Hurricane Irma knocked down the Caribbean in 2017. St. Maarten got the full blast damaging 91% of their buildings and leaving thousands of communities uninhabitable. In the first months, humanitarian response focused on emergency aid and securing food, water, sanitation and shelter for people. As time passed by, the reconstruction phase began with the enormous challenge of not only dealing with waste the hurricane left behind but also reactivating an economy that relied heavily on tourism. This story is about how local entrepreneurship and a startup coalition are creating employment and resources out of that waste.

‘Startup Solutions for St. Maarten’ is an initiative to accelerate the reconstruction process using trash as an opportunity to enhance entrepreneurship and provide materials that assist the reconstruction of the island. The joint forces of this initiative include the Netherlands Red Cross, StartupDelta, the Dutch Coalition for Humanitarian Innovation, Open House, InnoFest, Impact City and the Dutch ministries of Defence and The Interior & Kingdom Relations (the BZK).


Facilitating an innovation ecosystem

The first phase of the project focuses on enabling a market space where reusable waste will be categorized and stored. The market space will also host a recycling workshop where local entrepreneurs access tools to create reconstruction products. For example, reprocessing wood and metal remnants as hurricane shutters; converting tarpaulins into raincoats or bags; recycling plastic waste into souvenirs for tourists. Lastly, the market space will host seminars where startups and mentors share knowledge and help entrepreneurs develop new skills.

The second phase of the project will bring the expertise of award-winning startups that have explored circular economic models in-depth. Their approaches to sustainable innovation will assist the implementation of a circular economy on St. Maarten.  Their ideas include using waste streams to grow foodstuffs; crafting furniture from debris; incubating new products or services for further development.

Red Cross National Societies will coordinate the process of facilitating the innovation ecosystem. Volunteers will create the market space using recycled materials. Also, a task force will seek skilled talent in the region that can inspire and assist the training of entrepreneurs.

Natural disasters will only continue to challenge humanity. With every new trial comes an opportunity to thrive. ‘From Waste to Work’ is a new approach to support community-led solutions; promote a sustainable economy, and create and space for experimentation. This initiative is a combination of agile partnerships, the spirit of people who want to drive change, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Network on the ground.

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