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Hear from Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs

Sustainability Leaders Podcasts November 22, 2023
Sustainability Leaders Podcasts November 22, 2023
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Through our partnership with the BMO for Women program, we recently connected with five incredible women entrepreneurs who are using their businesses to advance the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals. During this year’s Climate Week in New York City, Andy Blair, Susan Blanchet, Menna Farouk, Diana Mbogo, and Karin Sempf were recognized as WE Empower UN SDG Challenge Awardees, an initiative that was sponsored by the Arizona State University Foundation and Vital Voices. “The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is the first-of-its-kind global competition for social entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and inspiring entire communities to act to create the world we want by 2030.”

Andy Blair, Co-Founder of Upflow, a geothermal, research, and innovation company based in New Zealand. Upflow is dedicated to harnessing the vast potential of geothermal energy to provide intelligent solutions to global industries.


Susan Blanchet, CEO and Founder of Origen Air. Origen Air provides a complete indoor air purification solution.


Menna Farouk, Founder and CEO of Dosy, a tech-based scooter and bicycle riding platform for women and girls. Dosy aims to encourage women and girls in Egypt to ride scooters and bicycles by connecting them with riding instructors.


Diana Mbogo, Founder and Managing Director of Millennium Engineers Enterprises Ltd, a renewable energy social enterprise in Tanzania that focuses on developing customized energy solutions.


Karin Sempf, CEO and Founder of Innova Nation, an educational lab focused on motivating and empowering the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, and sustainability advocates.


Sustainability Leaders podcast is live on all major channels including Apple and Spotify.

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Andy Blair:

It just seems that traditional pipelines for success weren't built for us. It's like we're wearing a scratchy sweater that just does not fit. And it's not going to change until we create new models of what successful leadership looks like.

I think we need to break those existing pipelines and build new ones that fit for the diverse range of people we actually need to solve some of these really big challenges ahead of us, least of all the climate crisis.

 

Michael Torrance:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, Chief Sustainability Officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic and NGO communities to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment, business practices, and our world.

 

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Hi, I'm Melissa Fifield, head of the BMO Climate Institute. And today we're joined by Andy Blair, co-founder of Upflow, a geothermal research and innovation company based in New Zealand. Upflow is dedicated to harnessing the vast potential of geothermal energy to provide intelligent solutions to global industries.

Andy was selected as an awardee for the We Empower UN SDG Challenge. The We Empower UN SDG Challenge is the first of its kind global competition for social entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN sustainable development goals, and inspiring entire communities to act, to create the world we want by 2030. Welcome, Andy.

 

Andy Blair:

Kia ora, Melissa. Hi, everybody.

 

Melissa Fifield:

To start, can you please give our audience more background about yourself and Upflow?

 

Andy Blair:

Sure. So at Upflow, we want to inspire people to use STEAM to solve the world's most pressing problems. And I mean that in two ways. STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. And steam, the superheated water vapor that we all know.

Upflow is a research and innovation company from the geothermal energy sector. So in English, it means that we take gifts from the earth and use them to build bridges between pure science and the business world. So we are solutioneers. We do the really hard, complex stuff that allows science to solve real world problems. We really like difficult problems.

Now, there's two big problems, climate change and hunger. We are working with a Maori organization that owns geothermal assets. Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, demand more than economic outcomes. So social, cultural and environmental outcomes are as, if not more, important than dollars.

We've sourced two microorganisms from their geothermal ecosystem. Now these bugs work together symbiotically, eating greenhouse gases and producing single-cell protein. Yes, food. So what starts out as carbon dioxide and methane ends up as food. Now, right now it's for animals, but someday for humans.

Now, I won't say that it's easy. Our scientists and engineers are scratching their heads all day every day. But they love it.

Now me, I have always been the translator in between business, science, and community. I'm curious about people in the world. I feel confident in the gray, that space of uncertainty. I'm okay with being wrong. I'm okay with making mistakes. Because as we all know, you have to be brave to try new things.

And also, being wrong doesn't mean the end. And no doesn't mean the end. It just simply means you have to find a different way around it. It's not easy to raise money for R&D, it's a risky endeavor. But the tough problems need the most clever solutions and the most daring to create them. And that's our sweet spot, the hard spot.

And with support, we'll keep solutioneering and solving problems with steam. Both kinds.

 

Melissa Fifield:

I love your story, Andy. I think what you're doing is absolutely incredible, and I love that there's multiple benefits to the work that you've done and the solutions that you've uncovered. As you are looking to pursue the business, what factors influenced you to focus on sustainability in particular?

 

Andy Blair:

Thanks, Melissa. Yeah, I've always been interested in science and the world. And when I joined the geothermal industry 17-odd years ago, I saw how transformational geothermal projects are for the communities that surround them. And when you think about typical geothermal and volcanic environments, they're usually in rural, low socioeconomic locations.

And geothermal projects offer access to energy, minerals, and other resources that enable economic development. They provide food security, provides access to water, and a raft of other opportunities that can help people prosper.

A really cool example of this is in El Salvador, in Ahuachapan Geothermal Plant, they use the water from the geothermal cooling tower to water cacao and coffee plants for a commercial operation. And here they hire over 600 local women. And why they focus on women is because they know that if you lift up women, she will take everyone around her, with her.

And I don't have children, and I feel like I have a moral obligation to try and make the world a fairer, more equitable place for everybody's children. And so at Upflow, our why is we want to do good stuff with great people for the good of the world. And the core of that means sustainability for humans and the planet.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's incredible. From your experience as a woman business leader, how do you see women navigating the barriers and challenges that they may face when working to participate equally from an economic perspective?

 

Andy Blair:

Yeah, that's a really, really big question. And the institutionalized bias is so hard to see that we live in. And so we're always doubting whether there is bias or not bias. We see a lot of women, when they're hitting brick walls as they climb ladders in the corporate world, we get frustrated about how we don't fit. We feel like our contributions aren't being valued to the extent that our male colleagues are. Our values start to be more challenged by the success equals profits equals success equation. We get caught in that likability versus competency dilemma, where women can be either of those things but men can be both.

And also, we really feel really heavily that burden of being the only woman at the table. And oftentimes we just don't see a clear path forward, or people that look like us at the top. It just seems that traditional pipelines for success weren't built for us. It's like we're wearing a scratchy sweater that just does not fit.

And it's not going to change until we create new models of what successful leadership looks like. I think we need to break those existing pipelines and build new ones that fit for the diverse range of people we actually need to solve some of these really big challenges ahead of us, least of all the climate crisis.

So I think my advice is to women out in the world, out there, is push really hard from wherever you are. You have allies that you don't even know about yet. But if you push, they will make themselves known to you.

Be intolerant of unfairness. Call it out, shine a light on it. Because even if you don't get that immediate response you were looking for, people often won't say, you are right, I'm wrong. That was bad. You will feel empowered and good about yourself, and this will also make you braver to call it out the next time you see it, and empower those around you to call it out and do the same.

And I think the most important thing is that if you are in a position to climb, do it. Get to the top as fast as you can. Who caress if you filled a quota, or you were promoted because you were a woman or the diversity hire. We need every single one of you at the top to dismantle the infrastructure, and start throwing ladders down to those coming behind us. We need to do it now.

And we need all genders to help us get there. This is not a woman's problem, this is a societal problem. And we can't simply wait and hope for fairness because it's not working. So that would be those comments for women out there who are listening in.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Those are some fantastic gems. I love the analogy of a scratchy sweater. But also just the image of throwing ladders down, I think that's so important is to use our physicians to help uplift others. Which you're obviously doing an incredible job at.

Shifting gears a little bit, what do you see your business would need, and perhaps other businesses that are also working toward a more sustainable future, what would they need to achieve more widespread impact?

 

Andy Blair:

Yeah, I think we all need oxygen. And by oxygen I mean money. All we need, is just some oxygen to breathe and move. And if I think about MySpace and all that entrepreneurial, tech R&D space, that the current funding models, the pre-seed R&D grants, model funding streams, they just take so long to work through a funding path, that when you're a startup business cashflow, you live and die on your cashflow.

And those long, burdensome administrative processes are just so heavy that you see a lot just opt out. Also, these groups of funders, they're really risk-adverse. And these solutions and things that we are coming up with, this new tech, this new climate tech, they just don't fit the norm.

Because guess what? The norm got us here. So of course they're not going to fill the traditional commercial requirements, the structures, project pathways, timelines, et cetera, that traditional projects will be able to do.

Every key element of delivery is going to be different. So either we have to fit ourselves into those commercial boxes and reduce our focus on purpose, or we have to spend so much time trying to educate grant managers, funders, investors and banks, and other gatekeepers on why what we're trying to do is the right thing to do, and that the impact will be great and important. I mean, that's an ongoing rhetoric we have to keep spouting.

But are people important? Is the climate important? Yes. But where are the dollars? So we need more focus on that quadruple bottom line that profit, people, purpose, and planet. And as much as we hear the people from those institutions saying, "we are focused on that, that's true." It's not true.

Basically, what are demanded of us is that not only do we have to have all the financial requirements of a traditional investment, but we all have to add on top the burden of environmental outcomes, social outcomes as well. So it's weighed heavier.

So research and development, that entrepreneurialism, and that creativity gets suffocated in the administrative burden and the risk-adverse funding pathways. And so we often opt out of the corporate space to do things. But the massive gender bias in the VC space means that if you're a woman capital raising, it's almost defeat before you behind. I think last year it was 2% of VC funds went to women in the Americas, and 0.9% in Europe. So it just feels like defeat before you start.

And I think what we really need is for people to realize that this is urgent, that governments and large funds are being cautious, and risk-averse, and saving for a rainy day. Well, guess what? It's raining. Start spending the reserves because we have zero time left.

If it takes two years to get seed funding, it means that we are five to 10 years away from real, commercially-scaled decarbonization technology and products. We do not have that much time. 2030 is seven years away.

So in order for myself, my company, and people around me to really get moving and put solutions in play for our climate goals, we need these groups to start spending this money, start supporting founders, and understand they know how to make their projects work and live in the real world. No one more than them wants their business to succeed, so we'll do what it takes. So just believe us, and give us some oxygen.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Wise words. I think sometimes sustainability and climate issues can feel really intimidating, and really big. You've already made the point that we need to start spending those reserves and accessing capital to help advance the research needed to bring some of those solutions online.

From your perspective, what do you see ... I think sometimes we think that maybe only the biggest actions have the most effect. But from your perspective, what are the ways that individuals can have the most impact on climate change?

 

Andy Blair:

Yeah, it can sometimes feel really overwhelming how big the challenge is. And the fact that we need to halve our missions by 2030 to achieve net-zero by 2050 just sounds like a lot. Because it is a lot. I think about a quote that actually Theodore Roosevelt says, which is, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

This is not environmental crisis, it's a human crisis. The planet's going to live on without us. It's us that want to live on. And so we have to go together through this, and we have to bring everyone with us. I think we all need to start realizing, this is urgent. And that we need to look at the problem now and act. We need to adopt a disruption mindset. I think everybody does in their everyday life.

It doesn't matter whether you are buying groceries for your household or you're procuring goods and services for your business. If you're organizing an event and saying, well, what sort of cups and plates are you using? How are you going to distribute our goods?

Everywhere where you are can make a difference. There is no silver bullet, there's no one answer, there's no perfect place. There's paralysis if we look for perfection. We must all act imperfectly, and use our ability to influence where we are, and stop seeking perfection. Just get moving. Let's just get on the path.

And then we'll be able to move in small increments, and get to the right place. But we can't stand still anymore. We have to move. And we can do it. I have so much optimism about this. If you could meet all of the smart people that I meet in this tech space, you would believe we could do it. But we need everyone to come with us, and not sit back and wait for perfect.

We just need to break the existing frameworks of the old, and do things differently. And just like when the digital age transformation happened, we just need everything to break and move. We need to be bold, and ambitious, and demand more of each other, and encourage each other.

And I think when we saw with Covid, what happened was, people saw an immediate problem. And we all came together and sought solutions. And I think we need that kind of urgency and focus to get to where we need to go, to really achieve our climate goals. And I absolutely believe we can do it.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Absolutely. Is there anything else you want to add to our conversation?

 

Andy Blair:

No, just that ... No, meaning yes. That's a thing we say in New Zealand. We say, yeah, nah, which is a confusing statement.

I would just like to add that the solutions are out there. And they are not going to suit the traditional ways we've done things. And if you are sitting inside a traditional system of funding, or other kind of support that can help tech, start spending the money. Stop being so risk adverse. It's time to move.

And also all of you women, you wahine out there, it's time to stand up and push. We can't wait anymore. So hopefully I get to see more of your faces in the sunlight, and standing in front of some amazing tech. And kiora to BMO and our partners who have supported us in the We Empower awards. We've just had our minds blown from the support. We need more of what you are doing to support women, and help get us where we need to be. So thanks very much, kiora koto.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Fantastic. Andy, thank you so much. You're an inspiration and we're so grateful to have you on our podcast today. And look forward to watching all the incredible things that you're working on, and seeing them come to fruition. Thank you for joining us today.

 

Andy Blair:

Thank you so much.

 

Michael Torrance:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode, and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders.

You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider, and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have.

Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance. Have a great week.

 

Speaker 5:

For BMO disclosures, please visit bmocm.com/podcast/disclaimer.


 

Susan Blanchet:

My vision is a building with a huge glass biosphere with air inside the building circulated through our multi barrier filtration, including our genetically enhanced plants. We could recirculate at least 80% of the air, which would mean a 40% decrease in greenhouse gases.

 

Michael Torrance:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, Chief Sustainability Officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic and NGO communities to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment business practices and our world.

 

Speaker 4:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Hi, I'm Melissa Fifield, head of the BMO Climate Institute. Today we're joined by Susan Blanchet, CEO and founder of Origin Air. Origin Air provides an innovative plant-based indoor air purification solution, and I had the pleasure of meeting Susan during New York Climate Week in September when she was selected as an awardee for the WE Empower United Nations SDG Challenge. The SDGs are the sustainable development goals adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 that provide a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. The WE Empower Challenge honors innovative women leaders from around the world who are pushing the SDGs forward through sustainable business practices and inspiring others to follow suit. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast today, Susan. Welcome.

 

Susan Blanchet:

Thank you, Melissa. It's a pleasure to see you again.

 

Melissa Fifield:

So to start, can you please give our audience more background about yourself and about Origin Air?

 

Susan Blanchet:

Yes, definitely. As a teen, I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and I was horrified that toxins in our environment accumulate in our bodies. I wanted to do something about it. So at first, I became an environmental lawyer and I was holding operators accountable for contaminated sites. Unfortunately, at only 51, my father was diagnosed with early onset dementia. He was so healthy. He ran every day. He ate right. There were no genetic markers and there was no family history. He'd been a civil engineer working in wastewater treatment plants, notoriously bad air. And because of my experience in contaminated sites, I did research. If his dementia wasn't genetic, it was environmental. But how do you prove that? Air moves, it's difficult to measure.

So eventually I decided if I couldn't litigate better air, I would learn how to clean it. Origin Air, my company, purifies indoor air. We've combined mechanical air purification with genetically enhanced super plants, a beautiful biofilter that removes volatile organic compounds. These plants metabolize airborne toxins into oxygen and plant growth. And the beauty is if you treat them right, they work continuously and they will never end up in landfills where you find every other filter. But we're just beginning, because something that really bugs me is that we treat indoor air at the expense of our planet.

Before Covid buildings represented 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions. A building's air is pulled in from outside, but the expense and the carbon footprint come from the cost to heat and cool that air. Facility managers, when Covid happened, started to pull in more and more air exchanges, but instead of recirculating that conditioned air, they just dumped it and pulled in more, like a bathtub without a plug. It's having a faucet run all day every day, and those greenhouse gases doubled.

So my vision is a building with a huge glass biosphere with air inside the building circulated through our multi barrier filtration, including our genetically enhanced plants, we could recirculate at least 80% of the air, which would mean a 40% decrease in greenhouse gases. At Origin Air we call this our quadruple bottom line, people, planet, profits and plants. So that was actually my pitch from the United Nations SDG challenge that I did in New York at Climate Week. So I thought it would be a great way to share it with the listeners to get inspired as we all were in New York City last month.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Susan, you have an incredible story and it sounds like a lot of factors influenced you to focus on sustainability in your business model. From a business perspective, how did your focus on sustainability and climate evolve as you were building the business?

 

Susan Blanchet:

From the outset, sustainability has always been one of our core values. We have grit, sustainability, innovation, and diversity as our core values towards our mission. When I negotiated the rights to the plants, I have global exclusive rights to distribute these genetically modified plants, at first, I didn't have enough plants to do my vision of a biosphere on the roof of buildings. So we started with a commercial unit that has 32 plants in it, and that has been commercialized and is across Canada at this point in a lot of the major centers and included in that with really large customers, Telus, BentallGreenOak, Hudson Pacific Properties. So that's been our initial target, but our goal has always been to grow the plants as quickly as we can to develop this biosphere. Because if I'm cleaning air in a boardroom, I'm not going to make the facility manager turn down the HVAC system, and that really is half of our goal. Half of it is to clean the air, the other half is to make a impact that will assist in us meeting our climate targets.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Fantastic. From your experience as a business owner, how do you see women navigating the barriers and challenges we may face when working to participate equally in the economy?

 

Susan Blanchet:

Great question. Because of my background in law, I was in the first class of 51% females in 1999 when I started my law degree. And because of that, I had this false impression that women were really creating equality in the workplace. When I started my company four years ago, at first raising up other females wasn't something that I thought that I would need to be doing. But it quickly became apparent that women received less than 2% VC funding, but as I got into sales it became more apparent than even worse than that women received less than 0.05% of procurement, and that is just not okay.

So one of the things that we've done is become part of really large women organizations in Canada. We're part of Women Business Enterprises, which gives us direct access to procurement decision makers, which for a new company, putting you in front of the people that make the decisions without you having to wade through months of introductions to try to get there is a huge step forward. So if I'm speaking to other new woman business organizations and businesses, I would say find these people, find the people interested in supplier diversity, I think it's the time for us to start to make a difference on this.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's great advice. What would your business and perhaps other businesses also working toward a more sustainable future need to achieve more widespread impact? What do you see as being necessary for that?

 

Susan Blanchet:

As a new business there's lots of help with grants and other forms of non-dilutive investment that really help you through your first few years when you're hiring employees and proving your technology. So our technology was proven before I started the company in laboratory, but a lot of people wanted it to be proven in the field. Now we've done that. We've proven through funding from NRCI rep and Innovate BC that our plants removed 37% of volatile organic compounds in the field where these levels are much lower than in laboratory. In laboratory, we were getting results of 82% and higher. So we've also shown that as toxins increase, our plants work harder and metabolize them faster.

And the most interesting result we got, which might disappoint a lot of the listeners, is we also showed regular plants do nothing. They don't remove any volatile organic compounds at all. The next step that we need, once you get to that level, and now we're into commercial sales, but we're still developing and there's really a gap that I think needs to be filled by the corporations. Now there's early government funding, but corporations are now the recipients of most of the GDP and have an obligation to fight the climate crisis that we're currently going through. And a good way for them to do that is to fund pilot projects and demonstrations or become partners with innovative companies like mine. Because there's no way I can do this by myself.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Makes a lot of sense. It may often feel as though the biggest actions have the most effect, but from your perspective, what are the ways individuals can have the most impact on climate change?

 

Susan Blanchet:

I think the biggest way for individuals is to just every day use your purchasing power towards supporting diverse and innovative sustainable companies. When we hear 0.05% of procurement, that translates over to the consumer market too. Think about where you're buying. Our company for instance, is coming out with a home unit in summer of 2024, so there's lots of diverse-lead companies that you can choose to purchase from and purchase sustainably. We won't make a virgin plastic unit, for instance. We will be using 100% recycled plastic. So think about where you're buying before you buy.

And for my company, sometimes I'm like, we wouldn't even need to be cleaning the air if the air wasn't already dirty. And a lot of consumers don't even know what a volatile organic compound is, but it is in a lot of products you purchase off the shelf. For instance, air fresheners are not good for the air. Perfumes as well, not good for people to be breathing. And just educating yourself on the products that you should or should not buy. Funny story, I have three sons. My youngest comes home a few weeks ago with a Axe body spray. It's a known carcinogen. I don't know why these things are still on the shelf. And if the regulatory agencies aren't protecting us by not allowing them on the shelf in the first place, we really have to do our own education to buy products that are healthy.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Absolutely. Education is key. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our audience today?

 

Susan Blanchet:

I think the world is changing quite a bit, and we're really becoming focused more on large corporations taking over most of the ownership of not only properties, but products that are sold. I know in my city, I live in Victoria, BC, every day small businesses are closing. So not only supporting diverse founders, but supporting the small businesses. Because from my history as a provincial lawyer for 14 years working in a really large organization, once organizations have more than even 500 employees, it becomes more of a bureaucracy. I don't want to say that's where innovation goes to die. I'll just say it. It's the small business owners that have this fire in their belly that are up at 3:00 AM trying to figure out how they're going to save the world, and that's really what we need to support. And I'm a big proponent of supporting all small business, but where you can support the ones that are diversely lead because they definitely are fighting the biggest battles.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Well, you are an inspiration to me, certainly, and I think to a lot of our listeners as well, Susan. Thank you so much for joining me today.

 

Susan Blanchet:

You're welcome. Thank you for having me, Melissa.

 

Michael Torrance:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts. We're your favorite podcast provider and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's Marketing Team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance. Have a great week.

 

Speaker 6:

For BMO disclosures, please visit bmocm.com/podcast/disclaimer.


 

Menna Farouk:

I believe that scooters and bicycles are a great way to get around, and I want to help more people, especially women, to learn how to ride them safely and confidently and without being affected by any social stereotypes.

 

Michael Torrance:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, Chief Sustainability Officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic and NGO communities, to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment, business practices and our world.

 

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Hi, I'm Melissa Fifield, head of the BMO Climate Institute. Today we're joined by Menna Farouk, founder and CEO of Dosy, a tech-based scooter and bicycle riding platform for women and girls. Dosy aims to encourage women and girls in Egypt to ride scooters and bicycles by connecting them with riding instructors. Menna was selected as an awardee for the, WE Empower UN SDG Challenge. The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is the first of its kind global competition for social entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and inspiring entire communities to act, to create the world we want by 2030. Menna, welcome. To start can you please give our audience more background about yourself and Dosy?

 

Menna Farouk:

Sure. Hello. Thank you so much for having me today. So my name is Menna Farouk. I'm a journalist and an entrepreneur. Dosy is an online platform through which women and girls can book their scooter and bicycle classes online. And the company has been operating in Egypt. We started in 2019 and we launched our website later in the same year. So we started in April 2019 and we launched the website in December 2019. And now we're operating in three cities, in Egypt, Cairo, Alexandria, and Giza. And we have over 100 instructors and we have more than 4,000 customers. So we trained them on riding scooters and bicycles in the three locations, Cairo, Alexandria, and Giza. And now we are adding other services for our customers. So we are adding a service to which women can learn skating, women can buy or sell their used scooters and bicycles through our website as well. And we are launching an app for the startup, and the app will include a ride-hailing service and the ride-hailing service we hope that it'll be the Uber Scooter for women in Egypt.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's incredible. As you were building this business, how did sustainability factor into your business plans? How did you think about sustainability in the context of your business?

 

Menna Farouk:

So I became interested in sustainability when I realized that the impact that human activity is having on the planet. I wanted to start a business that would help people reduce their reliance on cars and choose more sustainable modes of transportation. I believe that scooters and bicycles are a great way to get around and I want to help more people, especially women, to learn how to ride them safely and confidently and without being affected by any social stereotypes.

 

Melissa Fifield:

From your experience, how can women navigate the barriers and challenges they face when working to participate equally in the economy?

 

Menna Farouk:

So let me start first by saying that women, of course, face a number of barriers and challenges when working to participate equally in the economy. And some of these challenges include pay inequality. Women are still paid less than men for doing the same job. Lack of access to childcare, for example. Many women struggle to find affordable and reliable childcare, which can make it difficult to hold down a job, as well as discrimination. So women may face discrimination in the workplace due to their gender, race, or other factors. And in my opinion, to navigate these challenges, women can network with other women in their field. So this can help them find mentors, support and job opportunities, and they can also advocate for themselves. So women should speak about the inequality and discrimination in the workplace. And finally, women can take advantage of government programs and resources as well as private programs and resources. There are a number of government and private programs and resources available to help women succeed in the workplace.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's great. What's needed? Your business or other businesses also working toward a sustainable future need to achieve more widespread impact? How do we scale these things?

 

Menna Farouk:

Yeah, working towards a sustainable future need to be able to scale up. So this means reaching more customers and partners and developing new and innovative products and services. Some ways that the businesses can achieve more widespread impact can be through partnering with other businesses and organizations. This can help businesses reach a wider audience and have a greater impact. Businesses can also invest in research and development, and this can help businesses develop new and innovative products and services that may help people reduce their environmental impact. And businesses can also make their products and services affordable and accessible. Businesses need to make their products affordable and accessible to everyone, not just for those who can afford to pay a premium for sustainability.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's great. Finally, Menna, it may often feel as if only the biggest actions have the most effect, but from your perspective, what are the ways individuals can have the most impact when it comes to climate change?

 

Menna Farouk:

I think that every individual can make a difference in the fight against climate change. So every person can reduce their carbon footprint, and this can be done through making changes to their lifestyle, such as driving less, eating less meat, and using less energy at home. Every individual also can support businesses that are working towards a sustainable future, by buying their products and services. And every person can get involved in advocacy and activism, to raise awareness of climate change and push for policies that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I believe that even the smallest changes can add up to make a big difference. By making changes to our lifestyles and supporting businesses that are working towards a sustainable future, we can all help to create a better future for our planet.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Well, you've set an incredible example for our listeners. Thank you for all that you're doing and thanks for joining us today to share your story.

 

Menna Farouk:

Thank you so much for having me, Melissa. Thank you.

 

Michael Torrance:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider, and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's Marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance. Have a great week.

 

Speaker 4:

For BMO disclosures, please visit bmocm.com/podcast/disclaimer.


 

Diana Mbogo:

Women often face unique challenges in male dominated sectors and all other sectors in general, but my advice will be to push forward with the determination and a vision. It's essential to have a support system and choose your struggles wisely.

 

Michael Torrance:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, Chief Sustainability Officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic, and NGO communities to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment business practices and our world.

 

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Hi. I'm Melissa Fifield, head of the BMO Climate Institute. Today we're joined by Diana Mbogo, founder and managing director of Millennium Engineers Enterprises Limited, a renewable energy social enterprise in Tanzania that focuses on developing customized energy solutions. Diana was selected as an awardee for the WE Empower UN SDG challenge. The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is the first of its kind global competition for social entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN sustainable development goals and inspiring entire communities to act, to create the world we want by 2030. Welcome, Diana.

 

Diana Mbogo:

Thank you, Melissa, for having me.

 

Melissa Fifield:

To start, can you please give our audience more background about yourself and about Millennium Engineers Enterprises?

 

Diana Mbogo:

Yes. Just to kickstart with that, I was born prematurely and faced many odds growing up. My childhood experience and my mother's unconditional love led me to believe I could achieve anything I set my mind on. And in her eyes, I kept seeing myself as a princess and a warrior. So it went from going to an engineering college and starting my company during my last academic year to leading Millennium Engineers as a single mother of two beautiful children. And currently, Millennium Engineers Enterprises Limited is proudly a hundred percent female founded and led renewable energy company that specializes in untapped energy poverty markets. We design customized solutions for specific communities, industries, or value chains, and currently Millennium Engineers is focused in addressing some of the critical challenges faced by local communities and local fishing communities of Lake Victoria. What this entails is a transition of these low income communities in Lake Victoria away from using pressurized kerosene lamps or LED lead acid power battery lamps that are usually attached to wooden flotillas towards the use of efficient, solar efficient lamps that now float a top recycled plastic flotillas.

This conversional methods not only contribute to environmental degradation, but also hindered economic growth of these communities as well. This transition significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the kerosene and keeps harmful batteries out of Lake Victoria's, but furthermore, it allows for the quiet growth of trees along the shores of Lake Victoria promoting ecological sustainability. But we went further considering, which is also a women-led enterprise. For the women in these communities that are usually traditionally accustomed to unhygienic and conventional method of sardine drying, we introduce first of their kind solar drying facilities for fish. These facilities are groundbreaking across Sub-Saharan Africa and can dry substantial amounts in a single day using 70% less land space. This not only increases the yield by 70%, but it also empowers these women to and a premium market price for their produce, improving their economic sustainability and hazing food security in the region. Being considered that sardines are a vital source of protein, making this impact even more significant across the continent.

The beauty of this project lies in the holistic approach that we entail. It's not just about providing renewable energy solutions, but also understanding that the unique needs culture challenges of these communities. Millennium engineers works closely with these local communities to ensure that the solutions cater the specific requirements addressing cost efficiency, cultural considerations, efficiency and environmental sustainability. So that's just more of a quick wrap of Millennium engineers and my story behind it as well.

 

Melissa Fifield:

It's an incredible story. Thank you. Diana. As you were building your business, what factors influenced you to focus on sustainability?

 

Diana Mbogo:

The challenges faced by underserved communities due to the lack of access of energy for socioeconomic activities when a significant influence, just to go about it, again, when I started off the company, I really didn't look at it as a social enterprise or a for-profit. I was more of an NGO mindset, but I delved into the energy sector and realized the needs for different approach that addresses the majority of those most impacted, especially women. Our focus on sustainability is driven by our user-centered approach because we believe that involving the beneficiary brings out the best solutions to be approached or adapted the innovation and the commitment to creating solutions that truly benefit the communities we serve.

 

Melissa Fifield:

From your experience, how can women navigate the barriers and challenges they may face when working to participate equally in the economy?

 

Diana Mbogo:

Women often face unique challenges in male dominated sectors and all other sectors in general, but my advice will be to push forward with the determination and a vision. It's essential to have a support system and choose your struggles wisely, surrounding yourself with people who believe in your potential, and then an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur myself, your vision, even if blurry at times, should always motivate you. Being a scholar to life and learning from the challenges is crucial for professional and personal growth as well.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's great advice. What would your business and perhaps other businesses also working toward a sustainable future need to achieve more widespread impact?

 

Diana Mbogo:

On my opinion, to achieve more widespread impact, businesses working towards a sustainable future need to focus on collaboration, innovation, and integrity. We hold those as some of our business values and my personal values as well. Identifying niche markets and energy problems across different industry and communities. Then working closely with the target market to design solution that can lead to the development of innovative, impactful, and sustainable projects. Additionally, sharing findings and best practices within the industry can help drive positive change on a large scale because we can never do it all just alone. We need each other's minds. We need each other's findings, and we need each other to keep pushing this, the goals that we have for 2030.

 

Melissa Fifield:

Absolutely. Finally, it may often feel as if only the biggest actions have the most effect, but from your perspective, what are the ways individuals can have the most impact on climate change?

 

Diana Mbogo:

It's truly that every small action counts in the fight against climate change. Every small action counts and everyone counts. Individuals can make significant impact by adapting sustainable practices in their daily lives, just using energy consumption, minimizing waste, and supporting eco-friendly products and initiatives because they're all out there in our communities. Education and advocacy also plays a crucial role in raising awareness and driving change, and we need to start from the young children to adults and youth as well. By making more informed choices and encouraging others to do the same, individuals can collectively contribute to a more sustainable future, I believe.

 

Melissa Fifield:

That's great. Thank you so much, Diana, for joining us today. You're doing incredible work and we're so grateful to have you.

 

Diana Mbogo:

Thank you very much.

 

Michael Torrance:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group to access all the resources we discussed in today's episode and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainability leaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts. We're your favorite podcast provider and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's Marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance. Have a great week.

 

Speaker 5:

For BMO disclosures, please visit bmocm.com/podcast/disclaimer


 

Karin:

There's a team that has created AI-powered marketplace that connects customers to eco-friendly companies. There's another team that has designed a freestanding electric streetlight powered by the wind of wind turbine, and they're patenting their design and have begun prototyping in Germany. So for us, sustainability is in the core and it is already giving results.

 

Michael:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, chief Sustainability Officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic and NGO communities to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment, business practices, and our world.

 

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, it's affiliates, or subsidiaries.

 

Melissa:

Hi, I'm Melissa Fifield, Head of the BMO Climate Institute. Today, we're joined by Karin Sempf, CEO and Founder of Innova-Nation, an educational lab focused on motivating and empowering the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, and sustainability advocates. Karin was selected as an awardee of the We Empower UN SDG challenge. The We Empower UN SDG Challenge is the first-of-its-kind global competition for social entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN's sustainable development goals and inspiring entire communities to act to create the world we want by 2030. Karin, welcome. To start, can you please give our audience more background about yourself and Innova-Nation?

 

Karin:

Thank you, Melissa. Thank you for inviting me. I'm very happy to be here. And yes, of course. I'm Karin Sempf, the Founder and Director of Innova-Nation, and I am tuning in from Panama. Innova-Nation is an educational lab, as you mentioned, for the 21st century. We accelerate talent by offering learning programs and innovation challenges and events for children and teenagers from eight to 18. And actually, Melissa, I would have to say that 2020, during the pandemic, confirmed what we were doing, confirmed our mission. We need to rethink and we need to reinvent what education is. We exist because schools are not preparing our youth for the challenges of this world. So we have created more than 30 different programs that include leadership and mindset components and, where I think the magic happens, a take action component. We teach our students about entrepreneurship, STEAM, and sustainability, and they get to create their own projects to solve real-life challenges. So that's a bit more of a background of what we do.

 

Melissa:

That's fantastic. As you were looking to pursue your business and build your business, what factors influenced you to focus on sustainability?

 

Karin:

Well, for me, sustainability is a business imperative. We have integrated sustainability in every aspect of our business. It's actually part of our DNA and it's at the core of what Innova-Nation is. So we teach our students about sustainability. We teach them about the sustainable development goals and how businesses can, in fact, not only be created to receive income and create wealth, which of course has to be done, but also to create positive impact in our communities, so sustainable development. And the goals have been introduced in all of our programs, and we have an approach that integrates innovation and transformative learning to really take our main stakeholders, which are our students, from bystanders to active citizens that are taking action.

And for me, this was the only right decision. And now we're seeing, also, the amazing results that that has brought when we see that we are impacting both in the education and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Panama and the region. Since our students are creating innovative ideas to tackle challenges such as ... and I would like to mention, very quickly, a few of them. There's a team that has created AI-powered marketplace that connects customers to eco-friendly companies. They've signed partnerships and funding agreements. There's another team that has designed a freestanding electric streetlight powered by the wind of wind turbine, and they're patenting their design and have begun prototyping in Germany. So for us, sustainability is, as I said, in the core, and it is already giving results.

 

Melissa:

That's fantastic and so inspiring. Based on your experience, how can women navigate the barriers and the challenges they may face when working to participate equally in the economy?

 

Karin:

Well, that's a great question. I think that sorority is the answer. So sororities are those values-based social organizations that were, I think, originally founded to provide women a safe space and bring us together to share common interests, and I think that is so valid nowadays. We need to work in communities. We are navigating so many challenges, given so many roles that we have in our communities, in our businesses, in our families. So I think that sorority and being part of communities where women are empowering other women, and women are creating bridges for other women, is actually the best way to go. I think that I am here because of being part of a community. I am a VV GROW Fellow, which is a Vital Voices Fellow since 2016. And when I entered into that community, my life changed. I started receiving different opportunities and forming part of a more open community where I felt that I was supported and that I could support other women as well.

 

Melissa:

That's great. I love that. What would your business, and perhaps other businesses also working toward a more sustainable future, need to achieve more widespread impact?

 

Karin:

I think we need more awareness and more communication, and I would have to say more education. Education for me is the key, and we need to prepare our youth. So I work with the youth, I work with young people, and I see it program after program. They are coming disengaged from the learning process. They're coming disengaged. They're not loving their education, but I think it's a role that we, all businesses, have to pitch in. For instance, in my country, it's not only about the Ministry of Education. I think we have to have a wider concept. We need the companies, we need institutions to understand that we need younger people to be engaged on sustainability issues so that they can understand what's going on, form part of the discussions, and create ideas. And when they're inheriting the planet, they already understand what's going on. So for me, it's about that. More communication, more awareness, and more access to good education that really gives our youth the skills and the information that they will be needing in a very, very near future as well.

 

Melissa:

Makes sense. It's up to all of us, right? Yes. Finally, it often may feel as if only the biggest actions have the most effect. But from your perspective, what are the ways that individuals can have the most impact, as it relates to climate change?

 

Karin:

One of the things that we teach about in our programs is about how all the goals are universal, are integrated between them, and that the fact that we cannot leave anyone behind. So I'll focus on the fact that they are universal, and that means that all of us have a role to play. It's not only about governments. It's not only about corporations. It's not only about local authorities. But it's about us. And I think that we need to understand more about how climate action impacts our everyday lives. There's a lot of work to be done there so that we feel that it is a responsibility that we have. It's not abstract, it's not other people. It's not the country. It's me and how I can impact and maybe not impact all of them at the same time.

We always talk about how we can choose. There are 17 SDGs, and maybe it will feel overwhelming to start working on them all at the same time. But if I choose to work on quality of education and if I choose to work in stopping hunger, if I choose to work in health, I can choose where to direct my actions. So I think that's very important. Having those conversations and understand how climate change affects our day-to-day, and how our activities can be more sustainable once we understand the process that we can have.

 

Melissa:

Fantastic. Is there anything else you want to add to the conversation?

 

Karin:

Well, these conversations are very important. And I think that understanding that we are part of a global society, that we are global citizens, and that my actions have and could have repercussions in other countries, and we are all in this together, I think that has a lot of power. So when we come together as a community and we start exchanging ideas and inviting other people, I think that's how we achieve a more sustainable future. So I'm really happy to be part of this. I'm, of course, very honored, also, to be the We Empower UN SDG Challenge awardee for the Latin American and the Caribbean Region, where I think that this type of conversations need to happen more and more every day. So Melissa and the BMO team, again, thank you for inviting me and having this conversation.

 

Melissa:

Thank you so much for joining us, Karin. Appreciate it and appreciate all that you're doing to drive this education forward. It's so needed and what you've been doing has been inspiring, so thank you for joining us.

 

Karin:

Thank you.

 

Michael:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider, and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance. Have a great week.

 

Speaker 5:

For BMO disclosures, please visit bmocm.com/podcast/disclaimer.

 

Melissa Fifield Head, BMO Climate Institute

Melissa Fifield leads the BMO Climate Institute, a center of expertise accelerating climate solutions by bridging science, policy, finance and economics. She is a g…

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