- We need a new kind of leader to help the world respond to the challenges of COVID-19, climate change and inequality.
- The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship brings together social innovators who are having a positive impact in their communities.
- They offer six lessons on creating lasting, positive change for your organization and the world.
It has become increasingly clear that the world needs a new kind of leader to react to the monumental challenges the world faces today. We need an immediate collaborative effort to help the world not only recover from the devastating health and economic effects of COVID-19 but also act to address the climate-change crisis and rising inequality, among other threats.
The good news is that that kind of leaders already exists in communities around the world. For more than 20 years, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has recognized social innovators as a new breed of leader – values-driven, inclusive, compassionate, entrepreneurial individuals who develop sustainable new models in business, social development and environmental initiatives. The foundation includes around 400 social innovators, who have already created an impact on the lives of 622 million people in over 190 countries.
They offer six important lesson that can inspire collaborative, sustainable change from the ground-up.
1. Empower those you work with
Social innovators believe in lifting up those they serve and work with. Whether in townships of South Africa, villages in rural India or the busy metropolitan cities of the United States, social innovators empower those around them to fulfil their own needs along with the needs of their communities.
For instance, in South Africa, Luvuyo Rani, co-founder of Silulo Ulutho Technologies, teaches coding to unemployed youth in his native township of Khayelitsha, South Africa. What started as a computer repair service and an Internet café 12 years ago now provides computer training to 4,000 people a year.
Today Silulo is a household name in the township and known for empowering residents through convenient and affordable access to technology. Every year 1,000 students graduate from Silulo’s SETA certified training programs - 60% of whom were unemployed when they start. They have gone on to work as call centre operators, IT sales representatives and Silulo employees.
2. Leave your ego out of it
“One of my favourite sayings is “If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, take your ego, flush it down the toilet and start”, said Jeroo Billimoria, founder of several organizations including Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) and Aflatoun International. At the recent Global Shapers Summit, Billimoria shared that at the start of her career, she would make a list of all the relevant organisations that could help her with her cause and spend countless hours cold-calling them.
CYFI has pioneered a collaborative systems-change approach creating meaningful change in financial inclusion and economic citizenship education for young people worldwide, while Aflatoun International has succeeded in working with global partners to provide social and financial education to more than 1 million children in 100 countries.
Billimoria also founded Childline India and ChildHelpline International, which have facilitated a global movement for the protection of children and youth and are active in more than 181 countries, responding to more than 160 million calls.
Billimoria also leads Catalyst 2030, an effort launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in 2020. It is a a global movement of nongovernmental organizations, social enterprises, intermediaries, funders and other social change innovators who are collaborating to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help
Social innovators have demonstrated significant progress on how we approach environmental sustainability and consumption, health and education, rural development and job training, as well as finding new ways to advance human rights and equality in different contexts around the world.
However, poverty, inequality and climate change are too large and complex for any single social innovator to tackle alone. We are seeing that to create real change, dynamic interactions and multi-stakeholder partnerships are critical.
“Reach out to others, because someone out there has the experience, knowledge or contacts — or all three — that can help you,” said Kyle Zimmer, CEO and co-founder of First Book, an organization that aims to provide education access to children.
So far during the COVID-19 crisis, First Book has shipped 13 million books, in addition to learning toys and basic-needs items, and distributed 3.4 million digital access codes, with the help of more than 7,000 members who served as mini-distribution hubs for First Book’s network of 500,000 educators, and with the support of its partners, including global publishing houses Disney Publishing Worldwide, DK, Penguin Random House and HarperCollins Publishers.
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4. Lead with compassion
Social innovators harbour a deep sense of compassion for their fellow human being - quick to recognise and alleviate human suffering. Most social enterprises are often born of compassion and there is much to be learned from this notion that could positively affect all businesses, and significantly increase their productivity.
For instance, Tracey Chambers founded The Clothing Bank to realize her goal of empowering township residents to start their own businesses and lift themselves out of poverty. The Clothing Bank partners with top retail companies, who donate their excess stock to the Bank. The Bank then sells this inventory at deeply discounted prices to women, who start their own small business.
The Clothing Bank also provides training programmes to help build confidence, sense of community, and skills that women need to succeed. Addressing critical areas of physical, mental, and social wellbeing, the organization leads with compassion, taking a “head-heart-hands” approach.
5. Think about the entire system
“Systems entrepreneurs” refer to social innovators who are intentionally adopting systems-change strategies in their efforts – either through existing organizations, large institutions, for-profit companies, or even by creating new organizations and networks solely devoted to systems change, as per the Schwab Foundation’s "Beyond Organizational Scale: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Systems Change" report.
Jordan Kasslow, founder of VisionSpring is one example of “systems entrepreneur”. Some 2.5 billion people could see clearly enough to earn, learn and be safe if they could acquire a simple pair of eyeglasses. Some 624 million of these people earn less than $4 per day and thus cannot afford this 700-year-old technology. VisionSpring brings eyeglasses to workplaces, schools and rural communities, pairing philanthropic funds with consumers and governments.
Kasslow soon realised that “we could grow 50% or even 100% a year for many years to come and still never be up to the challenge of solving this problem. It became stressful for me to think about scaling from 2 million to 3 million to 5 million – huge numbers for any social entrepreneur – but still just a drop in the bucket compared to the 2.5 billion people who need this simple product”.
Kassalow along with his colleagues launched the EYElliance, a multistakeholder alliance because the barriers to solving “this problem, like cultural issues, custom duties, and supply chain problems, cannot be solved at an enterprise-level.”
6. Foster a culture of wellbeing
“Making the world a better place shouldn’t require sacrificing your mental and physical health," said François Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. " And yet, too often, that’s exactly what happens to those on the frontlines of social change. There is a profound need to support the wellbeing of changemakers, so they can continue addressing the global challenges of society”.
The Schwab Foundation conducted its first survey on mental health and wellbeing more than a decade ago and has been actively creating spaces for peer support for many years. Today we recognize that this is more critical than ever, particularly if we value the sustainability of social change work.
The Schwab Foundation recently launched a Wellbeing Series, with the idea to support the human aspects of entrepreneurship to unleash the potential for social change.
What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?
Social innovators are addressing the world’s most serious and entrenched challenges, ranging from illiteracy to clean water and sanitation, girls’ education, prison reform, financial inclusion and disaster relief.
The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is supporting more than 400 leading social innovators operating in over 190 countries.
Since its foundation in 1998, a total of 722 million lives have been directly improved by the work of this community of leading social innovators.
Our global network of experts, partner institutions and World Economic Forum constituents are invited to nominate outstanding social innovators.
Visit the Schwab Foundation website for more information about the award process and the selection criteria.
Learn more about the Schwab Foundation and nominate Social Innovators of the Year 2021 here.