• Corporate changemakers drive social innovation within organizations; social entrepreneurs innovate in partnership with communities. They can inspire one another.
  • A new engagement model is required where corporations and social entrepreneurs think like changemakers.
  • By creating systems together, they can attract more capital to the most pressing challenges in society.

A change-maker is someone who takes creative action to solve social problems for the good of all.

Changemakers can operate within communities or corporations. In the light of the pandemic, it is increasingly clear that corporate longevity is intrinsically tied to how a business addresses environmental and social challenges for all of its stakeholders. A central piece of this is how a corporation empowers its people and communities.

Creating a culture of changemakers is at the heart of human empowerment - and business success.

Business can be the greatest platform for change.

— Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce

When this platform joins hands with a movement, human potential is unleashed in a way that empowers both employees and community members.

Social enterprises, in particular, have intimate knowledge of communities and are at the forefront of cutting-edge solutions to environmental and social challenges. The pandemic was a precipitating event that focused attention on partnerships between corporations and social enterprises, with communities at the centre.

Imagine the power of even greater collaboration between leading corporations who are committed to social impact and front-line entrepreneurs; business acumen and resources meeting community intimacy and passion.

Corporations, in general, need to get a clearer picture of what social entrepreneurs and their organizations need, based on their location or market, area of impact, and health of their business as a result of the pandemic. Some may be ready to partner, co-innovate and develop new solutions to thrive, while others can barely meet resource needs to survive. This work requires that corporations open up a dialogue focused on mutual discovery to reach communities and the entrepreneurs within them. If there is one point this pandemic has made clear, it is that all our futures are intertwined globally.

What is the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

The COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship is a coalition of 85 global leaders, hosted by the World Economic Forum. Its mission: Join hands in support of social entrepreneurs everywhere as vital first responders to the pandemic and as pioneers of a green, inclusive economic reality.

Its COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda, outlines 25 concrete recommendations for key stakeholder groups, including funders and philanthropists, investors, government institutions, support organizations, and corporations. In January of 2021, its members launched its 2021 Roadmap through which its members will roll out an ambitious set of 21 action projects in 10 areas of work. Including corporate access and policy change in support of a social economy.

For more information see the Alliance website or its “impact story” here.

As an example of swift mobilization to tackle a critical societal need, once COVID-19 hit, Salesforce launched Work.com to help businesses, governments and non-profits or social sector organizations reopen safely.

It also joined the COVID-19 Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, with Salesforce.org seeing a surge in Power of Us Hub applications and pro bono requests.

“COVID-19 presented this dual challenge to nonprofits. The public health aspect made it imperative for nonprofits to move their operations online while the economic aspect made it more difficult to raise the funds needed to maximize use of technology. At Salesforce we’re proud of how our employees swarmed opportunities to volunteer their digital expertise when our customers needed it the most."

— Cheryl Timoney, Senior Director of Tech for Social Impact, Salesforce

Specifically, achieving this common ground or a space to be empathetic and learn together, necessitates more touch points between communities and corporations, such as Salesforce.org - Impact Labs - which provides a way to co-design tech solutions with non-profits, or the community.

There is even scope to help governments and healthcare organizations more safely and efficiently manage vaccine programmes at scale - illustrated by the recently announced Work.com for Vaccines initiative.

Creating a culture of changemakers is at the heart of human empowerment - and business success.

Ashoka launched Changemakers United, a global effort to support the social-entrepreneur community of Ashoka Fellows, which is a group on the front lines solving some of the greatest challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ashoka Fellows, David Cuartielles and César García, both open-source innovators, curated the Coronavirus Makers Forum as the pandemic was getting worse. More than 20,000 makers coordinated efforts to build masks, and produce respirators and cabins for hospitals.

Anshu Gupta, of the NGO Goonj, was at the forefront of dealing with one of the largest humanitarian crises in India emerging from the shutdown procedures. Ashoka Fellows are often the first responders to the pressing needs of the citizen sector in complex global health crises such as the virus.

Ashoka’s work over 10 years with pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim in the Making More Health initiative highlights the value of their Corporate Changemakers programme. This is now extending to other pioneers in the private sector - but there is more of this kind of work to be done.

The COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda provides five recommendations for corporations to take action to support social entrepreneurs:

1. Honour existing relationships

2. Forge new partnerships

3. Facilitate capital connections

4. Invest in capacity-building

5. Deepen and widen your impact

This all begins with building a change-maker culture that is focused on innovation for the good of all parts of society. It is about more clearly defining a common social-good agenda, and corporations engaging as active stakeholders in society.

Image: McKinsey

This involves investing in, engaging and supporting social entrepreneurs who are actively innovating for the good of society; and together identifying new ways to make change-making culture a norm across the private and public sectors.

Social entrepreneurs are often tackling unique problems and have game-changing solutions to serving communities. They see the patterns in the field and often innovate to create solutions that empower society to solve issues. This brings a new perspective into corporations, and unleashes new innovation pathways and thinking.

Change-making culture is rooted in mastering four abilities or skills: cognitive empathy, new leadership skills, sophisticated team working and creative problem-solving. In a world of rapid change, complexity and uncertainty as the pandemic has shown us – change-making truly becomes a new literacy and dexterity for all stakeholders in the world: citizens, young people, employees, companies and organizations.

Social entrepreneurs help see differently, think differently and do differently.

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.

It is increasingly clear that business performance depends on how well various stakeholders are served, including communities.

This shared journey in turn, unleashes skills of the future and empowers humans across the board. A new engagement model and these relationships are vital to reach a "New Normal" – creating a more equitable, sustainable and just world for all.

This model requires a mindset shift where corporations and social entrepreneurs alike are thinking like changemakers and creating systems together, while attracting more capital to the most pressing challenges in society.