How can big corporations lead the way in mobilizing innovative changemakers on climate action?

Cross sector collaborations, funding, mentorship, and market access are key to propelling home-grown start-ups.

How can big corporations lead the way in mobilizing innovative changemakers on climate action?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

When attributing responsibility for climate action, it’s essential to acknowledge the importance of large enterprises in driving impact at scale.

The global youth population is deeply concerned about climate change. They feel a need for more action from the public and private sectors, involving them in the development, execution, and assessment of climate action plans.

Often, the engagement of young people ends up as mere tokenism, remaining on the periphery, exasperating their need for resources, information, support, and guidance.

A study shows nearly 70% of youth are anxious about climate change’s looming threat. As climate change takes a heavy toll in the Middle East, young people, currently accounting for almost half of the population, are pushing for bolder actions to address the problem. They want to be at the forefront of change.

This pressure is translating into action.

The COP28 in Dubai and UAE’s year of sustainability was the most inclusive ever, providing a platform for the voices of young people, highlighting their grassroots involvement and crucial role in shaping the climate agenda. The COP-28 team comprised 70% of negotiators below the age of 35.

Climate change requires a multifaceted approach involving governments, industries, enterprises, and the youth – the powerful force for change. Forward-thinking enterprises have recognized the importance of investing in youth with a three-pronged strategy emphasizing innovation, advocacy, and policy change.

During the annual climate conference, PepsiCo, along with SABIC and AstroLabs, launched the Mega Green Accelerator to nurture young innovators in the region, addressing the most pressing sustainability challenges, focusing on the circular economy, clean energy transitions, water and agriculture. Applications for the program are now open and start-ups in the region have until March 30 to submit their scalable solutions. In addition to seed funding and mentorship, the partners will provide participating entrepreneurs access to some of the most prominent business leaders in the region.


“At PepsiCo, we’re doubling down on efforts to advance food security through collaboration, directing investments to interventions that have shown can build long-term solutions. Driving resilience across the value chain by working with new partners to transform agricultural systems is not just good for the planet – it’s also good for business and the economy at large,” says Eugene Willemsen, Chief Executive Officer, Africa, Middle East, South Asia at PepsiCo.

The Middle East is warming almost two times faster than the global average, yet the support and investment for the sustainability innovation ecosystem in the region does not match this urgency. Since 2010, less than 50 new climate technology startups have been founded in the MENA region, compared to nearly 5,000 in Europe and the US. The Mega Green Accelerator aims to reduce this gap, foster regional collaboration and cultivate a network of MENA-based innovators addressing the most pressing sustainability challenges in the region.

“The youth all around us, inspiring positive change, thinking differently about things, mandating urgency from the public and private sectors, and driving positive impact in their capacity, are some of the strongest changemakers we have in the climate change fight,” says Willemsen.

The most pressing challenge lies in ensuring food security for the rising global population amid escalating climate risks and declining natural resources. Overlapping crises, including multiple violent conflicts and climate disasters around the world, have pushed some countries into food crises, while other countries have been more resilient.

“We’re seeing more young people from the region take up entrepreneurial ventures in this field, calling for greater holistic infrastructure, resources, funding, and mentorship to scale these disruptive ideas. The Mega Green Accelerator is an opportunity for the industry to come together and address underlying food security concerns by amplifying innovation born in the region,” added Willemsen.

Amid a clear shift in priorities, it’s pertinent for big corporations in related industries to invest in sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems to ensure they offer viable and attractive livelihoods to young people.


With the influx of international sustainable and climate-conscious companies, the region is rising as a global testbed for innovation. With the Mega Green Accelerator, we are doubling down on creating an environment where these businesses can scale into the local markets. Our aim is to ensure the GCC not only responds to the current demand for green solutions but also pioneers the advancement of sustainable business practices on a global scale,’’ said Roland Daher, CEO, AstroLabs.

Numerous reports, including those by organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations, have examined the vulnerability of young people to climate change impacts. These studies emphasize that young populations, especially those in developing countries, are disproportionately affected by climate change due to their reliance on climate-sensitive sectors and limited access to resources.

The Accelerator is banking on its strategic partners’ unique capabilities and expertise to support participating entrepreneurs. Investment partners Dubai Future District Fund, Venture Souq and Shurooq Partners will provide platforms for investment opportunities, mentorship in raising capital, and networking opportunities. They will also inform startup criteria and participate in the selection process to maximize investment success.


“Cross-sector partnerships are crucial in effectively tackling complex, critical issues such as climate change. In supporting this initiative, we are not just bettering local economies, but people and the planet at the same time,” said Dr. Bob Maughon, SABIC’s Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer.

The changes required are vast, and companies are articulating them uniquely.

After all, what we do today, and in these next ten years, will determine whether we succeed or not.


FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf. More

More Top Stories: