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Social entrepreneurs have improved the lives of millions. Here's how

Naturalist Sir David Attenborough receives a Crystal Award from Hilde Schwab, Chairperson and Co-Founder of Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, during an opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann - RC15C3F82550

Social entrepreneurs have been highly influential in positive making change. Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann - RC15C3F82550

Hilde Schwab
Chairperson and Co-Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Agenda in Focus: Social Entrepreneurs

  • The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship was founded in 1998 by Klaus and Hilde Schwab.
  • Since then, the concept has taken off worldwide - as well as the recognition of social entrepreneurs.
  • The Schwab Foundation Impact Report highlights the diverse work of the community of social entrepreneurs, at work in more than 190 countries.

When I founded the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship back in 1998 with Klaus Schwab, no one knew what a social entrepreneur was. They were the uncommon and unsung heroes in their respective countries and communities, working in relative obscurity to test new approaches to tackle profound market or governmental failures.

When they came to World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in 2000, the “Meet the Social Entrepreneurs” session had low attendance. Their voices – and the voices of all the people they serve – were often not heard.

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But it was 20 years ago that we saw in social entrepreneurship the future of how organizations could evolve and felt the need to bring these approaches – and the social entrepreneurs – to the attention of world leaders.

In those early years, social entrepreneurs worked in relative obscurity. They often struggled to access high-level decision-makers who could help them scale up, support or partner, and they were frequently misunderstood by authorities, the private sector, funders, the media and the general public.

We founded the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship because we sensed that a distinct, more innovative approach to alleviating problems associated with poverty and social and environmental challenges was emerging. We saw a new generation of pioneers who channeled their passion, resources, creativity and sense of injustice and dedicated themselves to finding ways to achieve real change in their contexts and in the world around them.

How the world has changed in 20 years! Today social entrepreneurs are perceived as creative innovators, often the first to see opportunity in devising solutions to the world’s problems.

The path of social entrepreneurship is still lonely, however. As disruptors in the service of others, we have been inspired by their humanity, their intolerance of the status quo, their deep-rooted values, their commitment to those they represent and serve, and their persistence to overcome significant challenges over the decades. Even after 20 years of the Schwab Foundation, I am struck by the tireless efforts of this community.

As we gather for the 50th Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, it is with great pleasure that I share the Schwab Foundation’s journey and the life-changing work of the social entrepreneurs. Together, they have built a new model for economic, societal and political transformation.

The Schwab Foundation Impact Report highlights the diverse work of the community of social entrepreneurs, at work in more than 190 countries.

More importantly, the report focuses on how social innovation, offers a paradigm for alternative working models, as we face the current critical challenges to our planet, our societies and our economies. These alternative models are proven to be effective – over 622 million people have been directly affected by the work of the organizations in the Schwab Foundation community.

The findings of this report challenge the notion that models of social innovation are small, isolated islands of success in the rough seas of overwhelming global problems. Instead, the power of the collective work demonstrates a cumulative effect that cannot be ignored or marginalized. Consider the combined capability of all social innovators in the world, those recognized in networks like the Schwab Foundation, and the hundreds of thousands that exist beyond our community around the world.

Social innovators have pioneered sustainable approaches and inclusive business models. They have demonstrated that models of stakeholder capitalism work. The Schwab Foundation mission seeks to engage all stakeholders in the creation of social and economic value and the social entrepreneurs have proven how employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and the environment can benefit from new models for change. Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, this impact report is the evidence and embodiment of stakeholder capitalism in action.

The vision for corporations, government and civil society as equal stakeholders in the global commons – captured originally in the 1973 Davos Manifesto and adapted this year in the 2020 Davos Manifesto – is even more relevant today as we see the responsibilities of business evolve to address a collective future and a shared vision for an inclusive, fair economy on a sustainable planet.

To do so, from 2019 onwards, we will not only nurture this community of social entrepreneurs, but will also expand our remit by inviting a wider group of social innovators – including those in corporations, governments and academia – to join us in making social innovation and entrepreneurship a lighthouse for possibility and seeing this realized for the next generation.

This is the “Decade of Delivery” for the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to reach a tipping point for progress, where the prescient models and lessons of the last few decades of social innovation become a mainstream system for change.

This article is related to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January.

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Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalStakeholder CapitalismSocial Innovation
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