The time to be Unreasonable is now

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Almost a decade ago, Ian Rosenberger got on a plane and headed for Haiti, where a devastating earthquake had claimed thousands of lives and left more than a million people homeless.

The experience taught him an enduring lesson. "People don't want handouts," says the Pittsburgh-based entrepreneur. "They want two things: a roof over their head and a job."

That was the inspiration for Thread International, a company Rosenberger founded to provide employment for Haiti's most vulnerable citizens by paying them to collect plastic waste, which his company then turns into material for the global garment industry.

Rosenberger describes trying to grow his business as "pretty much like trying to push water uphill". But today, having created more than 3,000 job opportunities, he has the support of a powerful business alliance whose chief goal is to help growth-stage companies such as his to accelerate their growth so as to create jobs and scale their impact.

An ideas exchange

Unreasonable Impact, a partnership between Barclays and the Unreasonable Group, is a global network that helps growth-stage companies take on the world's most pressing challenges and is rare in that it does not seek equity in return for its support. Nor does it offer cash or any other monetary incentive. Instead, it believes that providing connections, mentorship and an environment in which to exchange the best ideas is beneficial to all those involved.

600m more jobs need to be created over the next 15 years merely to keep up with global population growth

Formed in 2016, it has so far worked with 94 entrepreneurs that support more than 34,000 jobs and who have collectively raised $2bn in funding.

Employment is one of the world's biggest challenges. According to the World Bank, more than 200m people worldwide are unemployed, many of them young adults. An additional 2bn people of working age – most of them women – remain outside the workforce.

In addition, it says that 600m more jobs need to be created over the next 15 years merely to keep up with global population growth. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, the number of new jobs required between now and 2030 is around 11m.

Daniel Epstein, Unreasonable Group's founder, argues that the overwhelming majority of future job growth will come from entrepreneurs rather than the world's established companies. "Entrepreneurs play a hugely important role in driving economic activity and in driving employment," he says.

Learning from entrepreneurs

Ian Rosenberger of Thread says that Unreasonable Impact has supported him in a number of ways. First, its mentorship has helped him grow as a chief executive officer. "They have a breadth of experience as a team," he says.

In addition, it has provided connections through its global network of companies – from growth-stage enterprises to long-established names – which provide expertise in everything from marketing to brainstorming ideas for the next phase of growth. 

Yet why would a centuries-old bank want to participate in such a venture? Joe McGrath, Barclays’ global head of banking, says that one motivation is to learn from entrepreneurs so that they can help established clients transition to a cleaner economy.

"Many companies in the world are increasingly looking to transition to sustainability both profitably and faster, and the ventures we work with through this partnership are a beacon of how to do that," he says.

Indeed, Husk Power Systems, a company founded in India, is creating sustainable energy from rice husks – a solution that has saved 15,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually over the last five years.

Many companies are looking to transition to sustainability both profitably and faster, and the ventures we work with are a beacon of how to do that

“There are lots of successful energy companies in India, but all of them prioritise the big cities. That was of no interest to us – we set about building a system that would look after rural villages throughout India,” says Manoj Sinha, Husk Power System's founder. Within the next three years, Husk Power Systems is on track to serve over 100,000 households across both India and Tanzania – a development that will translate to almost one million customers.

Even so, Stephen Doherty, head of corporate relations at Barclays, argues that there is a more basic reason for helping to spur job creation among the world's new generation of growth-stage companies. "To be successful ourselves, we need businesses to be successful and economies to be successful," he says. "You can do good and do well at the same time."