What we can learn from 68 innovations helping solve climate change globally

Climate change is not a distant threat; it is a reality that impacts lives and ecosystems around the world today. In 2023, we have experienced climate change related disasters, including: 

  • Floods in Brazil, Italy, Rwanda and South Sudan 

  • Heat waves in India and USA 

  • Cyclone Freddy that ravaged Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe 

  • Cyclone Mocha that rocked Myanmar 

  • Wildfires in Australia, Canada, Chile, Greece, Hawaii, Italy, Kazakstan, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom and USA 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that developing countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. These regions are home to communities that rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods, making them particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of changing weather patterns. In addition, even a slight increase in temperature changes has profound effects on biodiversity. 

To truly create systemic change, it's vital that we equip every person with the capacity and skills to contribute meaningfully towards a regenerative future. This ensures that we pave the way for diverse perspectives and innovative solutions. Just as every drop contributes to an ocean, every person's involvement is essential to creating a sustainable and resilient future for our planet.

Summary of insights from Challenge semi-finalists (🔗click here to see the full image)

Insights for a Sustainable and Equitable Future 

In response to the current threats of climate change, the Green Changemakers Challenge by Ashoka and HSBC sought out individuals and initiatives with solutions that go beyond individual efforts. The Challenge focused on innovations activating others to take climate action and fostering a sense of collective responsibility. By doing so, the Challenge aimed to highlight initiatives creating a role for everyone, regardless of their background or location, to contribute as problem-solvers. 

The Challenge cast a wide net, embracing changemakers and initiatives from diverse regions across the globe. From Europe to Africa and Asia to the Americas, the Challenge captured the collective spirit of global environmental stewardship. Out of 400 applicants, we selected 68 challenge semi-finalists that shed light on how sustainability leaders are involving individuals and communities in addressing the climate crisis. This ensures inclusivity, allowing everyone to contribute, and making sure that no one is left out of this vital process. Here's what we learned. 

  1. Climate action is multifaceted:  

The semi-finalists showcased a diverse range of project topics, with sustainable farming and capacity building emerging as the most prevalent themes. Sustainable farming underscores the growing focus on regenerative agricultural practices that promote biodiversity and reduce the carbon footprint. Waste management and upcycling demonstrate the commitment to tackling the global waste crisis, turning waste into valuable resources. 

One insight that stood out across all regions is - the pivotal role capacity building and education play in catalyzing individuals and communities to actively participate in climate action. We noted that around half of the innovations invest in the community through education, training, and support. 

Key themes & focus areas of challenge applicants (🔗click here to see the full image)

One semifinalist, Vermi-Farm Initiative, is on a mission to provide farmers with the knowledge and tools needed for sustainable agriculture. Collaborating with local community groups, they're spreading awareness and offering training to anyone interested in launching their own sustainable agriculture ventures. Their upcoming franchise program will further extend this effort, allowing more people to establish their own Vermi-Farm enterprises and make a meaningful impact within their communities. In essence, the initiative champions inclusivity, education, and hands-on learning, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable future.  

  1. The Art of Multi-Solving to Amplify Impact 

Another trend observed among the semi-finalists and their projects was the prevalence of multi-solving approaches, collaboratively addressing interconnected problems simultaneously through integrated strategies. Over 80% of the innovations demonstrate a commitment to addressing multiple challenges: they recognize the interconnectedness of climate challenges with other deep-rooted societal issues and the need for integrated solutions. 

Conserving Seed, Enriching Lives is an initiative in India that combines sustainable farming practices with education programs that are geared towards women empowerment. They invite farmers and urban consumers to their farm to demonstrate the benefits of indigenous seeds and regenerative techniques, thereby bridging the gap between producers and consumers. The organization also recognizes the ability of women to impact families and communities and therefore become advocates for sustainable practices. They provide resources and support to enhance the skills and knowledge of these women, creating a supportive environment and creating influential changemakers within communities. 

  1. Technology and Information are Catalysts for Scale 

We observed that many of the innovations focused on integrating technology and information to connect people and scale their initiatives' impact. Over 60% of the semifinalists leverage technology to create pathways for exponential growth and collaboration. Online platforms, data-driven tools, and digital storytelling are some of the instrumental approaches used in reaching wider audiences, mobilizing resources, and fostering intercommunity and regional connections. 

This year's Africa and Middle East regional challenge winner embodies this finding. The FarmSmarter app is an initiative in regenerative farming from Nigeria that harnesses technology for exponential growth and collaboration. Unlike traditional digital solutions, FarmSmarter prioritizes inclusivity and affordability by ensuring that the app works on low-cost mobile phones. Through tailored algorithms on a user-friendly app, farmers receive site-specific advice for sustainable crop and soil management. The app offers accessible advice on techniques like composting and intercropping, and illustrated infographics and local languages ensure inclusivity. Predictive algorithms aid irrigation and fertilizer planning, minimizing resource waste. Early disease identification using AI reduces pesticide use and safeguards biodiversity. FarmSmarter's technology-driven strategy propels growth, collaboration, and a sustainable future in regenerative farming. 

  1. The Power of Human-Centered Innovation 

The core of the Green Changemakers Challenge lies in human-centered innovation – solutions driven by a motivation to improve the lives of people and the planet. The semi-finalists exemplify a wave of entrepreneurs who understand that addressing climate change requires holistic, empathetic, and people-centric approaches. 

The semifinalists showed us that effective climate action goes beyond scientific data and technological advancements. It involves connecting with people's emotions, activating communities, and weaving innovative solutions that tackle multiple challenges together. 

A great example of this is Concular, an initiative from Germany. Concular engages with the emerging generation of construction leaders by providing workshops and networking opportunities to students in fields like architecture and civil engineering. These events foster understanding of collaborative ecosystems, influence students' current perspectives, and encourage them to champion sustainable construction initiatives. 

  1. Inclusivity is Core to Building Equitable Solutions 

Inclusivity is a central theme in many of the semi-finalist projects. Over 70% of the innovations prioritized creating pathways for more people to contribute to climate action, especially those who have historically been excluded from such efforts. These projects actively seek to address systemic inequities and promote diversity within the climate movement. They recognize that marginalized communities often bear the brunt of environmental degradation and are disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. 

Formigas-de-embaúba is dedicated to prioritizing inclusivity and enabling historically marginalized communities to actively engage in climate action. Through a comprehensive and hands-on urban ecological restoration project, the program focuses on involving students from public schools in Sao Paulo, particularly those from Black communities and low-income households on the city's outskirts. 

The initiative involves students in activities that foster a deep understanding of ecological restoration, emphasizing the significance of living soil and native tree species. Notably, the project extends its impact by involving public school teachers, with a special focus on women, who comprise about 70% of the teaching staff. Environmental educators from the communities, particularly prioritizing black and indigenous women, are hired and trained to lead these initiatives. 

By engaging students, teachers, and community members from historically marginalized backgrounds, and by embracing a hands-on approach to urban ecological restoration, the initiative is forging pathways for meaningful contributions to address climate challenges. 

  1. Cultivating Changemakers: Activating a New Generation 

Several projects focus on engaging youth in climate action and sustainability, recognizing that young minds hold the key to our planet's future. The focus on youth engagement reflects a long-term vision for climate action. By investing in young people today, we can create a legacy of sustainability for future generations. 

Eduponics Go Green from South Africa is driving climate education integration into school curricula while fostering environmental understanding within communities. Educators benefit from training in aquaponic farming and receive mini aquaponic systems for classrooms, enabling practical knowledge transfer to students. Students, on the other hand, are at the heart of the initiative, engaging in entrepreneurship programs across diverse fields and fostering sustainable business ventures that contribute to their communities. This approach cultivates practical skills and an entrepreneurial mindset, inspiring and equipping young people to become green changemakers. 

Other projects center on mentorship and coaching young individuals, offering them guidance and support as they embark on their journey as environmental advocates. Youth STEM 2030 mentors and coaches young individuals to become effective sustainability agents of change in STEM fields (Science Technology Engineering & Math). The initiative focuses on empowering young people as STEM changemakers, researchers, innovators, and social entrepreneurs. The approach emphasizes the importance of active participation and authentic involvement of youth in creating solutions.  

Paving the Way to a Sustainable Future 

The Green Changemakers Challenge revealed a global movement of visionary individuals and organizations dedicated to catalyzing change for a sustainable world. The insights gained from the semi-finalists inspire hope and demonstrate the potential for a brighter, more sustainable future. 

As we navigate the challenges of climate change and environmental preservation, these trends and learnings serve as a valuable compass, guiding us towards more effective strategies and impactful initiatives. The real-world applications of these insights hold the promise of transforming our world, uniting us in the pursuit of a common goal – a thriving planet for generations to come. Let us draw inspiration from the changemakers and take collective action towards a sustainable and equitable future. Together, we can forge a path of transformation and preservation, leaving a legacy for the generations that follow.

Additional links and resources 

Get inspired by this year's winners of the Green Changemakers Challenge

Looking for an opportunity to develop skills needed to help you advance in your journey as a climate changemaker? Apply for the FREE Sustainability and Changemaking Course today! 

To learn more about Ashoka Fellows around the world who are working in the field of Planet & Climate, click here

To gain insights on actions that INGOs, social entrepreneurs, funders, and intermediaries can take to unlock the potential of these collaborations and systemic social innovation, explore the New Allies Report.