The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They were set up in 2015 with a target date of 2030. But as we approach the halfway point on that timeline, it’s clear we’re not getting there fast enough.
Clever solutions to the challenges are being created by entrepreneurs around the world. They are building businesses that provide essential services, including expanding access to healthcare for women, delivering clean water and sanitation, and transforming the way plastic is used and reused.
This joint initiative between Unilever, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and professional services company EY supports entrepreneurs in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in the areas of environment, inclusive economies and health and wellbeing. TRANSFORM blends grant funding with expert technical assistance from Unilever and EY employees, who also provide access to their networks and corporate value chains.
Over the last six years, TRANSFORM has delivered £40 million (€48 million) in funding and business support to over 60 enterprises in 13 countries, and positively impacted the lives of 7 million people.
We’re now extending the initiative until at least 2025 with up to £40 million (€48 million) in cash and in-kind support. Our ambition is to reach 15 million people through supporting social enterprises and research projects with a particular focus on scaling the circular economy, especially plastic waste, and digital health models.
As Richard Wright, Unilever Behavioural Science Director and a leading player in TRANSFORM, says: “Creativity and entrepreneurism are alive and well at the base of the pyramid – treat the underserved as innovation partners rather than beneficiaries, and real change will be achieved.”
New one-stop-shop to connect and collaborate
As part of expanding the initiative, we have launched the TRANSFORM Support Hub in partnership with software firm SAP and platform operator Moving Worlds. The Hub offers a more effective way for social enterprises, professionals and corporates to connect and collaborate.
It’s a one-stop-shop through which social enterprises can access learning modules and pro-bono support from skilled professionals, make corporate connections and network with peers and investors.
As Unilever Global Sustainability Director Clive Allison says: “We need more partnerships that help achieve the SDGs, and bring together diverse perspectives, knowledge and approaches to tackling the world’s biggest development challenges.”
The Hub is a flagship initiative of the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship (GASE) and is hosted by the World Economic Forum.
Next stop, Latin America
Unilever CEO Alan Jope, who launched the new partnership at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, said: “Our partnership with the Global Solidarity Fund to expand the successful TRANSFORM initiative into Colombia reflects our shared ambition to create a more inclusive economy through training and job opportunities for marginalised workers.”
The partnership will leverage TRANSFORM’s capabilities and expertise in marketing, distribution, digital and business resilience to deliver transformative market-based solutions that last. It will focus on fostering social entrepreneurship and impacting labour markets for inclusion of migrants and refugees.
Marta Guglielmetti, GSF’s Executive Director, said: “The Global Solidarity Fund will bring unique value to the partnership, connecting social entrepreneurs with organisations that are deeply trusted by local communities with a recognised knowledge of vulnerable migrants and refugees’ skills and needs.”
TRANSFORM in action
Here are three of the enterprises that TRANSFORM has supported so far.
TrashCon, India (1 of 3)
TrashCon has invented technology to automatically sort and recycle municipal solid waste that would otherwise end up in landfills or the ocean, and turn it into a board which can replace plywood for use in construction.
TRANSFORM worked with TrashCon to scale up their pilot technology and develop a business model, and is now supporting the team in building a remote management system.
“We recover plastic from the streets and recycle it into sheets which can then be used for benches, desks, tables, chairs and other uses. This truly shows a circular economy and that every bit of waste has value,” says TrashCon founder and CEO Nivedha RM.
MESH, Kenya (2 of 3)
MESH is an online community of over 80,000 young Africans who work in the informal sector. The platform allows entrepreneurs to connect and grow their networks, to boost their skills and earnings through a unique peer-to-peer training programme, and to access services, funding and relevant business opportunities.
TRANSFORM co-funded the creation of MESH and is now working with the team to test if its members can harness their social and personal networks to generate income by distributing Unilever products.
As CEO Rob Burnet says: “MESH connects its members, it finds opportunities for them, and it unleashes the shared value of data to create stronger economies and stronger societies.”
HappyTap, Bangladesh (3 of 3)
HappyTap helps families to form healthy handwashing habits – to prevent diarrhoea and infectious disease – via a purpose-built portable sink designed to encourage people to wash their hands with soap.
The company currently operates in 11 countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Pakistan. To date, it has supplied 47,000 HappyTaps (17,000 in Bangladesh alone), reaching around 3 million people.
TRANSFORM helped develop its behaviour change model and recruit staff. It also introduced the team to a manufacturing partner and linked them with the latest thinking from consumer behaviour specialists.
If you’re a social enterprise looking for support, an organisation interested in joining the partnership or a professional with expertise and knowledge to offer, visit the TRANSFORM Support Hub for more information.