The green economy should be the catalyst for a new wave of entrepreneurship – and the opportunity to turn South Africa’s economy around.

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Another week, another set of challenges for the country. We all know what they are – failing energy and transport systems, catastrophically high unemployment, scarce water, largely ineffective municipalities, the real possibility of renewed social unrest, and the list goes on. Daunting though these challenges are, we need to think in terms of solutions.

South Africans always pride themselves on their ability to find solutions and genuinely have a highly innovative and entrepreneurial culture. It is this attitude and willingness to take risks that will unlock the full power and value of entrepreneurship.

Even better, our entrepreneurial culture has the environment in which it can thrive. When all is said and done, we are still a high-potential economy, powered by a growing population with high aspirations. We have abundant natural resources and we still have a well-developed infrastructure, albeit one in the process of decaying fast.

When Nedbank considered all of the challenges, combined with the positives, we realised that the best way to unlock the potential of entrepreneurship to change the narrative in South Africa would be through a programme of targeted investment into South Africa’s transition to a green economy.

Our thinking was simple – if there’s one thing that the world is united on, it is the need to reinvent the way business works, to move from a model centred solely on profit to one that sees economic growth, a more just society and the preservation of our natural ecosystems as interlinked, rather than mutually exclusive trade-offs.

We call this new way of doing business the green economy. We recognised that it had huge potential for entrepreneurs and that they could, in turn, help to catalyse sustainable economic growth, especially in rural and semi-urban communities that are typically only partially integrated into the modern economy. That’s because green entrepreneurship can create businesses and business models that create jobs in these areas and thus empower communities more generally.

At the same time, of course, by reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and promoting sustainable practices, the green economy protects the environment and will reduce the negative impact on human health and wellbeing associated with many contemporary business practices. The green economy implicitly recognises that business relies on six capitals, not just financial capital, to prosper and must use all six responsibly. In the process, it will help promote a more just society in which everyone has access to clean air, water and food.

The other side of entrepreneurship is innovation – entrepreneurs are pre-eminently people who see new opportunity and different ways of doing things. The transition to a green economy is also an invitation to innovate and in the process drive productivity. In itself innovation will make our economy more attractive as a destination for international investment, and let’s not forget that we have just finished hosting the fifth and final South African Investment Conference, aimed at attracting R1,2 trillion in investment over five years. An economy that is entrepreneurial is intrinsically attractive, especially if some of its solutions have potential globally, as seems likely considering that sustainability is such a focus everywhere.

Nedbank unlocks the full potential of being green

Nedbank believes in the transition to a green economy as the catalyst for a renewed South Africa, so much so that we took a strategic decision in 2021 to make it the anchor of all our corporate social investment and other support initiatives. Our Green Economy strategy aims to deliver on our sustainable development ambitions by leveraging support of projects that are delivering education, skills development, entrepreneurship, and job creation across the four main Green Economy sectors of water, energy, waste and agriculture. The strategy is founded on two key ambitions – to grow entrepreneurship within the green economy and to grow employment through skills development within the green economy.

Our strategy focuses on water, energy, waste and agriculture and Nedbank has recognised that building effective partnerships is vital. We realise we cannot ‘own’ the green economy. We believe strongly that when businesses, NGOs, government agencies and community structures collaborate, we can provide the resources and diverse viewpoints needed to tackle complex challenges, with entrepreneurship providing the spark to create the necessary solutions and create jobs.

One such partnership is with Indalo Inclusive, an organisation dedicated to creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports the green economy in South Africa. The Indalopreneur programme identifies potential entrepreneurs and provides a range of support to them. The programme is ongoing and is delivering measurable benefits and results in creating green entrepreneurs.

Yes, we have significant challenges, but we also have the means to overcome them, especially if we all put our shoulders to the wheel.

By Poovi Pillay, Executive Head for Nedbank Foundation