Motivations to engage in the transition for humans within a healthy planet

‘Motivations to engage in the transition for humans within a healthy planet,’ was the title of a panel discussion at the ANIMA Annual Forum underway in Nicosia.

As well as describing the purpose of the organisations they represented, the panelists responded to questions, ‘What could “development” mean at this stage of the 21st century? Shouldn’t we reinvent to the concept to reconnect with the planet?’, ‘If we want to address the existential challenges that we live in (social, ecological, geopolitical), what has to change in the way innovation has been practiced until now?,’ and ‘Are there inspiring examples in countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean from which those on the northern shore could learn for equitable wellbeing at peace with the Earth?.’

Moderated by Carlos Alvarez Pereira, Vice President, the Club of Rome, the panel was made up of Sonia Barka, General Delegate, ATIC-Tunisian Association of Equity Investors (Tunisia); Sylvie Cogneau, Head of Partnerships in Europe, International and European Affairs Department, Bpifrance (France); Lilia Naas Hachem, Chief Office for the Middle East and North Africa, International Trade Center (Switzerland); Mohab Anis, CEO, Innovety (Egypt); Sonia Barka, General Delegate, ATIC-Tunisian Association of Equity Investors (Tunisia); Albert Ferrari, General Manager, DIFMAQ (Spain); and Naoufal Chama, President & Founder StartUp Maroc (Morocco).

Sylvie Cogneau spoke about Bpifrance’s role describing it as a unique institution with the tools to support SMEs in France. She presented the institution’s Climate Plan, noting Bpifinance considered that it needed to support all the categories of SMEs in France to adapt to climate change. Focus was out on three pillars, created to support all the categories.

The first pillar is to accelerate and support all the companies towards transition, from small companies to larger ones that have already begun adapting the climate change. An example of the tools includes diagnostics. The second pillar is for the renewable energy sector and is specifically focused on providers of energy, a continuum of renewable energy projects. The third pillar is for green solution providers. These include new technological solutions to be proposed to the market.

Cogneau also revealed that the Coq Vert Community has been created to bring entrepreneurs who would like to do something for the planet but are unsure how and brings them into contact with more experienced members.

On her part, Lilia Naas Hachem noted that the constraints and challenges of climate change had already been mentioned by other speakers. “We all know we have gone through various crises such as COVID, and also the cost of living, among others. We are at a crossroads and need a new paradigm,” she said adding that while trade may have been responsible for some of the problems, it was also the way forward.

Three areas can be looked at, Naas Hachem suggested, the first being proximity. “COVID made companies think more about global supply chains. This was initially to prevent disruption, but it also has many other advantages, for example allowing smaller companies to become part of the supply chain. By bringing this closer to home, small companies can flourish,” she said.

Naas Hachem also underlined the need for countries around the Mediterranean and Africa to create conditions that favour connectivity. Financing and other related factors for business also need to be made more accessible, she said, adding, “We need to promote twin transition, green transition and sustainable industrial production. Many startup companies are looking into this.”

Finally, while trade has contributed to the carbon footprint, it can also contribute to the solution, Naas HAchem continued, for example by creating energy efficient goods. “Through trade we can create solutions,” she said, “Trade can be used in a more positive manner.”

In his initial address, Mohab Anis noted, “Innovation in its essence is supposed to be a tool to improve human connection.” But instead, he cautioned, profitability has been put ahead of other values, so innovation is being used in technology for consumer products but not as much for things like affordable housing.

“How can we use innovation to serve underserved markets?” he continued. Anis mentioned the concept of ‘Frugal Innovation’ where less sophisticated but effective products can be created using materials more readily at hand. He gave an example of efforts to make an artificial leg in India where the materials being used were those most readily available there.

Anis also referred to social innovations, including social incubators, towards solving serious social issues and more, while including people from the community.

He noted the importance of linking startups with corporate companies, in such as way that each can benefit.

On how nature can inspire business, Anis suggested that many elements in nature could inspire innovation. He gave the example of Egypt’s national flower, the lotus. “They realized that the leaves never get wet, and this inspired the development of materials,”, underling the importance of biomimicry in solving problems.

Sonia Barka, speaking in French, said the organistion she represented was actively working to mitigate the issues arising from climate change, working with a range of national and international bodies towards this end. She also underlined the importance of resilience.

On his part, Albert Ferrari talked about the organisation he represents and revealed some of the actions it has taken to be sustainable, including having machines designed to have long lives, their maintenance, upgrading, and retrofit. Some of the machinery has also been adapted with alternative materials. Efforts are, in addition, made to minimize waste while also preparing the machinery for biomass and hydrogen.

On his part, meanwhile, Naoufal Chama noted that business owners were sometimes skeptical about changes towards improving the environment because of their financial cost.

He said that simple solutions used at his own organisation, however, such as turning off the lights, had saved money, as did reducing the use of computers in hours, which reduced their wear and tear and meant they did not need to be replaced so soon. A change to the way data was processed also brought about huge savings, as has moving meetings online, dramatically reducing the travel budget. Another simple but effective step was encouraging employees to delete the emails they no longer needed meant that additional storage did not have to be purchased. “You can also save money by helping the planet,” Chama concluded.

Suggestions arising from the panel included looking toward lower tech solutions and better cooperation between the state and the people, including government funding. On the final point, Barka noted that the private sector also had a role to play in financing efforts. She mentioned that a recent graduate in Tunisia had developed a means to help combat Tunisia’s water shortage issues, noting that the new technique also reduced the need for certain chemicals. She said that young people and startups needed to be encouraged.

Other conclusions reached by the experts, meanwhile, included that as well as the wider implementation of efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) there is a need to motivate companies to introduce and implement Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) measures, which could include making their implementation a condition of funding and access to overseas investment.

Tarak Cherif, President, ANIMA Investment Network thanked the panel members and called for focus to remain on the emergency situation regarding the environment even once the Annual Forum comes to an end.

The event is being carried out with the support of Euromed Clusters Forward and EBSOMED (Enhancing Business Support Organisations and Business Networks in the Southern Neighbourhood) in partnership with Invest Cyprus.