Green Skills Innovation Challenge

Ashoka and HSBC are looking for social entrepreneurs who are equipping those most in need of opportunity with green skills needed to thrive, ensuring that the transition to a green economy benefits all. 

We’re searching for changemakers that: 

  • Help those previously excluded from economic opportunity to gain the skills needed to find employment in growth sectors of the Green Economy.  
  • Help communities currently entrenched in environmentally harmful jobs transition to green jobs. 
  • Find innovative ways to prepare young people to find careers in, and ultimately become leaders of, the green economy. 

We are excited to announce our 12 winners. By equipping people with “green skills” - the abilities they’ll need to step into jobs that positively impact the planet - these 12 organizations have found a way to solve interconnected social and environmental problems. Their approaches are innovative and impactful, and they vary across different sectors, geographies and livelihoods. Within this diverse group of innovators lies ideas and insight which will be invaluable as we work to transition our global economy to one that is harmonious with a healthy planet and provides dignified work for all.

The winners will be awarded up to $20,000 of grant funding from a total prize fund of $230,000. They'll also have the opportunity to scale their projects to new levels with mentorship from Ashoka and HSBC.

Ashoka and HSBC are collaborating on the first-of-its-kind Green Skills Innovation Challenge. This global innovation competition is open to social entrepreneurs in selected markets with ventures that equip individuals and communities with the skills needed to thrive in the transition to a green economy.

Climate change is a defining crisis of our time, and its impacts are global and unprecedented in scale. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic too has side-swiped society with devastating impacts on health, livelihoods, and the economy. As we look towards a post-pandemic world, we have an opportunity to shape a recovery that leverages solutions addressing the climate crisis and promoting health, equality, and financial wellbeing. Our recovery can be sustainable, putting people back to work and ensuring they’re contributing to the green economy.

The data is promising. A new study from the World Economic Forum found that ‘nature-positive’ solutions can create 395 million jobs by 2030. At the same time, 1.2 billion jobs across the world depend on a stable and healthy environment.

This sustainable economy requires a workforce equipped with robust green skills—the competencies that allow individuals to step into new green jobs or transition aspects of their current careers towards jobs that will have positive impacts on the planet.

The green economy is emerging. We see solutions—in renewable energy, advancements in farming and agriculture, electric vehicles, sustainable forestry, and circular manufacturing processes, to name a few—but we also see a gap within the workforce. Without greens skill readiness, the transition to the green economy will be a slow one.

Ashoka and HSBC are looking for innovators with solutions that tackle many of these complex issues around green skills and more. The Green Skills Innovation Challenge will award 15 social entrepreneurs with up to $20,000 in cash prize. The winners also get support and mentoring from HSBC and Ashoka on how to develop the innovation and scale. We’re looking for social entrepreneurs with ventures who recognize: 

  • The power of multi-solving. Green skills can bring about and inclusive and sustainable future, solving the climate crisis along with social problems.
  • Everyone is necessary. As environmentally harmful jobs are phased out, people’s valuable skills can be repurposed towards growth sectors in the green economy.
  • Young people are critical. With green skills, youth across the world will be able to jump into the green economy with confidence and thrive. 

Green Definitions

Here are some common terms that are useful to know for this challenge:

Green Skills

The knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society.

Green Jobs

Decent jobs that contribute to, preserve or restore the environment. They may be in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Green Economy

An alternative vision for growth and development that improves people's wellbeing through sustainable development. Public and private investment into the green economy's activities, assets and infrastructure drives growth in employment and income. This in turn results in reduced carbon emissions and pollution, and enhanced energy and resource efficiency. It also prevents the loss if biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Examples of Past Winners

Coalfield Development

Coalfield Development

Jobs in coal were seen as a “birth right” in West Virginia, until they began to disappear, leaving many unemployed. But the national “workforce development” sector in the United States places emphasis on circumstantial poverty through job loss, not generational poverty. National skills training has proven ill-equipped to pivot when jobs disappear altogether.​ 

In the face of these challenges, Coalfield Development, a winning Future Skills Innovation Challenge organization, reimagine the workforce development sector as one that effectively does the “economic research and development” to open wholly new fields and cultivate entrepreneurial talent. 

​Coalfield’s innovative model starts social enterprises in coal communities—new sustainable agriculture, solar energy, construction, and tourism enterprises—then uses them to employ and empower people experiencing generational poverty. These enterprises create new jobs and opportunity in a diverse range of sectors more sustainable than the fossil-fuel jobs currently dominating many rural areas.



The need for green skills is a common thread running through all South Africa’s green economy plans, yet there is no initiative to build the capacity of the national skills development system to proactively and strategically produce the competencies needed for the green economy.

Use-It, one of last year’s Future Skills Innovation Challenge winners, is a venture actively working to address this green skills gap. Use-It trains young people in South Africa to repurpose and recycle waste to create goods with a positive environmental impact. Use-It’s innovative technology and program unlock the value of waste, particularly those waste streams currently considered technical unrecyclable.

Use-it runs a programme called the Skill Development Project for young South African leaders who dream of establishing a small business. The programme offers entrepreneurial skills to these young people, capitalise on opportunities to start and grow sustainable businesses that form part of the mainstream economy in South Africa within the green economy.

“We can address the looming bio-diversity crisis and reset the economy in a way that creates and protects millions of jobs."

Akanksha Khatri
Head of the Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum

“As young people we are faced with an impending double crisis. We will have to deal with the disproportionate economic fallout from Covid-19, and begin our adult lives in an age of greater and greater climate injustice.”

Serena Murdoch
Campaigner at Teach the Future, via Friends of the Earth
teach the future logo

“Commitments under the Paris Agreement to greening economic sectors such as energy, agriculture, waste management, manufacturing and transport can’t advance into concrete change if the necessary skills are not available. More than 1 in 5 government commitments have no plans for any training or capacity development measures at all. Alarm bells...

Olga Strietska-Ilina
Senior Skills and Employability Specialist, International Labour Organization
Olga Strietska Ilina