This month, Charlene highlights how the European Green Deal and the European Recovery Plan have great relevance for women entrepreneurs through showcasing a social enterprise business of one of our own members, Aleyda Santos. She argues that programmes to level the playing field, ensuring better access to finance, more training in innovative technologies, and supportive government policies could utilise womens’ talents in helping solve current world challenges.
Do women entrepreneurs have a role to play in the Green Deal?
In December 2019, the European Commission announced the Green Deal, a groundbreaking program of policy initiatives with the overarching aim of making Europe climate neutral by 2050. The effects of climate change are being increasingly felt around the world, with a projected loss of millions of species, oceans being polluted, and forests destroyed. The European Green Deal — a programme worth €1 trillion over the next decade — is a response to these challenges. It intends to implement the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
To repair the damage to our welfare and healthcare systems, economies and way of life caused by the challenges of Covid 19,the Commission has also enacted the European Recovery Plan. Many women have been negatively affected by the pandemic over the past year, and they should be able to step up, be recognized, and contribute their share of ideas and initiatives to ensure the success of this plan. Together, the programmes are worth €2.8 trillion, and represent potential benefits for our economies and societies. Provided that they are managed properly, they may also include opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
Need for everyone’s contribution
The European Green Deal, for example, supports the transition to sustainable economic activities. It is aimed at ‘transforming the EU into a fair and prosperous society with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy.’ The Green Deal focuses on topics such as: preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity; a clean and circular economy; green finance and investment and promoting a fair and healthy ‘Farm to Fork’ environmentally friendly food system. Many of these topics are of special interest for women.
On examination of the Green Deal policies however, we realize that the potential for womens’ input is still inadequate. For example, women are on the bottom rung in the EU when it comes to education and training in important digital technologies; only 24 out of every 1000 female graduates have an ICT connected subject, and of these, only 6 out of 1000 graduates go on to work in related fields. Likewise, regarding access to finance, support programmes are currently not reaching innovative women, as only 2% of all initial funding reaches women-led start-ups. And while entrepreneurs are recognized as a key source of new, innovative projects, women represent only about 33% of all entrepreneurs in the EU.
The TERRA Foundation – A successful women’s entrepreneur sustainably focused project
For sustainability-focused projects, we have to look no further than our own WBII member Aleyda Santos, who has been working in this sector for a number of years, and is an excellent example of a social entrepreneur who is driven by the cause. Aleyda has a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Studies, and a Masters in Environmental Decision-making from the Open University (UK), which she obtained while working full-time as a single mother. With a Certificate in Land Recuperation, and experience working for the UN in environmental impact assessment, Aleyda has the understanding, know-how, and grit to develop her business idea into actionable plans.
Although it has not always been easy to start, Aleyda credits the Covid-19 crisis as the impetus she needed to move forward. She had been working on a plastic recycling project, but couldn’t continue it once the Covid lockdowns started. She also realized that she did not truly enjoy working in waste management, but wanted instead to work with life – “…trees, birds, and butterflies.” She credits Advisory Board Member Sinead Hewson’s (TpEBO) support in helping her find her path.
The topic of ‘reforestation’ came to mind as an area of personal interest, and she applied for a job opening in that field. However, she was not selected for the position because she didn’t speak Dutch. But while conducting additional research, she realized that she could accomplish the same thing independently. as it is a field that inspired her. So she is now in the process of registering the TERRA Foundation.
The purpose of TERRA is to focus on sustainability, in particular, land management. Climate change has been exacerbated by deforestation, since the trees, one of the most natural elements in our environment bringing back the carbon into the ground, are being eliminated at ever-faster rates.
Her first project will be in Columbia, working with a rural community, including 8 women entrepreneurs, who have been displaced by a huge dam. They will be restoring a 2 hectare parcel of land with the aim of growing and preserving the knowledge and cultivation of ancestral plants and trees. They intend to collect and preserve indiginous seeds and medicinal plants , and cultivate products, for both their own use, and to sell. By doing so, they will bring stability to their communities so that their families can stay in the area, and preserve the knowledge and heritage of their ancestors. We congratulate Aleyda with the TERRA Foundation initiative, and wish her well with her new enterprise!
Yes for women entrepreneurs!
It has been said that: “…human creativity is seen as the ultimate economic resource” which is increasingly important to our economic well-being (David Florida 2002). In that regard, to augment the ‘deal flow’ of creative solutions, we need all the ideas we can get in these challenging times. Women entrepreneurs are increasingly being recognized as a huge untapped resource (EU Commission Study 2014), bringing with them new perspectives and answers to the problems we are facing. Programmes to bridge the gap and level the playing field, ensuring better access to finance, more training in innovative technologies, and supporting government policies could make the difference.
So my answer is ‘Yes’! Women entrepreneurs do have key roles to play in both the Green Deal and the Recovery Plan, and they should all become inextricably intertwined to make the most of their potential.
EU funding programs are unfortunately not always easy to understand or access, and typically require extensive preparation. For those who may like to learn more, a few places to start include: EU funding tenders opportunities and The European Green Deal Investment Plan. There are partner-searching platforms, which may be helpful to join and consortia from multiple countries are usually desirable.
A printed brown paper napkin, tucked into a take-away food box that I picked up the other day, pleasantly surprised me with an inspiring quote that is germane to our discussion: “The most powerful, efficient energy source in the world is in your own mind. Explore and discover that it can make creative fuel from anything!”