By BOB BERWYN
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A green venture capital group is setting up a $2 million program to help entrepreneurs develop sustainable small and medium-size businesses near seven World Heritage sites, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Belize Barrier Reef.
“We are providing these resources to enable community enterprises to grow and prosper, while at the same time ensure that people are thriving and the environment is healthy,” said Jennifer Morris, senior vice president of ecosystem finance at Conservation International.
Erika Harms, executive director for sustainable development at the United Nations Foundation, said, “We have worked for years bringing new market opportunities to sustainable community-based enterprises and have seen them struggle due to their inability to access affordable credit. (This program) will help fill in this missing piece.”
The funds could be used my businesses that are involved in sustainable agriculture, ecotourism services and the harvest of forest products such as oils, nuts and fibers.
Targeted activities include implementing a business growth plan, supporting activities such as marketing, product improvement and guide training and certification. Businesses that perform well may qualify for additional funding and progressively lower interest rates.
Applications are open now for the sites in Belize, Kenya, Mexico and Tanzania. Businesses in Dominica, Madagascar and Philippines will be able to apply as of October 2010.
The goal of the program is to help protect seven of the world’s most precious and endangered natural wonders and to promote the development of companies run by community members, while at the same time reducing poverty and conserving the biological diversity of the following places:
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize), the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere and habitat for marine turtles, manatees and crocodiles;
Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica), where lush-green tropical forest blends with extraordinary volcanic features, like hot springs and a boiling lake;
Mount Kenya (Kenya), an extinct volcano that supports 12 glaciers, a bamboo forest, buffaloes, elephants, leopards and giant forest hogs;
Sian Ka’an (Mexico), which contains 40 different sites of prehispanic cultures and is famous for its amphibians, reptiles and cats such as the jaguar, puma and ocelot;
Puerto Princesa National Park (Philippines), home to the world’s longest underground river. Its tunnels and chambers are home to large populations of birds and bats;
Kilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania), the highest point in Africa with its snowy peak looming over the savannah;
Dry Forests of the South-West (Madagascar), deciduous forests that cover vital subterranean water sources and are home to lemurs and other species found nowhere else. (Submitted on Madagascar’s Tentative List for consideration as a future World Heritage site.)
These World Heritage sites are considered of exceptional value to humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their unique natural beauty or scientific importance.
The World Heritage Local Ecological Entrepreneurship Program is a partnership among the United Nations Foundation, United Nations Development Programme / Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme and Conservation International’s Verde Ventures investment fund. The participation of Verde Ventures is enabled in part by funding from Daiwa Securities.
The program is one of the few lines of credit to take a “blended capital” approach, which means that it provides loans and grants at the same time to help small businesses to develop to a big enough size that makes them eligible to borrow from commercial banks.
Verde Ventures is an investment fund managed by Conservation International to provide support for small- and medium-sized businesses that contribute to healthy ecosystems and human well-being.