Stories‌ ‌of‌ ‌Hope‌:‌ ‌Exploring‌ ‌Climate‌ ‌Entrepreneurship‌ ‌in‌ ‌Southeast‌ ‌Asia‌ ‌

The story of climate change is often a story of disappointment and despair. Our goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions has been clear for decades, and yet, it appears we’ve made little progress in achieving it. As the planet’s health ails, amidst the desperate calls of scientists and their irrefutable evidence, it’s hard to feel hopeful.

But what if the future is not so bleak?

We tend to perceive climate change in its monstrous entirety, which swiftly creates a task so overwhelming that it discourages us from taking any ameliorative action at all. This sentiment will undoubtedly bring the severe warnings into reality — which is a risk we cannot afford to take.

So, let’s attempt to tackle the challenge from a different perspective. With the large-scale global war waging in our minds, we often forget the importance of taking on smaller, more local battles. While there is an absolute need for governments to step up their climate policies, it is also imperative that we take heart in our smaller successes. It is from this foundation that a climate entrepreneur’s journey begins.

Lum Nam Huay natural cotton weaving group, Thailand. Credit: Folkcharm

Climate entrepreneurship — why is it so important?

Entrepreneurs — especially those in developing economies — have the ability to address climate change while simultaneously fostering sustainable and resilient development (see ANDE’s new report). Climate and environmental entrepreneurs are change agents who see venture creation as a way to address pressing challenges related to climate change and other critical environmental issues. In building their business, growth orientation is combined with the ambition to create a greener and more sustainable world. They can drive both mitigation and adaptation along multiple stages of the value chain — by providing green products or services, introducing green practices, and creating green jobs.

Perhaps the most important contributing value of climate entrepreneurs lies in their ability to tackle climate challenges and build resilience locally. Effective enterprises are driven by committed and passionate individuals who recognize an issue on the ground or within their surroundings and devise a new system or services to address it. Thus, their innovative solutions — for example, designed to limit waste or introduce more resilient agricultural practices — are targeted, highly tangible, and realistic, and the impact is often more immediate.

There are also a growing number of entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) in Southeast Asia that have piloted novel programs to assist climate entrepreneurs in their local contexts. These ESOs represent a crucial network of support to reduce the barriers climate entrepreneurs face. In the same way that we value an entrepreneur’s story, an ESO’s tale can equally inspire interest in taking both necessary and urgent climate action.

Co-founders of Rebricks Indonesia, Ovy Sabrina and Novita Tan. Credit: Rebricks

How are organizations supporting entrepreneurial approaches to climate action?

In recent years, entrepreneurship has been instrumental in curbing the massive flow of waste in Southeast Asia. Starting in Indonesia, the world’s second-largest ocean plastic polluter, the Zero Waste Living Lab by Enviu shifts towards a circular economy by building reuse business ventures that provide sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics.

The Incubation Network by SecondMuse and The Circulate Initiative convene stakeholders across Southeast Asia to catalyze action and investment to prevent marine plastic waste. One of their innovation sprint winners, Rebricks, transforms plastic sachets into robust building materials — allowing at least 88,000 sachets to be recycled each day.

In the Philippines, Fortuna Cools received a small grant from ADB Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Asian Development Bank, to replace plastic foam insulation with coconut husk fiber, an agricultural byproduct.

The Coconut Cooler. Credit: Fortuna Cools

Another approach to circular design is through the sustainable fashion movement. British Council Thailand joined forces with the local Fashion Revolution network to organize a workshop on how circular design can ensure environmental and business sustainability. The British Council’s Crafting Futures program also supports local women artisans and revitalizes their cultural assets by integrating sustainable practices.

Hivos Indonesia concluded its five-year Green and Inclusive Energy program with stakeholders affirming the gender narrative as one of the program’s success factors. Partners were able to improve their capacity in promoting women leadership and positioning on renewable energy services, finance, and policy. The Sumba Iconic Island initiative provided 4,158 marginalized households with electricity, where 17% was generated by renewable sources. Moreover, community perceptions of traditional gender roles changed positively, opening new opportunities for female participation in public space.

One to Watch has provided acceleration and business development support to women-led solar businesses since 2018. One of those enterprises is Techno-Hill Engineering, a mini-grid developer in Myanmar, whose work in Tanintharyi Region has provided over 5,400 households with electricity. One to Watch also manages the Off-Grid Renewable Energy Fund, which invests in solar energy to provide sustainable power to remote Myanmar and Nepal communities.

A beneficiary of the Sumba Iconic Island initiative by Hivos Indonesia. Credit: Josh Estey

Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s leading agricultural exporters, whose livelihoods are likely to be drastically affected by the impacts of climate change. Thus, many entrepreneurs and ESOs in the agriculture sector have turned to sustainable and regenerative agricultural methods. Swisscontact works closely with various partners to promote Conservation Agriculture in Cambodia, while Rikolto works with farmers, authorities, and businesses to mainstream inclusive practices for sustainable rice across Vietnam. Their program creates a win-win: farmers can reduce costs, consumers have access to healthier rice, and the soil quality is improved.

Conservation agriculture farmer in Rotanak Mondul district, Cambodia. Credit: Swisscontact

Contribute your own climate entrepreneurship story

In the dark hours of a planetary crisis, these stories offer a glimmer of hope. The coming decade is crucial to limiting the level of devastation climate change will bring. All systems will need to be as healthy and resilient as we can make them if we are to achieve a “Net Zero” world, and we all have a part to play.

So, beyond the doom and gloom, here’s a gentle reminder to celebrate the smaller successes. After all, many of the world’s leading businesses and ideas started out small.

These few examples of climate and environmental entrepreneurship are just a fraction of the great wave of climate action that continues to ripple renewed possibilities throughout Southeast Asia — and ANDE is always looking for more. ESOs — share your story with us and the rest of the world by taking part in our Southeast Asia Climate and Environmental Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Snapshot Survey.