The National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND) was established by the Government of Kenya under the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) 1999, Sec 24 and the EMCA Amendment Act No. 5 of 2015). It is a state corporation under the Ministry of Environment Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities. NETFUNDs mandate is to facilitate research and publications intended to further the requirements of environmental management; implement environmental awards; build local capacity; and provide scholarships and grants. This is also in line with Kenya’s Vision 2030 social pillar which advocates for “a just and cohesive society enjoying reputable social development in a clean and secure environment”. As a Trust Fund, NETFUND also mobilizes resources for environmental management and social development in Kenya.
The ultimate vision is to see a society empowered and motivated to sustainably manage the environment. Driven by the mission of empowering Kenyans to sustainably manage the environment, NETFUND promotes and supports green growth on a national level. This is mainly achieved through its flagship programme known as the NETFUND Green Innovations Award (NETFUND GIA).
The NETFUND GIA is an annual award programme that identifies, recognizes and nurtures diverse green innovations through upscaling and incubation. NETFUND started running the award programme in 2012. The third phase of the programme is currently ongoing.
Experience Working with Innovators and Entrepreneurs
The NETFUND GIA embraces the principles of inclusivity by conducting a national outreach targeted at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) start ups. These are early stage enterprises run by low income earners whose ability to access capital is further diminished by stringent requirements of financial institutions.
Since inception, NETFUND GIA has supported over 40 innovators and impacted thousands of Kenyans directly and indirectly. For instance, NETFUND-GIA has created over 1200 green jobs; enhanced access to clean water and Energy for over 6000 and managed several tons of waste.
The innovators/ entrepreneurs continue to demonstrate passion and exude confidence in all they do. You cannot fail to notice their resilience. When you get to their workshops you notice that they are quite unconventional and driven by a certain urge to change their surroundings. Their humble beginnings clearly depict a milestone and when one gets to hear their future plans, you clearly see a perfect embodiment of vision.
NETFUND has learnt that all the innovators require is appreciation that they are making a difference and the motivation to keep developing their initiatives. NETFUND therefore does not complete the process with identification and acknowledgement but maintains constant communication and interaction to achieve this. We walk with the innovators and entrepreneurs through the journey. This growth process requires patience, dedication and un-wavered spirit to achieve success.
The programme has had its fair share of remarkable success. One successful example is John Magiro’s hydro-electric initiative. Magiro uses old bicycle parts and simple motors to generate electricity. This innovation has been piloted in parts of Central Kenya-Murang’a and has shown potential in producing over 250KW of electricity. So far 77 households have been connected to Magiro’smini hydro power plant. Through the Linkages component of the NETFUND GIA Mr. Magiro was received additional funding from the Pollination Fund.
A previous winner, Eric Muthomi used the award money to establish Stawi Foods; a company that creates value addition to the banana through converting it to flour. Eric has employed over 300 direct and indirect employees and improved livelihoods of hundreds of banana farmers who are predominantly women. Forbes magazine enlisted Eric in 2013 as one of the top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs to watch.
Challenges encountered and successes working with them
What are some of the innovative strategies that have brought about successes for both NETFUND and innovators/entrepreneurs?
Although NETFUND GIA has made tremendous progress in supporting green enterprises in Kenya, the programme has had its own share of challenges. Some of the challenges include the following:
- Geographical – the programme is based on the principle of inclusivity hence it targets applicants from all over the country. Due to our limited resources, we have partnered with various entities to increase our reach and ensure it is representative. In the current phase of the programme we received over 13,000 entries from all the 47 Counties which represents an over 500% increase in applications.
- Varying levels of literacy and understanding – This poses a challenge due to the diversity of applicants, we have therefore tailored the programme to suit the beneficiary or customer through our network of experts.
- Limited entries from women – During the previous cycle we received very limited entries from women. The current cycle was therefore structured to ensure this constituency was targeted. A more intentional gender mainstreaming approach through strategic partnerships with women organizations like the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was pursued to ensure women were fully represented. A special award category for women was also included. Currently over 33% of the entries are from women.
- Access to adequate funds – This has been a challenge in particular as we offer a wide range of services ( legal , marketing, branding, business development , infrastructure access, product/prototype development) and at no-cost . The programme is therefore developing various sustainability models including a Green Revolving Fund that will support enterprises in perpetuity.
- Information gaps – Various information gaps were identified during the previous cycle. This will be addressed through the NETFUND Research Programme. Scholarships will be provided to students to undertake research on particular innovations to inform decision making; an authoritative journal will be established; and a Physical and Online Resource Centre on green growth is currently under development.
It is expected that as we address these challenges, the programme will remain the leader in green enterprise development in support of climate smart technologies and innovations.