The global economy has long focused on short-term growth that ultimately overlooked social and environmental values. Our economic systems, at least in the last century, have misallocated natural, capital, and human resources by prioritising profits over equality and climate change.
However, despite global efforts towards a green economic transition, Middle Eastern and African economies are still missing out on climate funding and development aid that can boost green innovation and growth.
At Leaders International, we assist startups and MSMEs – the growth engines of developing economies in the region – to adapt to the economic, social, and environmental needs of the 21st century. To do so, we drive investments into interventions that help us provide direct, technical and financial support to business enterprises.
This will help us and our partners to lead the transition to a green economy in MENA and Africa. This support will enable enterprises to go green, and ultimately, expedite the delivery of SDGs.
But to facilitate this green transformation, startups and MSMEs need an enabling ecosystem where they can thrive and expand. Our five main priorities, or what we like to call our Five Ps, support the creation of such an ecosystem. They are: prosperity, parity, planet, people and policy.
We aspire to enable all people and enterprises to reap the benefits and unlock the full potential of a prosperous economy, today and tomorrow. This economy, however, shall thrive without compromising social and environmental values.
Instead, it should generate wealth that supports decent livelihoods and financial, social and physical wellbeing for all. It should provide access to knowledge, skills, job opportunities, resources and finance, while safeguarding and even bolstering green standards and social inclusion.
Economic prosperity, we believe, is a solid ground for the alleviation of poverty, economic empowerment of minority groups, the acceleration of innovation and the development of MSMEs’ resilience in the face of fluctuating market demands.
An economic transformation that lacks justice cannot prevail. For a green economy to prosper, it must be fair, inclusive and non-discriminatory.
It empowers youth, women, non-bankable entrepreneurs, vulnerable groups, and underserved communities in rural areas. A green economy thinks beyond the citizens of crowded capitals to improve livelihoods of those who have for long been inherently disadvantaged and disprivileged.
We see parity as a catalyst for social change, where people and enterprises everywhere have equal distribution of opportunities, outcomes and resources. Our concept of parity, however, is not limited to gender equality and elimination of disparities.
It goes an extra mile to guarantee that business enterprises are fair to the environment, wildlife, and biosphere, and that their activities today are in the interests of citizens of the future.
We recognise the importance of strengthening ecological values. Natural capital is non-substitutable, and therefore, crossing its boundaries will only make it harder for us to restore and invest in the future.
By supporting MSMEs to go greener and startups to think greener, we preserve our natural resources, reduce our carbon footprint, and protect the water, soil and air of our planet.
Circularity and regenerative thinking are, therefore, imperative to replenishing our natural resources. At the innovation level, we will support the creation of smart solutions in different sectors, nurture regenerative cultures and business models and build the capacity of workers and communities to regenerate.
At the MSME level, we will go beyond supporting environment-friendly practices to transform production lines, supply chains, energy consumption, waste management, and even the entrepreneurial mindset of talent.
We believe transition should be powered by people, the real champions of change. By people, we refer to all citizens, as consumers, workers and business owners, who mostly lack the urgency and willingness to go green, especially during conflicts and poor economic conditions.
Thus, our interventions will increase both demand for and supply of environmentally-conscious endeavours. To do so, we plan and lead behavioural change and awareness campaigns to create environmentally-conscious consumers.
Once consumption habits start to change based on strong environmental, social and ethical standards, consumers will compel business enterprises to adapt to meet their new needs. Sustainable consumption will automatically stimulate sustainable production, and simultaneously, the workers’ willingness to accept organisational change.
This efficiency and sufficiency, in both consumption and production, will eventually reduce our depletion of natural and social resources.
In a green economy, science and economics meet to guide our governance and bolster our evidence-based decision-making.
Scientific research provides us with data and knowledge on the green performance of our MSMEs and the innovation potential of our entrepreneurs.
We utilise this knowledge to generate new insights and actionable recommendations that can guide and inform public policies at a multi-sectoral level.
By working with policymakers, we ensure that business enterprises operate in an enabling environment that incentivises them to go green and encourages regulations that help them do so. This will deliver an economic system that is driven by financial as well as social and environmental values for growth.
However, we do not see policy-level interventions solely from a research and advocacy lens, but also one that encourages social dialogue, civic engagement and public-private partnerships.
Leaders International is on track to enable the creation and global expansion of 2,000+ green startups, digital-freelance agencies, and MSMEs through tailored technical and financial assistance and equity investments. The aim is to catalyse economic activity, lower environmental impact, and empower vulnerable groups.
With more than 15 years experience in MSMEs development and entrepreneurship in 10+ countries in the Middle East and Africa, we have identified the biggest challenges of MSMEs and startups to adopt green practices.
Through extensive research and experience, we have put forward six main solutions aimed at overcoming the barriers that stand in the path of green transition, all of which focus on giving access:
1. Access to green finance: provide business enterprises with a sustainable access to financing opportunities that incentivise them and enable them to shift from being solely driven by profits to being driven by social and environmental purpose as well.
We work on the following:
- Financing non-bankable youth and women
- Investment in human talent and potential for green growth
- Influencing the microfinance industry, equity investors and development funds to adapt to the region’s sustainability needs
- Advocating for change at the policy level to ease regulations and lower costs for setting up green businesses.
2. Access to green technology: provide business enterprises with access to emerging technologies and digital solutions for development. Going green highly relies on the business’s capacity to generate and adopt technological innovations that enable the reduction and offsetting of an enterprise’s carbon footprint. To do so, our interventions:
- Spur intrapreneurship
- Facilitate digital transformation
- Manage the resulting organisational changes
- Enable digital infrastructures
- Build digital skills that enterprises need to green various business operations.
3. Access to green business-development services: build robust linkages between business enterprises and the green-focused organisations that can support them, such as business incubators, business associations and chambers of commerce, as well as individual experts and companies that provide business consulting services.
We utilise our BOOST voucher system to connect startups and MSMEs with experts and business-support service providers who have diverse experience in greening different business operations, from procurement to sales.
Due to the lack of green expertise in the region, our development interventions start with the green development of business support organisations themselves before going all the way down to support business enterprises.
4. Access to information: share green knowledge and disseminate research findings and insights to help our entrepreneurs and business owners make the right, informed decisions.
With greater consciousness on planetary and social foundations, and improved awareness on the altruistic benefits of a green economic transition, startups and MSMEs will have more willingness and motivation to green their activities – especially when their access to information is accompanied with green-friendly public policies and regulations.
5. Access to digital skills: equip youth with digital and green skills and the innovation mindset required to build a new generation of entrepreneurs and workers that can lead the transition to a greener, more inclusive economy.
According to LinkedIn data, the share of green talent in the global workforce has jumped from 9.6% in 2015 to 13.3% in 2021.
The success and speed of going green heavily relies on our potential to innovate and our ability to digitally transform. Greening developing economies in the Middle East and Africa requires human capital and digital talent to create and take more green roles, and automatically drive the shift to green jobs.
This shift requires our assistance to minimise the existing digital divide, bridge the green skill gap and boost the workers’ employability and access to green jobs across multiple sectors.
The areas in which MENA workers need to excel may include:
- Sustainable development
- Environmental remediation
- Renewable energy
- Solar energy
- Environmental auditing
- Occupational safety and health
- ISO certifications
- And corporate social responsibility (CSR).
In startups, green skills are manifested in the creativity and ingenuity of entrepreneurs to generate and regenerate technological solutions for various green challenges.
To do so, we equip entrepreneurs with a diverse range of digital skills that help them to find new, smart solutions for green transportation, construction, tourism, manufacturing and more.
These digital skills may include artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, automation of business processes and data analytics.
Growing green and digital talent will increase the supply of green skills to meet the increasing demand for green jobs, not only in the Middle East and Africa, but also worldwide. The nexus of green and digital makes an ideal gateway for skilled workers in the region to occupy future jobs, and entrepreneurs and MSMEs to access new global markets.
6. Access to future jobs: Leaders International has set out to create thousands of new job opportunities in the form of digital and green jobs and job positions that can accelerate the transition and guarantee decent livelihoods for the current and future workforce.
Our definition of green jobs are those that cannot be performed without green skills or the needed digital skills to bring about a green impact.
However, the creation of new jobs is not only limited to hiring new workers to take existing roles, but also generating new green roles and job positions that did not exist before – jobs that are necessary for the digital and green transformation of business enterprises and the economy as a whole.
Through our support to green innovation, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, we will be able to create these new jobs and job positions. As more green startups grow, so does the demand for green skills and jobs.
At the MSME level on the other hand, the greener the growth of a business enterprise the greener the jobs it absorbs from the labour market.
The green jobs that we generate match the skills that we deliver to our entrepreneurs and workers. New jobs are being created in environmental engineering, urban planning, green procurement, energy solutions, sustainability marketing and many more.
Creating these new jobs, however, needs more than skilling. It requires that green becomes the one and only compass for economic growth for enterprises, their support organisations and governments.