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How entrepreneurs are driving meaningful and sustainable change
26 Jan 2022
Simon Baldwin, Director of The Incubation Network and Global Head of Circularity at SecondMuse, sat down with Jeremy Au of the Brave Dynamics podcast to discuss all things circular economy in Southeast Asia.
The conversation explored sustainability in Southeast Asia, how to better connect changemakers with the problems they’re seeking to solve, and how to channel that energy in a meaningful and productive way.
The episode is here, but if you missed it, here are the highlights from their conversation, with a little more information on one of The Incubation Network’s new initiatives that’s tying a lot of these points together.
We can change the narrative by looping more people into sustainability
Sustainability is an increasingly topical issue, with 95 per cent of Singaporeans concerned about the impact of climate change. They’ve got a strong reason to, since the IPCC has stated that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” As Simon put it to Jeremy: “Exponential change is leading to significant environmental degradation. […] The reality of this is not just about you anymore. It’s about the others who you deeply care about.”
As people around the world try to reckon with the looming crisis of climate change, their focus often draws to what they can change. One of the most common, tangible changes that should float to the forefront of their minds? Reducing plastic waste.
This public pressure is pushing corporations to take more responsibility at each stage of the supply chain, and businesses are stepping up. “When my family was living in Indonesia, Danone produced the first fully recycled, and recyclable water bottle. Now, we are seeing many companies looking at ways they can distribute water outside of the plastic bottle.” Simon reflected. Whether it’s Sprite changing the colour of its bottles to make them easier to recycle, Starbucks rolling out reusable cups, or Unilever using more recycled plastics while trialling refillable containers, many of the world’s biggest brands are taking steps towards sustainability.
Rather than trying to make a slightly better version of something, we need to fundamentally change how people use resources. This goes beyond thinking ‘outside the box’ – the real challenge here is redefining systems which perpetuate waste cycles by reframing what the consumer value chain should look like to begin with. We need to redesign ‘the box.’
Engaging startups with network-centred innovation
To achieve change on the scale we need, startups need to connect more: to funders, to governments, to scientists, and to each other.
An entrepreneur’s journey can be lonely, but ecosystems are developing – both in the real world, and mediated through that Global Empathy Machine. To ensure solutions are hitting the mark, “[You need to] take startups, and connect them to problems identified by corporates.” Simon reflected on the podcast. “Over time, we found this is an amazing way of getting people at the same time table, getting to know each other.”
Rather than keep trade secrets close, it’s in the best interest of the planet, and the generations who will inherit it, to share them around. Initiatives like The Incubation Network’s Plastics X Circularity Curriculum have been developed in partnership with The Circulate Initiative and Sagana specifically for Entrepreneur Support Organizations (ESOs) – incubators, accelerators or catalyzing parties who assist startups and entrepreneurs – to equip entire communities of changemakers with the tools to develop and scale their solutions to the plastics problem.
The most meaningful change happens when entrepreneurs connect with stakeholders, corporate or consumer. Together, they can advocate for innovative solutions, which trickle down impact throughout communities.
Putting circular ideas into concrete action
To drive change, stakeholders – fast moving consumer goods firms, entrepreneurs and policymakers – need to connect. By combining resources, we can collectively enact more sustainable solutions, together.
“We can’t expect the consumer alone to change their behaviour. We can’t expect a company to change their packaging, if it’s going to cost 10 times more,” Simon was quick to highlight in his interview. Any meaningful change to protect the planet cannot be at the cost of the people who live on it – especially those with fewer resources, who contributed least to this crisis in the first place.
Take ReForm, a finalist in the 2021 Global Innovation Challenge: Future of Flexibles. Their circular approach minimises plastic waste while creating economic opportunities in Vietnam’s communities. They take hard-to-recycle plastic and upcycle it into furniture, construction materials, storage solutions, while setting up facilities that employs locals and provides education opportunities for schools, social entrepreneurs and waste workers. They’re reducing plastic creation, recycling organic waste, and creating opportunity – all at once. Win-win-win solutions like this help make doing good the easier choice.
The Plastics x Circularity Curriculum is full of resources and tools, and lessons from what has worked for startups in The Incubation Network’s past programs. It includes an impressive 9 modules and 31 sub-modules that can be delivered in-person or online, as well as useful tools like a fundraising guide, sample pitch deck, lesson plans and activities to put learning into action.
Other ESOs are encouraged to use this content with their startups, and join the 15 organisations who have already committed to piloting it. Ryan Corpuz, founder of Nanolabs, thought the material comprehensive. “The exercises also helped me put myself in the shoes of my target market, which I appreciate because it saves us time and money.”
By strengthening the ecosystem around entrepreneurs, they have more runway to get their ideas off the ground. Simon reflected, “this isn’t going to be something that’s going to happen overnight, change is going to be difficult. But I see a real groundswell of energy, particularly on this issue of plastics, because it affects all of us.”
Initiatives like the Plastics x Circularity Curriculum help empower all actors in the ecosystem to play to their strengths. At The Incubation Network, our strength is creating educational content and connecting ecosystems. By sharing our learnings, other ESOs can adapt it for their communities to achieve major change. Collectively, we can make the most impact.
We’d love to hear from anyone interested in using the Plastics x Circularity Curriculum in their community or as part of their accelerator. Contact us at [email protected]