As the annual Global Entrepreneurship Congress wraps up in Riyadh, there’s a lot of good news to report. I attended the summit along with 8,000 delegates from 200 nations to discuss rebuilding the global economy and strengthening entrepreneurship during the pandemic and beyond. The big headline is that seemingly everyone — particularly women — has their sights on businesses that emphasize the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.
New data from Saudi Arabia’s Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha’at) and the Global Entrepreneurship Network backed up four days of conversations around this topic. Polling both entrepreneurs and investors from the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, China, and France, the research found that more than two-thirds of respondents rank an investor’s sustainability practices as a key factor in decision making. Sustainability is so important, in fact, that a majority of entrepreneurs said they were willing to turn down an investor that ranks low in this increasingly important ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factor.
These findings reflect a weighted sample of more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and investors across key markets. Researchers asked respondents critical questions about what they now look for when making decisions about their business.
Interesting regional differences were observed, with developing countries more likely to turn down capital from non-sustainable investors. For example, the vast majority of entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia (84%) and China (73%) said they would refuse funding from a non-sustainable investor, while roughly half of the French entrepreneurs (51%) and only around a third of entrepreneurs in the U.S. (36%) and U.K. (35%) said they would do the same.
There’s a gender gap, too. Women were significantly more likely to take a principled stand on this issue, with 60% saying they would not take the investment, compared to 53% of men.
On the financing side, investors finally realize that it’s in their best interest to make bets on sustainable ventures. In fact, investors from Saudi Arabia (84%) and the U.S. (79%) were most likely to bank on companies with “good sustainability strategies,” followed by those from France (69%), the U.K. (67%), and China (61%). Again, female investors (79%) were more likely than men (67%) to favor firms with good sustainability strategies.
I can personally attest to this exciting trend. As the founder of Hello Alice, I’ve raised four rounds of capital to support our mission of helping New Majority entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. The most rewarding aspect of fundraising has always been connecting with investors who are just as excited about making a positive impact as we are.
Based on my conversations over the last four days, I’m happy to see that my experience is increasingly common. A great example was my fireside chat with Princess Lamia Bint Majed Saud Al Saud, secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies. She sees social entrepreneurship as the solution for tackling climate change, education gaps, and other chronic ESG issues.
The bottom line? Change is coming, and women seem to lead the way — even in the most surprising places. Entrepreneurs the world over are finding innovative ways to confront humanity’s greatest challenges in ways big and small. Let’s give them a chance to show us everything they can accomplish.