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Social entrepreneurs are first responders to the COVID-19 crisis. This is why they need support

People wearing protective face masks travel in a passenger vehicle amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Srinagar, September 7, 2020. REUTERS/Sanna Irshad Mattoo - RC2LTI9YFPH6

Who will save the most vulnerable from the COVID-19 crisis? Image: REUTERS/Sanna Irshad Mattoo

Hilde Schwab
Chairperson and Co-Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum Geneva
Diana Wells
President Emerita, Ashoka
Don Gips
Chief Executive Officer, Skoll Foundation
Jeroo Billimoria
Founder, One Family Foundation
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This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • Social entrepreneurs – innovators with a social mission – are vital first responders to the COVID-19 crisis and are uniquely positioned to represent a new standard for today’s change leaders and governments.
  • Yet social entrepreneurs do not have access to the resources they need and only rarely have a seat at global and local decision-making tables. This needs to change.
  • The 60-member COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, representing over 50,000 social entrepreneurs, today releases its Action Agenda outlining 25 concrete interventions to support social entrepreneurship during COVID-19.

For decades, social entrepreneurs have worked to solve market failures and build more sustainable models to create more inclusive economies. The Schwab Foundation 2020 Impact Report has demonstrated how its network of 400 social innovators and entrepreneurs has improved the lives of more than 622 million people in over 190 countries, protecting livelihoods, driving movements for social inclusion and environmental sustainability, and providing improved access to health, sanitation, education, and energy.

Have you read?

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the reality that the world’s systems are fragile. Beyond the health and human tragedy of the virus, the pandemic has triggered the most severe economic crisis in a century with its impacts unevenly felt across nations, communities and economies.

As countries have gone into lockdown, businesses have closed, and those who are able to do so have withdrawn into the safety of their homes, it has become clear that the most vulnerable members of our society are being hit the hardest. The World Bank estimates that over 100 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty due to COVID-19, writing off all gains made to alleviate poverty since 2017. And the ILO estimates that, as a result of the economic crisis created by the pandemic, almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers – the most vulnerable in the labour market – have suffered massive damage to their capacity to earn a living.

We call on all actors to stand by social entrepreneurs as first responders to the COVID-19 crisis and as pioneers of a green, inclusive society and economic system.

Members of the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs

These very people and communities need us – now. As UN Secretary General António Guterres has remarked, “Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive, and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.”

In this crisis, social innovators and entrepreneurs have once again shown their capacity to act as first responders, bringing affordable healthcare to those in need, protecting jobs and providing emergency relief swiftly. Some examples include:

  • Jan Sahas in India, a 20-year old community organization that has responded to the crisis by providing food to over 420,000 migrants, as well as 11,000 PPE kits and emergency transportation to 17,000 migrants and their families.
  • The Instituto Muda in Brazil that stepped in to provide recycling cooperatives that employ people living below the poverty line with financial help to pay their workers to support their families. They also ensured that these workers were supplied with masks, equipment and disinfectant gel.
  • Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, which pivoted its call centres to scale up the capacity of South Africa's Unemployment Insurance Fund to handle over 1.2 million calls within a span of two months in the wake of economic shutdowns.
Image: World Economic Forum

Social entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to represent a new standard for today’s change leaders. Governments are looking to partner with them and find mutually advantageous solutions now more than ever.

A report on funding systems change initiated by Ashoka in partnership with the Skoll Foundation, McKinsey, Catalyst 2030, Echoing Green, Co-Impact, and Schwab Foundation and launched at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2020, articulates how social entrepreneurs have the knowledge, experience, and existing on-the-ground infrastructure. They can play a key role in revitalizing the sustainable development agenda to build more inclusive shockproof and resilient markets and societies. A further critical set of social entrepreneur perspectives from Catalyst 2030 on how to leverage the crisis to drive the systemic change needed to meet the SDGs has also recently been released.

To continue to play their part, social entrepreneurs need swift access to capital and support, and they need a seat at the decision-making table. Despite the trillions of dollars being deployed in emergency responses to the pandemic, only a small share is reaching social entrepreneurs and the communities they serve in the informal economy. Rural areas and community women’s groups, particularly those in emerging markets, are the most likely to be excluded.

This is why in May of this year, the World Economic Forum initiated the development of the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship, bringing together 60 leading organizations that collectively support over 50,000 entrepreneurs reaching over 1 billion people, to raise awareness of the vital role these front-line entrepreneurs play and to mobilize greater support for them.

Discover

What is the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

Today, the Alliance is releasing its COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda that builds on the actions its members have taken already and seeks to inspire new commitments.

Our organizations have already stepped up. The Skoll Foundation has quadrupled its funding to respond urgently to the COVID-19 crisis including the provision of immediate emergency funding to social entrepreneurs most in need to enable them to pivot their models and ensure the safety of their teams and the people they serve while they continue to drive real systems-level change around the world.

Meanwhile, Ashoka's Changemakers United is sourcing, disseminating, supporting, connecting, and scaling up solutions of innovative social entrepreneurs that respond to the challenges COVID-19 by leveraging Ashoka's global network of over 3,800 social innovators working in 90 countries including their partner networks, workforces and communities.

Alongside our fellow Alliance members, we are ready to double down on our support for social entrepreneurs working on the frontlines of the COVID crisis and are inviting our peers and colleagues who share our impatience with the pace of change to walk the talk of social change with us to step up to support social entrepreneurs.

We are at a crossroads in history that will be remembered for generations – for better or worse. Let us make sure that our children and grandchildren remember it as the inception point of a fair and just economy.

For social entrepreneurs to lead and drive impact and change they need each of us – funders, investors, corporations, supporting intermediaries, and government institutions – to get behind them.

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