can and are helping green and inclusive markets flourish?

We had a chance to follow up with the entrepreneurs from the four New Ventures India companies that participated in the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum session, “Enabling green and inclusive markets – a case for public-private collaboration” to ask them these questions.

We spoke with:

  • Svati Bhogle, founder and CEO of Sustaintech, which promotes a fuel-efficient wood burning stove for commercial kitchens;
  • Doug Peterson, CEO of VayuGrid, which focuses on renewable energy solutions, using non-edible oil seeds as biofuels for diesel engines;
  • Mohan Ranbaore, co-Founder of Waterlife India, which tackles the acute lack of safe drinking water in India through community water systems;
  • Mayank Sekhsaria, co-Founder of Greenlight Planet, which designs and distributes solar-powered lanterns to low-income rural customers in India and Africa.

Collectively, these entrepreneurs laid their opinions along the following four themes:

Rio+20 Provided Inspiration, Laid the Foundation for Future Partnerships

These entrepreneurs were all inspired by Rio. It gave them a sense that their work was part of something bigger. “Rio was very informative and useful…it enlarged our view on various aspects of business worldwide,” commented Ranbaore. He said he was inspired by learning about how so many others are trying to solve issues and problems; Rio reminded him that “I am a part of a bigger circle and not in a silo.”

Bhogle saw a “lot of focus, a meeting of the minds,” in Rio. She left Rio feeling that “companies will drive the green economy—not so much governments.”

Bringing so many like-minded people together also helped lay the groundwork for future partnerships. For instance, from the conference, Peterson identified an opportunity for VayuGrid to help a large corporation meet their carbon neutral goal and they have been holding discussions since Rio+20. Peterson’s story is surely not the only one of its kind; Rio may have planted many seeds—the benefits of will take some time to realize.

Entrepreneurs Called for Sustained Support from Multilateral/Bilateral Donors

The entrepreneurs outlined a handful of ideas where donors could help support social enterprises, with Sekhsaria emphasizing the need for greater collaboration and donor involvement.

First, is for the International Finance Corporation to earmark a fund for social enterprises. Sekhsaria said, “The IFC is great at creating commercial financial instruments—how can they work with smaller enterprises? How can they structure funding for smaller enterprises?”

Second is through showcasing success stories. Sekhsaria pointed to World Bank and IFC’s work with Lighting Africa as an example of a great donor initiative, “it is creating a network of doers, a common approach, and standards. There is a lot of communication between donors and entrepreneurs participating in the initiative.” Sekhsaria feels that “donors should set high-level targets and let enterprises achieve those targets using their own expertise. Donors should help enterprises succeed and then showcase the successes so that others can learn—successes need to be showcased more.”

Ranbaore echoed the need for greater collaboration in order to achieve green and inclusive markets. A takeaway from Rio for him was that business needs partnerships with donors, for example, the “OECD and BMZ can help support our ecosystem by investing in manpower training.”

Third is through sustained relationships. Bhogle, for instance, talked about how she has seen donors migrate to different causes every few years, but “we need them there for the long term.” Furthermore, if there was more coordination between donors, entrepreneurs could collaborate more efficiently with multiple donors. “The donor community can come together to better understand the needs of social enterprises. Collectively they can deliver all the components that social enterprises need: mentoring, funding, training, etc.”

Government is Evolving

These entrepreneurs are optimistic that the government of India is evolving to meet their needs. Peterson said, “We see the right ideas starting to be developed, the [Indian] government is taking initiative in terms of forming conferences to get the right actors together. We see them coming forward with ideas.” Of course, it may be some time before we see systemic change; Bhogle was more cautious, “a few people are trying to change, but the system is constrained because it is so ingrained.”

Sekhsaria and Ranbaore both believe that the Indian government—at a central and state level—is now much more progressive in terms of identifying with and understanding some of the challenges that social enterprises face. “Five years back there was no direct representative that we could directly engage with, now that has all changed. The government has representatives, policies and projects that are supportive of social enterprises” said Sekhsaria. Ranbaore added that, “The government, in addition to being one of the largest supporters, can also be a significant client for social enterprises. This is what all of us need to work towards.”

Beyond Rio: The Value of Networks

Rio+20 certainly provided a platform for ideas to be exchanged, but in the longer term, networks can help foster the kinds of interactions and synergies these entrepreneurs experienced in Rio.

When we asked the entrepreneurs about the role that New Ventures India played in helping them create successful green and inclusive enterprises, a common theme was the value that its network provides.

Peterson said: “Similar to what happened in Rio, through New Ventures events we have been able to make connections with different groups to help our initiatives…to expand what we offer by bringing other companies in as partners or to discover new business opportunities for VayuGrid itself.”

“Being an independent network that does a lot of work in this space, New Ventures has an immense say in the manner in which the sector shapes up,” said Ranbaore, “They can leverage their experience by matching donors with enterprises since they know both [types of] entities very well.”

Sekhsaria said New Ventures has helped him create connections and connected him with donors, but he would like to see New Ventures put together a virtual platform where enterprises can learn from each other both in their own countries and across the global network. “In the current network across six countries, New Ventures has enterprises that showcase a world of experience and we can learn from each other. This is what New Ventures is capable of facilitating very easily.”

Bhogle instead emphasized the value of convening people face-to-face and allowing them to build relationships as they did in Rio. “From spending a week together in Rio, we learned so much, so many barriers have been broken.”

Our discussions really highlighted the critical role of networks; they can foster cross-pollination of ideas, and ultimately accelerate the expansion of green and inclusive markets. It was clear from talking to these four entrepreneurs that the conversations that started in Rio are not over and they are forging ahead with their efforts to drive green and inclusive growth.

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