• Even before COVID-19, global progress towards the UN's Sustainable Development Goals had fallen behind.
  • Social entrepreneurs and other front-line actors have a key role to play and need to be given greater prominence and support at this time.
  • Collaborative movements and alliances in the social enterprise sector are critical to building a sector wide agenda with collective messages to influence key stakeholders

Just as the COVID-19 healthcare worker is at the front line for the protection of human life, so the social entrepreneur is at the front line for the protection of socio-economic wellbeing. As such, they have their work cut out for them. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed critical flaws in our social and economic systems, with particularly devastating consequences for the billions who are marginalized.

Global goals to reduce poverty and curb climate change have stalled or gone backwards in the face of COVID-19. Even before the global pandemic, few countries were even close to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the target date of 2030, with the Social Progress Index estimating last year that this date had been pushed back to 2073. The pandemic is likely to set progress back even further, unless drastic action is taken. The World Bank projects that the global economy will shrink by 5-8% predicting that over 100 million people are at immediate risk of slipping into poverty. Already, education inequality and food insecurity are rising due to the lack of resources and widespread school closures. And glaringly, healthcare systems are being overwhelmed, erasing the hard-fought gains in public health. Now is the time to do things differently.

If there are rays of encouragement that reflect the resilience of the human spirit, it is in the collective actions that are arising as the world reacts and responds to the pandemic. One such response is the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset initiative, a commitment to jointly and urgently rebuild the foundations of our economic and social system for a more fair, sustainable, and resilient future. International organizations, such as the IMF and UN, have been joined by private corporations, like Microsoft and Mastercard, to support the Forum’s call to reevaluate global social and economic systems.

But to achieve the Great Reset, it will be necessary to bridge the gap between public and private interests and institutions. This is where the social entrepreneur and the social enterprise sector can make an impact – they have already been active in this space for decades, although their work is not often recognized or supported. Social entrepreneurs serve as a crucial social safety net for the systemic weaknesses, inequalities and market failures that are now apparent. In recent months they have repeatedly demonstrated that, as first responders in this crisis, they have been able to adapt at speed and share their knowledge and assets where they are needed most.

While governments enact policies and launch national-scale initiatives with multilateral partners and donors, corporations and impact investors funnel resources to address a variety of challenges, it is social entrepreneurs who often have the trust of those in vulnerable communities required to bring about lasting change on the ground. After all, they have been delivering significant progress on challenges like food security, employment, gender equity, sanitation and health in those communities for many years already.

Top-down ecosystem players must recognize the role of these front-line leaders and empower and align resources to reinvigorate progress towards the goals of economic inclusion, health, education and social cohesion.

In mobilizing these important actors at this critical time, initiatives such as Catalyst 2030 – an international consortium of more than 200 NGOs, social enterprises, intermediaries, funders, and other social change innovators that have pledged to collaborate to help countries achieve the SDGs by 2030 – are doing critical work. In its recent report, “Getting From Crisis to Systems Change,” Catalyst 2030 outlined the central role that social enterprises must continue to play in achieving the SDGs

The COVID-19 Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, hosted by the World Economic Forum and Schwab Foundation, is also fostering collaboration across impact-focused companies and global leaders. Comprising more than 60 global organizations – collectively representing over 50,000 social enterprises globally and touching the lives of close to 1 billion people – the Alliance has set itself a dual goal of supporting social enterprises during COVID-19 and its aftermath, and of injecting their voices and expertise into the ‘great reset’ agenda. Its belief: The decades of experiences of these social entrepreneurs are vital in supporting vulnerable communities and in forging a ‘new normal’ in how capital markets and international development actors operate.

What is the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

The COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship is hosted by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, with the support of Yunus Social Business and GHR Foundation and integrates the perspectives of social entrepreneurs through a strategic partnership with Catalyst 2030.

It identifies five principles that should lie at the heart of any COVID-19 response effort:

  • Make the voices of social entrepreneurs and their communities heard
  • Prepare to respond, recover and reset – taking the opportunity to “shape a new tomorrow”
  • Collaborate across sectors in recognition of the complexity and scale of the crisis
  • Look beyond healthcare, given that COVID-19 touches all areas of people’s lives
  • Support the shovel-ready solutions that grassroots organizations are already able to provide today

The Alliance has released a COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda, outlining 25 concrete recommendations for key stakeholder groups to support social entrepreneurs during COVID-19. These align around the following streams:

1. Intermediaries and networks to surface the needs of the social entrepreneurs they serve on the ground and provide them with fitting support
2. (Impact) investors to adapt their investment priorities and processes, and provide flexible capital and must-have technical assistance
3. Corporations to stand with the social entrepreneurs in their supply chains and ecosystems, and join forces with them to “shape a new tomorrow”
4. Funders and philanthropists to expand and expedite their financial support to social entrepreneurs and intermediaries, taking risks reflective of today’s unprecedented times
5. Government institutions at all levels to recognize social entrepreneurs as a driving force in safeguarding jobs and in building a greener and equitable society, and to back them accordingly


Both the Alliance and Catalyst 2030 are supported by GHR Foundation, a global independent philanthropic organisation. Recognizing faith and innovation as powerful motivators for good, the foundation invests in a new vision of global development where local leadership, human dignity and the common good shape the agenda. Much of the work GHR supports takes place in marginalized communities and corresponds with the Alliance's aim – as stated in the COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda launched on 16 September – to advance the shared mission to “protect the most vulnerable in the crisis and shape the transition to a new normal in its aftermath”.

COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs by the numbers
COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, by the numbers
Image: World Economic Forum

What has brought these collaborators together is a deep understanding of the unique position that social enterprises, which often include community-based organizations and faith leaders. With the trust and partnership of communities they work within, they hold a common vision to rebuild a world where markets work for all of society.

To achieve the Great Reset, we will need more than just the actions of the those considered powerful. The proximity of social entrepreneurs to the needs of communities as well as their unique innovative power of social entrepreneurs, may just be what we all need to achieve a shift-change in our ability to transform our world and to guarantee a sustainable future for generations to come:

Through support and recognition of their critical role, social entrepreneurs can be the bridge to recovery and the adoption of new models in education, workforce participation, gender empowerment, expanded access to life-saving products, and digital livelihoods, providing the socio-economic equality that our world needs. The time to get behind social entrepreneurs and let them play their part is now.

To join in action with us, visit and share your commitments with the COVID Response Alliance.