• Youth social entrepreneurs are becoming pillars of resilience in the COVID recovery period.

• It is imperative to create a favourable ecosystem for emerging social entreprises.

• Organizations such as the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs can provide a framework for youth social entrepreneurs.

The profound devastation on the economic and social well-being of our global youth population as a result of the pandemic places our next generation in jeopardy. But undeterred, they are shifting from survival to resilience, often led by young social entrepreneurs (or “socents”), and are playing essential roles in their communities as part of the “build back broader” movement. Many of them are last-mile responders who play a key role in distribution of resources to the most in-need grassroots organizations.

Amid the pandemic, many organizations, including the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, are calling for a more urgent and intentional focus on “building back better”. Earlier this month, to coincide with UN International Youth Day, the Alliance hosted an interactive virtual dialogue to celebrate the impact generated by a list of top 50 COVID-19 last-mile responders in India and unpack their know-how to shape a more resilient future for the Asia-Pacific region.

To further the social entrepreneurial potential of such heroes, we need to act collectively to establish a favourable ecosystem for social enterprises. Furthermore, we need to support more young social entrepreneurs to develop and sustain their innovative solutions for the promotion of social inclusion and environmental sustainability across countries. Amid these efforts, many philanthropic institutions are revisiting their funding strategies and priorities, committing billions of dollars and pledging to streamline these processes. The Alliance has already highlighted five important actions that stakeholders with access to capital can take, amplified through the adoption of more collaborative, expedited and innovative models. In addition, young social entrepreneurs can reference the ASCEND Framework to future-proof their impact model through the “6 Ps”.

1. Activating with People

From inner-city youth to low-income villagers, the next generation of young socents around the world face substantial barriers to health, happiness and opportunity. For any purposeful project, putting in place a local, regional and international team of like-minded individuals is a necessary step. Unlocking resources and opportunities is no easy task for socents, since political, economical and cultural constraints often stand in the way. The best ones pick a population and gain an intimate, empathetic understanding of their lives. As an organization focused on increasing economic mobility through accessible vocational and educational opportunities, Barefoot College have pioneered youth-led real-time data consolidation initiatives, and was successful in providing timely and accurate information of resources to both doctors and patients in the local communities they serve.

2. Selecting a Purpose

Socents who generate meaningful impact are those able to focus on one singular significant problem. This is demonstrated by the work of the Antarang Foundation, which fosters a youth-led purpose aimed to ensure young people across India either acquire or maintain gainful employment during the pandemic. Indeed, empowering them to become financially solvent serves a wider purpose in ensuring their families, often in marginalized communities, can afford adequate nutrition, sanitation, healthcare and education.

The COVID Response Alliance's 10 clusters to support socents to build back broader, greener and stronger.
The COVID Response Alliance's 10 clusters to support socents to build back broader, greener and stronger.
Image: Schwab Foundation

3. Championing a Plan

The next logical step in supporting young socents is to help them envision and champion a sustainable, cost-effective and time-efficient solution plan. Using ideation and research processes, smart social entreprises create focused and concise models to help identify key assumptions and map out unknown factors that could jeopardize their solutions. KIDsforSDGs have effectively led the democratization and dissemination of open-sourced entrepreneurship and innovation tools, in partnership with local NGOs, to accelerate grassroots SDG innovation without high upfront fixed costs. These SaaS-style planning tools, made accessible, adaptable and available on a localized level, are extremely valuable to young socents during their early stages of enterprise design and building.

4. Enacting a Priority

The wildly varied impact of the pandemic has meant that the most effective interventions by young socents account for variances in geographic, economic, political and public health systems across and within different countries and cities. Localizing global solutions in this way to create community-level impact is a priority.

To do so, young socents must fill information gaps to refine and validate their solutions, and identify the most critical assumptions to test. A case study is Haqdarshak in Pune, which prioritized last-mile support for daily wage earners, migrants, rural and urban poor. Due to the pandemic, the majority of this group could not physically travel to various centres to register for social welfare, vaccinations or insurance coverage. By training field agents with mobile tech, the organization was able to reach the marginalized and help them complete the necessary procedures are their doorstep.

5. Navigate for Proof

The most successful young socents design, develop and deploy minimum viable products (MVPs) to test key assumptions in their solutions. In the world of socents, developing effective prototypes can substantially accelerate the problem-solving process. One example here is by Reap Benefit, whose Solve Ninjas program has allowed over 33,000 action-based young global citizens to concept-test their prototypes since inception. Co-led by a team of youth board members, this organization has helped turn youth-led civic action and innovation into practical grassroots solutions with a higher success rate than other national policy-driven campaigns. As a result, many of these solutions have been responsible for fostering community-led, last-mile services during the pandemic.

6. Designing for Profit

Social entrepreneurship is an iterative process, and for young socents, they face the reality of funding needs to refine their solutions. As such, practitioners in the field must level up on their design thinking to meet the triple bottom line, as purpose and profit are not mutually exclusive. Here, we can reference the example of idhubs, which created a trust-based, all-in-one solution for companies to facilitate enterprise collaboration. Due to foregone revenue from the pandemic, youth socents simply could not afford the required digital transformation upgrades to stay in business. idhubs was able to remodel previous solutions, at a minimal cost, into one master toolbox. While youth socents paid on average only 20% of the original estimated costs, idhubs built up a loyal community of small businesses that contributed to its revenue and market share increase – an impactful win-win scenario.

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.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the fragility and inequality of our societal systems have come into sharp relief. The solutions and tools we use to bolster our young social entrepreneurs have been tested in unprecedented ways. To build upon the intergenerational approach of the Alliance, an open call to interested parties for launching a “Youth Cluster”, co-led by Global Citizen Capital, has been announced. This cluster will focus on further empowering budding social entrepreneurs with improved capacity-building, resources allocation, team management, go-to market strategies and impact scaling methodologies. Our core mission stands: to support young socents around the world to excel towards our new normal – one which builds towards a sustainable, inclusive and resilient post-pandemic reality.