• COVID-19 has highlighted the interdependence of all people and the natural world.
  • The pandemic's disruption presents an opportunity to rebuild a world in which markets work for the whole of society.
  • The COVID-19 Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs will help faith-based organizations and social entrepreneurs enact radical change and rebuild a better future.

In recent months, we have witnessed the courage and sacrifice of so many people delivering healthcare and essential services.

At the same time, there has been a sharp wake-up call about gross inequities in testing, economic pain, even survival itself. For much of the world – especially least-developed countries with only one or two doctors for every 10,000 people – the worst of the coronavirus still lies ahead. If this pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that we are globally interdependent.

It is time to pay attention and change course.

A better world – one that nurtures human potential among the least of us – can only grow from the seeds of honest conversation. As the holy texts of all major faiths attest, we reap what we sow. This is especially true in the natural world, where droughts, fierce storms, accelerating extinctions, rising seas and now coronavirus tell us that we are imperiling our own future.

We can’t simply go back to the way things were. Markets are highly inefficient in distributing empathy, compassion, hope and dignity – or even, as many have recently discovered, assigning true economic value with any degree of accuracy. We must build the world we want out of this disruption, so that markets work for the whole of society, not just a few. For what is the purpose of a free market if the people who make it possible are not themselves free? How we earn, how we spend and how we sustain the world and each other need a radical rebalancing.

For example, why are millions of “essential” workers – nurses, garbage collectors, grocery clerks, postal workers – so poorly paid? Why have companies and markets failed so spectacularly at anticipating, let alone balancing, supply and demand for basic protective gear? And how can one even place a monetary figure on the freedom to walk without mortal fear of a passing stranger’s cough, or to attend a loved one’s funeral?

Markets are not infallible arbiters of value.

We have always lived in a world of kindness and cruelty, generosity and greed, hope and cynicism, love and hate – all in constant tension. But which of these prevail in our countries, companies and communities ultimately depends upon the candour and courage of the conversations we have with our leaders – and the accountability we insist upon from them.

Now, we must embrace the moral imperative of radical change not just because it is right, but because it is the only practical course of action that can save the world from a worse fate in years to come.

Fortunately, recent events have shown us that rapid and radical change is in fact possible on a mass scale. Our challenge now is to channel and build upon it.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

Social innovators address the world’s most serious challenges ranging from inequality to girls’ education and disaster relief that affect all of us, but in particular vulnerable and excluded groups. To achieve maximum impact and start to address root causes, they need greater visibility, credibility, access to finance, favourable policy decisions, and in some cases a better understanding of global affairs and access to decision makers.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is supporting more than 400 late-stage social innovators. By providing an unparalleled global platform, the Foundation’s goal is to highlight and expand proven and impactful models of social innovation. It helps strengthen and grow the field by showcasing best-in-class examples, models for replication and cutting-edge research on social innovation.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship’s 2021 Annual Report evaluated the work of its 2019 and 2020 Awardees. It shows that despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation’s community has found new ways to join forces, respond and develop the movement of social innovators.

Our global network of experts, partner institutions, and World Economic Forum constituents and business members are invited to nominate outstanding social innovators. Get in touch to become a member or partner of the World Economic Forum.

A bold response to this call for change is the COVID-19 Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, a new coalition of innovative social entrepreneurs, foundations, civil society, faith actors, corporations and international organizations, hosted by the Schwab Foundation at the World Economic Forum. Together, we will work towards change on several fronts.

1. Synchronize the response

First, we will marshal and synchronize our response to alleviate the pandemic’s impact on the excluded and most vulnerable populations and engage others in such service.

2. Leverage trust in faith-based organizations

In good times, faith-based organizations and social entrepreneurs provide at least one-third of primary healthcare in many countries in Africa, according to Christian Health Associations. Religions for Peace estimates this figure to be significantly higher in places affected by humanitarian disasters, where governments struggle to cope with needs. These partnerships have established a vital reservoir of trust, and in times of hardship and rapid change, trust is among the most important capital.

3. Add our voice to the Great Transformation

As the World Economic Forum explores the fundamental challenges of creating opportunity, equity, economic growth and sustainability in a post-pandemic world, we will add our voices to the global call for more humane and ecological measures of progress, as well as rules and incentives to transform these high ideals into everyday reality.

4. Understand civic and political life as an expression of love

One value that we believe should guide such conversations is love – a word that makes many political and business leaders strangely uncomfortable. In this context, love is much deeper and broader than a romantic sentiment. It is a courageous acknowledgment of interdependence, even obligation, to one another as fellow human beings. That’s why Pope Francis has identified civic and political life as among the highest possible expressions of love.

Some 800 years ago, Saint Francis of Assisi showed the world that institutions cannot forever cater to the rich and powerful without sacrificing their moral authority, their vital connection with the natural world or their own sense of every life’s intrinsic equality. In modern terms, we would consider him a social entrepreneur – a person who, through deep love and his own organizational abilities, changed the way millions perceived the poor, revitalized the purpose of institutions, restored people’s relationship with nature and demonstrated the enduring power of faith to affect change.

This pandemic is not just a health crisis – it’s also a crisis of faith in many of the assumptions, systems and institutions that have utterly failed us. Without hope and faith in the future, people have little to live for. With faith, however, in all its rich and varied dimensions, anything is possible.

So, let’s get started with the hard work, and hard conversations, together. Because whether you consider yourself an idealist or a realist, the path forward will be hard and steep for years to come. Let’s at least make sure we are headed in a direction that most people can believe in, and rebuild a future of hope, value and possibility for all people and the natural world we call home.