BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – What do a car garage, youth unemployment and climate change have in common? In the case of 30-year-old social entrepreneur Charles Batte, a great deal. At 20, this entrepreneur born in the slum area of Kamwokya in Uganda’s capital Kampala used his savings from a part-time job at a garage to start a small-scale farm.
He then used the profits to found three more social enterprises: a health center, a study center and Tree Adoption Uganda (TAU), a youth-led initiative that jointly addresses the challenges of youth unemployment and climate change.
And these are not small challenges. A large proportion of Uganda’s population is under age 30, at 78 percent, and youth unemployment hit 64 percent in 2012, according to the Brookings Institution think tank — the year Batte founded TAU. Between 1990 and 2005, the country’s forest cover declined by about a third, according to Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority.
As keynote speaker at the Global Landscapes Forum, Batte will share his vision for triangulating corporate social responsibility, socio-economic development and climate-change mitigation through what he refers to as win-win-win arrangements.
TAU’s Tree Capital program aims at providing start-up capital to youth with innovative business ideas, particularly those coming from impoverished rural areas, explains Batte.
The mechanism is simple: the non-governmental organization (NGO) shows entrepreneurs how to set up basic tree nurseries and provides them with a three-year program of business, finance and information and communication technology training and mentoring.
Large companies “adopt” the saplings as part of their corporate social responsibility, and the trees are planted in the context of reforestation campaigns. Finally, participants use the money raised to start their own businesses — income-generating activities that will help them support their families, and may even employ other youths in the community.
And it does not end there. Through similar programs, the organization helps vulnerable families raise money for school fees, and it also organizes Bookcamps, weekend events that encourage school children to read and further their education.
“Given my experiences in the slum, I developed a sense of responsibility and a desire to give back to my community,” Batte says. “A desire to make sure other youth do not face the same predicament I faced growing up.”
For a start, TAU aims to help 200 entrepreneurs —150 of them women— to set up their own small-scale businesses while producing 200,000 trees.
When Batte won the “Bright Ideas from a Young Commonwealth”’ contest in 2015, he called on youth worldwide to mobilize for a brighter, more sustainable future. “Our small contributions in our different communities, when added up, constitute global change,” he said.
“We must go back and work hard, knowing that we are contributing to an unprecedented global cause,” reiterated Batte, who has received international recognition through a number of awards and fellowships including the Dalai Lama Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship.
Having grown up in an area riddled with “lack of opportunity, poverty, crime and drugs,” things could have turned out very differently for Batte. But when he designed a “self-sustaining community” business model in high school, he made it clear the only way for him —and the youth he managed to help to go — was up.
A decade after having raised his first-ever start-up capital in a car garage in Kampala, Batte has a vision for landscapes that work for people and for the planet.
“A vision of transforming environmental interventions into means of creating socioeconomic development and nurturing the growth of socially-responsible businesses,” he said.