Start talking about startups and people are likely to immediately think about tech companies.
However, not every startup is in the tech world. And not every startup requires a huge investor to get the ball rolling.
In How 'Catalytic Philanthropy' Could Solve Global Waste, Doug Woodring explores how funding startups that help small businesses acquire the ability to reduce and gain value from their waste (with a big emphasis on plastic) could provide a benefit to wider public health and the environment.
Catalytic philanthropy refers to donors taking a structured, active role in addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges — like waste. And while investing it may have the high-stakes feeling of a private market venture, the investor does not need to share in the benefits.
The basic idea behind the concept is to encourage folks to donate to issues that could best be solved by small businesses (as opposed to NGOs) in the developing world. When it comes to the waste and recycling sector, the developing world needs solutions quickly, and catalytic philanthropy is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to kick start small businesses that can easily be replicated in neighboring communities without a huge cost.
Waste impacts billions of people on a daily basis — affecting water quality, health, tourism, fishing, agriculture, and natural ecosystems. Yet budgets for keeping a residential community clean are often too small to meet the needs of the waste generated or fall into corrupt hands before they are able to help. Waste disposal and recycling are usually seen as a cost to a community rather than an opportunity for resource recovery and revenue generation. Therefore the finances that should assist with these efforts are often eliminated or reduced by those trying to cut corners and do the bare minimum. Due to these decisions, our waters and oceans are polluted much more than they should be.
So what’s the solution?
By assisting smaller communities through small business innovation and establishing the infrastructure for these businesses to collect and process local waste —particularly plastics.
By teaching entrepreneurs how they can capture value from waste materials, residents will be incentivized to collect recyclables, companies will capitalize on the trend, and communities can reduce the overall waste burden of society in a significant manner.
The machines and equipment needed to help communities create this value do not have to be expensive, but without them it is virtually impossible to bring economies of scale and "worth" to the solution.
This is where catalytic philanthropy can help, but there remains a challenge in getting donors to understand why there is a need to donate to companies who know how to run such operations. These businesses can assist with creating the equipment and providing the machines and expertise necessary to better manage waste and recycling in the developing world where residents may not have the ability to manage such efforts themselves.
Once people have the opportunity to utilize the proper tools to better process their waste, it could spark ideas within in these communities. Without this opportunity, citizens in these areas will be held back because they lack the basic necessities — primarily clean water and streets — which can support a healthy life.