SwitchMed is a current UNEP & UNIDO initiative that supports and connects stakeholders to scale up eco and social innovations in the Mediterranean (Southern Europe, Middle East, and N.Africa). As part of this initiative, SwitchMed Connect 2015 was the first annual gathering of these stakeholders, including leading start-ups and entrepreneurs, industry agents, policy and financial institutions, who are working on applications of productive, circular and sharing economies in the region, and Collective Responsibility was invited to be a collaboration partner for the meeting in Barcelona, Spain.
After the welcome introduction on the first day, Charlie Mathews facilitated one of the initial sessions called “Meet the Switchers.” Co-hosted by UK Trade & Investment, this opening session introduced 10 entrepreneurs and start-ups (Switchers) from across the region within the transport and mobility sectors, after which participants of the conference were able to give constructive feedback and input to help the Switchers develop their businesses/initiatives and how to scale them up.
Switcher start-ups included:
- a bicycle delivery service from Lebanon (Cycling Circle)
- a sharing-economy inspired shipping service from Morocco (Sheaply)
- a waste management company that sells recycled traffic solution products from Spain (ZICLA)
On the second day, Collective Responsibility hosted a session called “Scale up market pull:
Shifting private consumer behaviour with a focus on middle class personas” with over 100 participants. The purpose of the session was to provide an overview of the barriers and motivators for responsible consumption behaviour among middle class consumers in the MENA region, and to look at how business, civil society and policy can support consumers to make informed choices. During the first part of the session, a panel of speakers shared their views on the challenges and well as some of the trends they have seen in the region. The speakers were:
- Ian Fenn, Sustainable Consumption Project Coordinator, Consumers International
- Najib Saab, Secretary General, Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED)
- Giorgio Maritan, Brands of Spain Capital and ETHIIC Sustainable Lifestyles Network
The second part of the session was an interactive workshop, where participants were split into different consumer sectors (food, tourism, mobility, textiles, electronics, housing), and as groups worked through questions to understand country-specific barriers to sustainable consumption of those products, the key stakeholders that are needed to engage with on the issue, and what solutions to the barriers could be collaborated on to begin tomorrow.
Sustainable lifestyles look different in each country, and even within each country; and so if we are to attempt to promote behavior change towards sustainable consumerism it is important to understand the culture, as well as the political and social structures deeply. SwitchMed’s mission is undeniably critical for the sustainable development of the region, and it is through supporting and connecting key stakeholders and actors who understand their own countries that change can be achieved.