Health and Healthcare Systems

Africa's COVID-19 response: It’s all about the people on the ground

Stop the spread of Covid 19. Wash your hands under water frequently.

Young innovators across the continent are deploying a social entrepreneurship skillset to tackle COVID-19 from the grassroots. Image: Unsplash/Enoch Appiah Jr.

Chido Munyati
Head of Regional Agenda, Africa, World Economic Forum
Genya Dana
Chief Strategy and Bioeconomic Development Officer, BioMADE
Carolien de Bruin
Head, COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, World Economic Forum
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  • In Africa, only 6% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • This is compared to over 70% of high-income countries where 40% of the population has been vaccinated.
  • High rates of infection are setting Africa back but young innovators across the continent are deploying a social entrepreneurship skillset to fight the pandemic from the ground up.

The stats are grim: Only 77 million people have been fully vaccinated against the new coronavirus in Africa – this is just 6% of its population. In comparison, over 70% of high-income countries have already vaccinated more than 40% of their people.

Stubbornly high rates of infection, with recurring peaks every few months, are leading to catastrophic loss of livelihood, disruptions in schooling, and fraying social-safety nets. African governments and international organizations are struggling to provide access to care and keep local populations safe.

Amid this struggle, there is a force that has the power to change the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic – young innovators across the continent who are deploying a social entrepreneurship skillset to make things better from the ground up.

Across Africa, there are thousands of social entrepreneurs running organizations that serve the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. Throughout the pandemic, they have played a vital role in responding to the immediate health and subsistence needs of those at risk of being left behind. Oftentimes, they have done this using business principles and best techniques from the private sector.

Have you read?

The COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs

We would argue that there has been no other challenge for which their approach is so well suited, and this is why the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is lending its support through the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs. The Alliance brings together 86 member organizations that recognize the vital role that social entrepreneurs play in supporting the most vulnerable during and beyond the pandemic.

Together, these organizations support an estimated 100,000 entrepreneurs who jointly impact close to two billion people. For example, when the Delta variant surged in India, members of the Alliance published a list of the top 50 last-mile responders in India, each of whom bring critical resources, information and networks to the fight against COVID-19.

The situation in Africa is very similar: At a time when mainstream support systems have been overwhelmed, these social entrepreneurs have consistently stepped up to fill the gaps, especially in hard-to-reach poor or rural communities.

The innovation, action, and energy of Africa’s youth – totalling over 200 million people across the continent – is incredibly important to get to the other side of the pandemic.

The innovation, action, and energy of Africa’s youth – totalling over 200 million people across the continent – is incredibly important to get to the other side of the pandemic.
World youth by the numbers. Image: United Nations


In recognition of Africa’s vibrant youth demographic, and in an effort to shift the status quo on vaccines, the World Economic Forum launched a campaign that brought together 108 Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers from six continents. The campaign, which was launched on International Youth Day, 2021, has representation from 33 countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Map of Global Shapers' hubs around the world.
Map of Global Shapers Community hubs around the world. Image: World Economic Forum

These communities of Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers—leaders of the next generation chosen by the World Economic Forum for their extraordinary potential—are the activation force needed to accelerate the equitable rollout of vaccines, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. They have begun to capture grassroots data related to vaccine access; raised demand challenges by unpacking myths and misconceptions fueling vaccine hesitancy, and influenced decision-makers to support frameworks for equitable allocation.

Together, the Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers are amplifying their message on social media platforms, advocating for global vaccine solidarity, and calling for vaccines for all. Furthermore, the communities are collaborating with a wider group of youths to develop people-centred prioritization plans to promote vaccine availability for all citizens, including hard to reach populations.

The COVID crisis is far from over. Attention still needs to be paid to several key areas including prevention and protection, treatment and relief, inclusive vaccine access, and securing livelihoods. Africa’s 1.2 billion people cannot be left behind in the effort to put the pandemic behind us.

We owe it to future generations and ourselves to stand by grassroots entrepreneurs and activists. They have the power to change the trajectory of COVID-19 in Africa, and beyond. Collectively, they bring the energy, ideas, creativity, and hope that is missing in these dark days of COVID-19.

We at the World Economic Forum’s Health Platform, together with our Global Shaper and Leader communities, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and members of the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, are committed to doing what we can to help them lead. We invite others to join us in doing so.

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Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsYouth PerspectivesGeographies in Depth
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