How Women Entrepreneurs are contributing to the Green Economy

Particularly women are increasingly perceived to play a significant role in realising the transformation to a greener economy and poverty reduction in countries with developing economies. Various studies confirm the direct and indirect impact of women entrepreneurs. Raising female employment could impact a country’s GDP by a growth rate of up to 34 per cent. Women also contribute to the greater availability of human resources of a country´s green industry by investing household income in the well-being and proper education of their children. At the same time, women are known to apply particularly environmental friendly behaviour in various spheres. These include more recourse-efficient production as well as consumer behaviour and higher sustainable decisions for their households and businesses.

As much as many studies see women as the driving forces for inclusive and sustainable economic growth, gender equality remains a burning issue in countries with developing or emerging economies. Women still face many barriers in finding their rightful place in economic life. Women tend to earn less than male workers. Those working on farms are often denied the right to own land. They struggle with education and skills training to fully unleash their businesses potential. The government ignores them in terms of policy, laws and services and they have difficulty accessing capital to grow their businesses. But what is often a more pressing barrier are traditional views on male and women roles being reinforced by cultural values. Women are expected to fulfil their responsibilities in domestic and family work, while entrepreneurship is an area reserved for men.

Promoting women-led or owned initiatives which instil gender equality and women’s empowerment is an important component of SEED’s work - a UNEPUNDPIUCN founded program which aims at identifying and rewarding entrepreneurs who are working towards a more sustainable future. In partnership with UN Women and UNIDO, SEED dedicates every year special attention to promising social and environmental enterprises that are run or owned by a woman or women, and prioritize gender equality and/or women’s empowerment as a core objective of their business. Three SEED Gender Equality Awards will be handed over during the 2014 SEED Africa Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya on 10-11 September 2014. The symposium provides a unique opportunity to these enterprises to increase their visibility, share and receive knowledge while getting involved in a solid network of actors from civil society, the private and public sector.

Below are inspiring examples of some SEED Award-winning women entrepreneurs and their achievements.


Solid Waste Management, Kathmandu, Nepal

In 1992 in response to the increasing amount of garbage left in the streets and along riverbanks of Kathmandu, which had been exacerbated by the unsanitary ‘free disposal’ system of waste, 16 bold women from the Kathmandu Valley formed the country’s first non-governmental organization to address waste management. Women Environmental Preservation Committee (WEPCO) set out to create a new system to dispose of and manage solid waste in the Lalitpur District on the South West bank of the Bagmati river. Thanks to their efforts, the old and unsanitary system of throwing waste on the streets was abolished and WEPCO now manages waste from its 1,800 households.  Ever since the organization has been at the forefront of the environmental protection and waste reduction in Kathmandu and is now known for its innovation and initiative in solid waste management. The enterprise works at varying levels, including schools, community (women’s groups) and its ‘Green Circle’ program with private organizations.  Offering both services, training and microfinance, WEPCO aims at encouraging a new generation to play an active role in local environmental issues. Such has been its success additional groups have been formed in other districts proving the replicability of the business model. 

2011 SEED Winner Solid Waste Managemtn 4


Claire Reid Reel Gardening Ltd, South Africa

Claire Reed Reel Gardening is a start-up business specialising in hand-made vegetable seed strip products created and patented by Claire Reid, the company founder. The enterprise has evolved into a successful commercial business venture that uses a hybrid model to maintain the commercial business in addition to a not for profit arm.  The organisation identified and developed a simple, cost-effective and convenient means of growing organic vegetables, herbs and flowers from seed.  The commercial concept uses a biodegradable, pre-fertilized seed strip complete with simple and easy to understand instructions.  Through the social investment arm Reel LifeReel Gardening is then establishing a series of community gardens that focus on skills transfer and sustainable development. The focus includes small business training, health and nutrition, project planning and also the facilitation of networking opportunities. The establishment of the community gardens is an important step that provides women access to secure land where necessary skills and training can be developed.

These examples demonstrate the opportunities, contributions and leadership women can play in the green economy.  However, more collaboration and support is needed for women-led enterprises to flourish and to foster gender equality.  

IMG KZN Garden


The launch of the Business Hub

UN Women will launch the Business Hub at the SEED Africa Symposium. This Business Hub is a global online ecosystem for collectives of women entrepreneurs, companies with demonstrated action for gender equality, and other business partners to learn from each other and realize economic and social benefits. It is being established to enable companies and business partners to demonstrate how they are making gender equality part of their core business and organizational objective in and beyond their organizations; showcase their strategies and initiatives in support of women’s economic empowerment, and contribute learning resources and expertise. For the collectives of women entrepreneurs and enterprises, the Business Hub will be a space to share stories and experiences on establishing and running their businesses and to showcase their products and services.

The 2014 SEED Symposium is the place to meet some of Africa´s future women entrepreneurs. Participants will get the opportunity to discuss the issues revolving around the burning topic of gender equality and women empowerment in the context of social and green entrepreneurship. What benefits can be identified for businesses and society? What can companies do to address these topics in their companies and in their communities? UN Women, partner of  SEED, will provide the space to find answers to these questions during a session that they will be hosting at the Symposium. 


Note: This blog article has first been published on the website of our 2014 SEED Africa Symposium Online Partner "The Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business" on 31 July 2014.