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The social innovators of 2022 are building trust and supporting millions

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Hilde Schwab
Chairperson and Co-Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum Geneva
Francois Bonnici
Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship; Head of Foundations, World Economic Forum
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  • Underpinned by principles of equity and justice, social innovators support people often excluded from the mainstream economic system – especially young people, women and minority groups.
  • Together with the winners from 2019 and 2020, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship's 2022 awardees have collectively impacted the lives of 100 million people around the world, as published in the Transforming through Trust impact report released today.
  • The latest cohort of 15 award winners for social innovation in 2022 show just what this means in practice.

Confronted by the devastation of COVID-19 and the rising threat of climate change, the world urgently needs new ways to tackle poverty, inequality and social exclusion. Working together and restoring trust has never been more important.

For more than two decades, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has supported a new generation of transformative leaders, whose values-based projects are offering disruptive services in situations where traditional actors or markets have failed. Our latest cohort of 15 award winners for social innovation in 2022 show just what this means in practice. They include pioneers of community empowerment schemes in the slums of Africa, youth-centric development programmes in Asia, and smart healthcare and technology initiatives around the globe.

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By focusing on inclusivity and collaboration, and addressing issues at a systemic level, this network of leaders has made significant progress in tackling deep-rooted problems in environmental sustainability and consumption, health and education, rural development, and youth training. They have done it despite the disruptions caused by the worst health crisis in a century. Indeed, in many cases, they have been the first responders in the pandemic, regularly on hand to help the most vulnerable populations who have been hit hardest by coronavirus.

Two decades of impact

Together with the winners from 2019 and 2020, the Schwab Foundation’s 2022 awardees have collectively impacted the lives of 100 million people around the world. This achievement builds on a track record stretching back more than 20 years, during which time a combined total of 722 million lives have been directly improved by the work of this remarkable community of leaders.

Underpinned by principles of equity and justice, these social innovators support people often excluded from the mainstream economic system – especially young people, women and minority groups – building the tools and capacities for them to construct an alternative path forward, engage with social and environmental issues, and maximize their potential.

The impact has been felt far and wide, helping all ages on all continents. Social innovators provide micro-level financial services in Africa, empower Black-owned businesses in Latin America, use artificial intelligence to build creative new education platforms in Asia, nurture sustainable fashion brands in Europe and North America, and rethink the continuum of care for the sick, the young and the elderly around the globe.

A common feature of all the awardees is their proximity to the people and the ecosystems they serve. This is the opposite of the “30,000-feet view”. Because they have really listened to the people they work with, they are not just providing short-term solutions; they are addressing core problems. It is the kind of transformative strategy that is only possible with deep trust.

Together their achievements include supporting:

  • 41 million people with better healthcare
  • 20 million young people with improved access to nutrition and health
  • 15.3 million people with better access to finance
  • 3.6 million people with improved social and economic livelihoods
  • 2 million young people with better access to education

The 77 social innovators awarded through three cohorts between 2019 and 2022 include not only Social Entrepreneurs but also leaders called intrapreneurs, who are committed to driving internal change within corporations and large institutions of government. Corporate Social Intrapreneurs use their influence to make companies more inclusive and purposeful, while Public Social Intrapreneurs work to create better policy environments and public programmes. All this work is guided by Social Innovation Thought Leaders, who have helped shape the field.

During the 2019-22 period, the Schwab Foundation has given awards to 38 Social Entrepreneurs, 13 Corporate Social Intrapreneurs, 10 Public Social Intrapreneurs and 16 Social Innovation Thought Leaders.

Towards systemic change

Now our approach is evolving further. We recognise that issues like poverty, inequality and climate change are too large and complex for any single social innovator or institution to tackle alone. Many of these interconnected problems inevitably require a collective approach. As a result, social innovators are increasingly working with both large institutional actors and more local grassroot organizations, effectively acting as catalysts for collective action. Often this occurs through partnerships, networks and alliances.

That is why the Schwab Foundation is launching a new category of social innovation awards in its next award cycle, a Collective Social Innovation Award, seeking to recognise people across organizations working innovatively together towards shared system-level changes.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has been particularly challenging for the social innovation community, has underlined this need for collaboration. Many awardees came together in the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, launched by the Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum, with an agenda for action that mobilized frontline support. By showing extraordinary agility and resilience, organizations have been able to address both the immediate needs of people hit hard by the pandemic, while retaining a focus on long-term social and environmental challenges.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

Our world today is in dire need of healing and rebuilding trust, while it also needs us to transform our economic, societal and planetary systems. It is a daunting prospect and the requirement for social innovations to navigate the challenges has never been greater. But both the individual and collective work of our award-winning leaders shows that change towards a better future is not only possible – it is already happening.

Social Innovators of the Year 2022.

Congratulate the outstanding Social Innovators of the Year 2022:

Social entrepreneurs: Ashraf Patel, Cofounder of Pravah and ComMutiny Youth Collective (CYC) (India); Celso Athayde, Founder, Central Unica das Favelas (CUFA) and Chief Executive Officer, Favela Holding (Brazil); Jos De Blok, Founder, Buurtzorg (Netherlands); Kennedy Odede, Founder and CEO, SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) (Kenya); Marlon Parker, Co-Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) and Rene Parker, CEO and Managing Director, RLabs (South Africa); Mikaela Jade, Founder and CEO, Indigital (Australia); Rana Dajani, Founder and Director, Taghyeer/We Love Reading (Jordan); Wenfeng Wei (Jim), Founder & CEO, DaddyLab (People’s Republic of China).

Corporate Social Intrapreneurs: Gisela Sanchez, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Strategy & Sustainability Director, Bac International Bank & Board Member, Nutrivida (Costa Rica); Sam McCracken, Founder and General Manager, Nike N7, (USA).

Public Social Intrapreneurs: Pradeep Kakkattil, Director of Innovation, UNAIDS (Switzerland); Sanjay Pradhan, CEO, Open Government Partnership (OGP), (Global).

Social Innovation Thought Leaders: Alberto Alemanno, Professor of Law, HEC Paris and Founder, The Good Lobby, (European Union); Adam Kahane, Director, Reos Partners, (Canada); Hahrie Han, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science, Inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, (USA).

Social innovators have improved the lives of 722 million people.

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