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Fast Growth Awards: social entrepreneurship takes centre stage



A number of innovative entrepreneurs took to the stage on Friday in London to present ideas that could help tackle a range of social issues while also generating growth for investors.

The event, called the Fast Growth Awards, was organised by the charity UnLtd and featured 16 social enterprises, which spoke about their projects to a wide range of delegates – including investors, businesses and entrepreneurs.

After opening words from UnLtd’s CEO Cliff Prior, the first presentation was carried out by Sally Higham from RunAClub, an online platform that assists people across the country who wish to start a community club but need help with the admin side.

James Baderman then presented Fight for Peace, an initiative set up in Rio de Janeiro to engage youths in boxing and martial arts, whilst also delivering crucial education and employment skills, as a way to reduce street violence and crime. The project was brought to London in 2007.

Two social enterprises that work with ex-offenders came next. The first, Spark Inside, works with young people on life coaching, helping them find their own strengths and career paths to avoid reoffending. The second, Bristol-based Together Social Business Group, aims to create full-time employment for ex-offenders by buying empty properties and renovating them for sale.

As executive director of Spark Inside Baillie Aaron explained, the cost of re-offenders for the taxpayer is astonishing. Over one year, the cost of 1,000 ex-offenders that commit a single crime is £16m in the UK. A study on the life coaching model showed a 0% reoffending rate and 50% rate of people actively looking for jobs or education six months after release.

The following area of business covered was health, a sector that recent figures said had witnessed massive growth in the social enterprise space last year. Jamie Wilson, CEO of Home Touch, presented his company, which provides help for the elderly so that they and their families can be more independent. Mark Swift from Wellbeing Enterprises followed him, explaining how his social enterprise takes a more holistic approach by enabling customers and doctors to get consultancy services and management strategies.

Self-management for people with long-term conditions is the focus of Bridges, a company that helps people with neurological and other diseases to take control of their lives, in order to accelerate rehabilitation. Another health-focused company, uMotif Digital Health, has developed a software application that makes patients’ lives easier. Social entrepreneurs focused on health all agreed that the health system is often dysfunctional for patients, and that there was a need for them to easily take control of their lives, which brings about remarkable savings for the society.

Another big focus of social entrepreneurship during the event was education and employability. Five companies and charities presented original and interesting initiatives, which aim at helping postgraduate students in need of funds – such as Student Funder.

Others help pupils who get free school meals to strive for top universities, which is the mission of Brilliant Club. Alex Shapland-Hughes, CEO of Future First, explained that his company looks at the next step, trying to close the career gap between those coming from low-income backgrounds, who often struggle to get top jobs. Meanwhile UpReach works to make it so that social background does not represent a barrier for students on their career. Another company, Year Here, selects brilliant graduates and offers them an annual programme that can turn them into ‘social leaders’.

Elsewhere, the Student Hubs charity works with university students to encourage them to volunteer on social and environmental programmes. Research by the group showed that students who are engaged in volunteering keep it up after university as well, while some even decide to change their career path because of these activities.

The final two entrepreneurs to present their businesses were Michelle Wright from Cause4 and Gavin Francis from Worthstone. The first works with charities, philanthropists and social businesses to develop effective fundraising and communication strategies, while the latter seeks to boost social investment knowledge and understanding among financial advisers.

All the social entrepreneurs presented excellent ideas, which will undoubtedly arouse the curiosity of many investors. Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow after the event, UnLtd CEO Cliff Prior said, “Access to market is becoming the biggest challenge for social enterprises.

There is much more money coming from social investment into the market, but access to market and money go together.

“Social enterprises are just getting good enough, because they stand up in commercial terms.”

Further reading:

Healthcare social enterprises in massive 121% growth in 2013

Investing in the future: smart investment trends

Charity Bank eyes growth after £14.5m social investment from Big Society Capital

Bringing social investment into the mainstream

Government sets out social enterprise support in Social Investment Roadmap


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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