More Than “Donor Darlings”: Ecosystem system support for green and eco-inclusive SMEs to deliver more than narratives

Building Sustainable and Climate Resilient Local Economies

Greening Hubs, Incubators and Accelerators

Boosting Green Employment and Enterprise Opportunities in Ghana (GrEEn) is a four-year project supporting sustainable and climate resilient local economies, green jobs and development in regions of departure, transit and return.

SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) are implementing the project in the Ashanti and Western regions of Ghana.

Aiming to address the root causes of irregular migration by supporting sustainable and climate-resilient local economies through the creation of green jobs, GrEEn is targeted at women, youth, returnees and Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs).

As part of the project, SNV worked with SEED to equip hubs, accelerators and incubators in Ghana with capacity building for green start-ups in the form of several Training of Trainers (ToTs) and the provision of a toolkit for staff of GrEEN implementing hubs, accelerators and incubators. From October—November 2020, SEED provided two 3-day eco-inclusive ToT workshops for representatives of SNV’s selected hubs, incubators and accelerators in Ashanti and Western Regions.

Participants in both workshops had varied backgrounds and experience levels and teams of 4-5 people were introduced to several case studies from the Ghanaian and African context and in SNV‘s focal sectors of Energy, Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) and Agriculture.

Tools were introduced by SEED (in-person and virtually) based on content designed around SEED’s Eco-inclusive Start-Up  covering varied business development topics around: discovering key eco-inclusive challenges in communities; designing a product/service for a key challenge; testing the product/service with potential customers; refining the business idea after testing, and finally launching or demonstrating the business.

“Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone”

The ToTs offered the opportunity to gauge hubs’, incubators’ and accelerators’ knowledge and readiness to embrace eco-inclusive business development tools in their service portfolios.  

“This workshop has taken me out of my comfort zone as I hardly work with these types of SMEs.”

-  Participant, Kumasi ToT

Generally, the workshop was participatory allowing participants to share ideas based on their experiences and fostering peer-learning on green and eco-inclusive businesses. They were characterised by a strong willingness among participants to learn about eco-inclusive models. Participants appreciated SEED’s step-by-step tools, participatory approach, and encouragement of peer-learning – sharing their experiences and challenges in working with SMEs, green or brown. Specific tools such as Customer Analysis, Problem-Solution Fit, Visual Prototyping, Pitching, Target Market Analysis, Testing, Go to Market Strategy and Financing a Start-up were showcased. Emphasis was particularly placed on the triple bottom line (economic, social, and environmental) aspects and local contextualisation.

In sharing experiences, InnoHub, a participating hub, introduced participants to the Attractiveness Map which they used to guide their SMEs in moving from potential solutions to an ultimate solution during the session on Problem Solution Fit. Mapping Potential Returns and Level of Effort Required (as shown above), Nelson Amo from InnoHub introduced the concepts of MOONSHOT and GOLDMINE. Ideas that require less effort but yield more returns were classed as GOLDMINES. Other ideas that require more effort and generate more returns as MOON SHOTS, should be considered later when the enterprise generates enough revenues and wields more power. The Map provided a systematic methodology for participants in helping SMEs narrow in on what eco-inclusive solutions to focus on in the early and later stages of their business.

“As a trainer, I have come across some of the information in the toolkit, but the way SEED structures it, makes it very easy to follow”

- Participant, Kumasi ToT

Besides stimulating the hubs to participate and promising to integrate eco-inclusive tools in their approaches, others wanted to stop suggesting solutions and begin asking questions to the enterprises they coach and support. Gamification was suggested as a method to discuss complicated topics.

“I’ll stop suggesting solutions to an enterprise and instead have a discussion to push them to come up with solutions themselves.”

- Participant, Kumasi ToT

Building Sustainable and Climate Resilient Local Economies

The workshops sparked some interesting conversationsions particularly on the trend of some eco-inclusive enterprise founders increasingly positioning their businesses as “donor darlings”: selling sensational stories and narratives to multiple donors for grants; rather than improving their business models, streamlining their operations and attracting investments. From the workshop interactions a few concrete ideas came forward as to solutions to this trend and in building a thriving green and eco-inclusive ecosystem that assist SMEs to deliver more value than narratives:

Support to identify, quantify and communicate the social and environmental impacts of the green SMEs. A methodology or tool on triple bottom line impact measurement and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) accounting would offer trainers a concrete and robust approach in supporting green SMEs to quantify their actual social and environmental value created for various stakeholders. This is particularly relevant in the context of “donor darlings” mentioned above. Concrete tools for measuring the impact of SMEs would be critical in equipping SMEs with facts and figures instead of relying on tenuous narratives. Moreover, such concrete figures would help improve the official valuation of green SMEs which could be instrumental in attracting impact investment.

“A challenge I see in the ecosystem is supporting enterprises to create value addition.”

- Participant, Kumasi ToT

Digital marketing and target market: During the workshop, digital marketing was an important topic (e.g., how social media can be used, how that changes the servable market). Further training would be key here to dig deeper into how social media and digital channels can be used to reach target markets particularly for environmentally conscious consumers—many of whom are usually online.