By Köeti Serôdio, Programme Manager Resilience (Humanitarian, Climate Action & Social Protection), Growing Green, Embassy of Ireland
Marta Uetela is a young Mozambican who is transforming the lives of people with disabilities. She founded the revolutionary green start-up BioMec, which developed the world’s first prosthetics and eco-wheelchairs made of recycled plastic marine litter.
Despite being the fifth most affected country by extreme weather over the past two decades, characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality and going through an armed conflict – Mozambique’s extraordinary resilience and determination is best expressed by its young, creative and determined population.
Marta was able to grow her innovations through the financial, technical and mentoring support provided through Ireland’s Growing Green initiative. The initiative supports the identification, testing and promotion of local, low-cost, climate-sensitive and innovative solutions by enabling young entrepreneurs to grow their climate-positive businesses. It uses two funding strands: one supports trialling and testing ideas for small projects in their very early stages (the Head of Mission Fund); the other helps scale up promising initiatives that performed well and have sustainability and scalability potential (the Emerging Opportunities Fund).
The Heads of Mission fund has enabled Ireland to support a range of small businesses and entrepreneurs such as BioMec, which now works to create a world where amputees can feel and experience life without limitations. Another early-stage Growing Green project is Inovagri, an initiative that brings together students, teachers and the school community in rural schools, to demonstrate agricultural systems using sustainable and innovative technologies for climate adaptation and mitigation.
The Emerging Opportunities fund has supported projects such as “the solar giraffe”, a structure that powers a technical closet and offers ten mobile phone charging outlets and a radio – providing access to life-changing communication facilities as well as a space to gather, to listen to music and news on the radio, and to debate important issues. The solar giraffe is now a fixture across two provinces, thanks to the support of the Embassy of Ireland, and has ongoing plans to expand. These projects represent a snapshot of a range of exceptional examples found across the Growing Green Initiative that use innovation to create and engage with sustainable solutions to complex problems.
The initiative prioritises projects with a strong focus on youth, gender equality and marginalised groups. In particular, the Embassy of Ireland in Mozambique works to identify young entrepreneurs who would not typically have access to this type of support, including those living in areas outside of Maputo. An example of such beneficiaries is Miss Xangamira Sitoe, the founder of Green Soil, a company that produces and sells organic fertilizer. This exceptional young entrepreneur is living with cerebral palsy, yet with the support of the Embassy of Ireland, she was able to establish and grow her business and has plans to establish an occupational therapy centre to give children and adults access to services and new jobs to people with disabilities.
Since the inception of Growing Green, Mozambique’s “Greenpreneures” have addressed a wide range of social issues, supporting a generation of enthusiastic young people searching for local, low-cost solutions to development challenges. This has raised the profile of Mozambique’s entrepreneurs and demonstrated the potential of its small, greener businesses, which in turn has caught the attention of additional investors including NGOs, industry and civil society. Businesses initially supported through Growing Green have now generated over two hundred thousand euros in additional investments from external investors, further developing a culture of support for young ambitious entrepreneurs in Mozambique.
The Growing Green initiative is also helping to change the “poor country” narrative by showcasing Mozambique’s value as a young, innovative society that is able to chart more sustainable growth pathways, and contribute to solving global challenges. One of the ripple effects has been to amplify the visibility of women in business, and establish an ecosystem of young, successful Mozambican entrepreneurs. These small businesses have also created jobs, often in areas where opportunities are scarce. This is exemplified by projects supported by the Growing Green Initiative such as Yopipla, an innovation centre that helps young people who have been displaced by the conflict in Mozambique by providing them with training and development in key green sectors such as bioconstruction, food security and clean energies. Similarly, AMOR – a local association leading the waste recycling stock exchange platform established with Embassy support, gives special attention to engaging and transforming informal women waste pickers into micro entrepreneurs for the recyclable market.
The Growing Green initiative has demonstrated beyond a doubt, that people-centric, community-based, consultative approaches can enable local innovations with significant and sustainable results.
While Marta continues to inspire a new generation of social innovators and Greenpreneurs in Mozambique, for Ireland, this is just the beginning. We organised the first Mozambique National Green Summit, which motivated other networking events for entrepreneurs, and we are in the process of setting up a twice-yearly showcase of green entrepreneurship in the country. That success has sparked plans to replicate similar initiatives in other Irish Embassies.