Social entrepreneurs are more suited to address environment and climate issues than other actors

Jeroo Billimoria

Founder, Catalyst 2030

Jeroo Bilimoria is an Indian social entrepreneur, founder of several international NGOs and Ashoka Fellow. She recently founded Catalyst 2030, a global network of social enterprises and associations that contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals. For the Barometer, she reflects upon the role of social entrepreneurs in the ecological transition, and on the conditions for scaling up the sector.

You recently created Catalyst 2030. Could you introduce it to us? What are its objectives?
Catalyst 2030 was created by a group of social entrepreneurs, who have come together to create this organisation with three main interrelated objectives. We have created Catalyst 2030 to coordinate action between all the stakeholders involved in social entrepreneurship – entrepreneurs but also governments, NGOs and others – so that they can work more closely and contribute to real system change. This second objective, system change, is crucial, and can only be achieved if entrepreneurs are at the forefront of policy development, working with government officials. Our final objective is to optimise funding by equipping funders and investors with the necessary tools (analysis, gatherings, etc.) to properly support social entrepreneurship.

The environmental transition is now at the heart of many stakeholders’ concerns. Public authorities, companies, NGOs… all are grappling with this issue. In this context, what role do you think social entrepreneurs should play?

I think social entrepreneurs have already brought a lot of innovations to support the environmental transition, and that they should therefore be at the forefront in solving those issues. More and more entrepreneurs are adopting climate goals, some in line with the Paris Agreement. Social entrepreneurs are definetly more likely than other entrepreneurs to take this issue given their societal mission.

When compared to other actors, they have demonstrated a commitment towards responding to social and humane problems, and have brought tremendous social innovations in doing so.

When compared to the other actors, what is in your opinion the added-value of social entrepreneurs in adressing this issue ?
In general, I think social entrepreneurs are at the forefront of two things : innovation as well as last mile outreach. They have over the years demonstrated a great capacity to create social innovation that not only brings solutions to pressing needs but also to the most underserved population. If you are about to bring real environmental change, it’s nice to do it in the city, but you also need to do it in more remote areas.

To sum up, I would say that their expertise in addressing societal issues, their commitment to improving things, and their ability to innovate mean they are more suited to adress environment and climate issues than other actors.

We often see social entrepreneurship as something local. Yet, in order to bring about real change, it is important for social entrepreneurs to be able to scale their impact. How do you believe social entrepreneurs can do that?
The response is pretty simple, and is at the root of Catalyst 2030’s approach. Creating bridges between social entrepreneurs and the government so that the latter can help propagate these solutions. As I said, social entrepreneurs are good at innovating, creating new solutions, and the government should help diffuse and scale these solutions to augment their impact.

If you want to have true scale, ultimately it is the government responsability. Just take the example of Covid-19. Regardless of how many great innovations and solutions are developped at the local level, it is only with the help of the government that they can have a great impact.

Do you see other levers that can be pulled to increase this impact?
Another most important lever is obviously funding. Trying to get the funding in the right direction, changing the funding stream so that innovations can happen and so that funding can be invested in system change projects. Take for instance the issue of recycling. In many countries, before the government stepped in to tackle this issue, it was very often entrepreneurs who were responding to recycling needs. The idea then is to fund these projects, to help them get government assistance, and scale so that in the end, the good projects can become a new norm.

A third and really important one as well is partnership. Too often, social entrepreneurs do one thing, government do one thing, associations do one thing. But if we all partner together, innovation will arrive much faster.

How can responsible environmental practices become more mainstream among among all social entrepreneurs?
The answer is simple: policy change and financial incentives. Why did people begin buying hybrid cars? Because in most countries, taxes made it so that buying them was cheaper than buying a gasoline car. The same is true with green energy.

So for you, the response lies mainly in the hands of the government ?
It is a bit more complex. I think innovation will come from the sector and the proven solutions will come from the sector, but if you don’t have government support, you cannot really scale.

Interview by
Baptiste Fassin
Publications & communication officer