Forum Institutional

Here's how business can be a platform for social change

A healthcare worker holds a jar containing a dose of the flu vaccine in Mexico City.

Vaccination is one area where collaboration between corporations and social enterprises can have a big impact. Image: Reuters/Edgard Garrido

Samira Khan
Senior Manager, Global Impact Engagement,
Sumitra Pasupathy
Managing Director Global Partnerships, Ashoka Innovators for the Public
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This article is part of: Pioneers of Change Summit
  • 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.

Have you read?

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 Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

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

It also joined the COVID-19 Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, with 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 - 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 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?

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.

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Forum InstitutionalHealth and Healthcare SystemsSocial InnovationStakeholder Capitalism
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