If there’s one thing Harambeans love, it’s solving a challenge. To this end, several Harambeans are taking on the challenge of climate change and creating solutions with their African businesses, with results that are sustainable and inspiring.
Climate change is more than just a buzzword, it’s a challenge that is vital to address if we want humanity to survive. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, warned that solutions need to be enacted immediately. There is no time to wait. At the start of 2019, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released a report that went even further, stating that the term ‘climate change’ is no longer appropriate, and that instead we ought to be thinking in terms of total environmental breakdown. Of the regions of the world to be hit hardest by climate change, Africa is the largest. 84 of the world’s 100 fastest-growing cities listed in the 2018 Climate Change Vulnerability Index are at extreme risk, with 79 of these cities located in Africa.
Sustainable solutions to environmental problems are essential. As the impact of climate change on business becomes unavoidable, Harambeans are proactively integrating environmental activism into their business models. Harambean Efosa Ojomo, H’17 with co-authors Clayton Christensen and Karen Dillon, recently released a book called The Prosperity Paradox, proposing that this kind of disruptive innovation is the key tactic that will drive sustainability. Harambeans and the solutions enabled by their ventures are proving that this tactic works, especially when it comes to rectifying the climate change crisis.
African Businesses and Disruptive Innovation
The premise of disruptive innovation centers around making products and services more accessible and affordable, in ways that result in new markets and reformed infrastructure. When applied to climate change, African businesses are innovating exactly in this manner, and the results are both remedying environmental damage and lifting people out of poverty. Below are four of the key ways Harambeans are driving this change to a sustainable world:
1. Raising Awareness. Education and raising awareness are the first steps in addressing climate change. Presenting information in ways that are meaningful, relatable, and easy to digest is important in order for the message to be heard. As successful entrepreneurs, Harambeans have access to networks and platforms that can both present and amplify information. For instance, Harambean Christopher Ategeka, H’14 — a serial entrepreneur from Uganda — facilitated discussions about climate change with some of the leading environmental scientists and tech innovators at his Unintended Consequences of Technology (UCOT) conference in 2018.
Featured speakers led a climate change segment on topics such as the truth about compostable plastics and the devastation technology is causing to the planet. Ategeka enabled dialogs that tend to make people uncomfortable — such as gene editing, the immediacy of solving climate change, and the environmental toll of bitcoin mining — but are necessary in order to understand the full consequences of technology and how integral aspects of our societies are harming the planet.
With UCOT, Ategeka is also pushing for progress. By bringing together the brightest minds in the fields of technology, science, and engineering, UCOT is enabling climate change solutions to unfold while simultaneously providing education that is not otherwise readily available to the general public. For instance, Miranda Wang’s presentation about compostable plastics did not just explain the problem but also proposed biocollection as a viable solution. Responses to a survey sent out after the conference revealed that over 95% of attendees had been unaware of the issues with compostable plastics, but felt that the presentation had armed them with the knowledge necessary to enact change. To keep awareness like this going, UCOT also hosts monthly salons and dinners to further discussions and solutions about climate change and technology.
2. Empowering Youth. Environmental activists believe that the younger generation will be the foundation for creating a sustainable planet; after all, these burdens fall most heavily on their shoulders. In recognition of this, several Harambeans have created African businesses that empower youth. WomEng, founded by Naadiya Moosajee, is a South African organization that is educating women and girls in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. According to the IPCC, the innovations coming out of STEM ventures, such as clean energy and carbon removal, are the most vital for driving climate change solutions. WomEng has a goal to reach over 1 million girls in STEM by 2027 through their programs, empowering youth to create such necessary changes. The venture also campaigns for initiatives such as the Declaration of 4th March of each year as World Engineering Day for Climate Change Action and Sustainability, as a way to further raise awareness.
Other Harambeans supporting youth through their African businesses include Andela and Beni American University. Andela, co-founded by Harambean Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, H’10 seeks the brightest minds on the Africa continent who are passionate about technology and enrolls them into educational programs. The goal is to nurture these bright minds so they can invent tech products that will ameliorate the world. For example, Florence Okosun is a developer at Andela Nigeria who is researching how to recycle waste into fuel. By turning plastic waste into industrial grade diesel, the amount of plastic pollution is reduced and there is also a reduction on the environmental toll of drilling for fossil fuels. This think-outside-the-box strategy is the spirit of Harambeans and is a response to the call from organizations like the IPCC to think in terms of innovation.
In a similar way, Gossy Ukanwoke is providing access to higher learning education for thousands of Nigerians and Africans with the online programs of Beni American University. His hope is that the school will produce great students who will go on to create the solutions the world needs. Ukanwoke’s school is producing graduates such as Akinjise Daniel, who has authored ten books, given speeches about climate change and its effects, and won the prestigious Nigeria Climate Game Essay Contest in 2015. The work of this young Nigerian demonstrates how Harambeans are empowering African youth to have a seat at the climate change table.
3. Enabling Sustainable Agriculture. Agriculture is a sector that both causes and is affected by climate change. It’s estimated that agriculture contributes 17% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, largely due to unsustainable and outdated practices. However, a source of such problems is equally a source of potential solutions. Harambean Kwami Williams took on this opportunity with his company MoringaConnect. By supporting farmers in Ghana and creating a supply chain for the raw materials of their moringa trees, Williams is helping enable reforestation and consequently carbon capture. He’s also taken this environmental goal one step further by planting a tree for every product sold, with over 2 million trees planted to date.
Harambean Margaret Nyamumbo is another African entrepreneur who is restructuring a supply chain in the agricultural sector. Her company Kahawa1893 supports coffee laborers in Kenya and encourages sustainable farming methods. By utilizing innovative technology such as blockchain, Kahawa1893 produces a transparent and traceable supply chain that introduces a checks and balance system for the industry. This transparency is helping to restructure agriculture in a way that is sustainable, since it provides a way to view social or environmental consequences during production.
4. Developing Clean Energy. Despite the urgent call to decrease global carbon emissions, 2018 experienced a record breaking increase. This gulf between human behavior and climate change solutions may be staggering, but it can still be overcome. Harambeans have quickly recognized that creating clean energy solutions as viable, affordable options against traditional fossil fuel sources, such as oil and coal, will enact necessary change.
Ugwem Eneyo, with her venture Solstice Energy Solutions, is one of the African entrepreneurs paving the way in Nigeria. The company’s platform uses the latest technology to provide energy solutions that are convenient to use and easy to manage from a smartphone. Solstice Energy Solutions’ award-winning IoT and software is now being utilized by real estate developers, solar and genset providers, and home and business owners. Eneyo estimates that users will decrease their energy costs by up to 30 percent, which in turn helps reduce emissions — a factor that is crucial to reversing climate change according to sources such as the IPCC and The Economist. Ventures like Solstice Energy Solutions provide sustainable options that can be expanded and replicated around the world in order to create a global transformation that will last.
Harambeans Are Building Africa’s Future
The examples here are just a few of the ways Harambeans are concurrently solving climate change and building Africa’s future. Working together as one, Harambeans are producing solutions across numerous industries, including education, health, agriculture, energy, among others.
Developing an approach that merges business with climate change solutions has also allowed Harambeans to partner with investment firms that have a focus on investor activism, creating an even greater impact. For instance, both Williams and Nyamumbo are part of Harambe’s Global Access Program (GAP), which receives support from Irene Pritzker and the IDP Foundation. The benefits Williams and Nyamumbo received from participating in GAP directly impacted their businesses, and thus their environmental solutions. Harambeans have always taken on an ethical responsibility with their entrepreneurial endeavors and the environment is no exception. This approach of disruptive innovation is what will continue to drive sustainability and create lasting change, for humanity and the planet.