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2023 Social Innovation Awards: the power of collective change

This year’s 16 are celebrated across four categories, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of the expanding social innovation field.

This year’s 16 are celebrated across four categories, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of the expanding social innovation field. Image: Unsplash.

François Bonnici
Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Head of Social Innovation, World Economic Forum
Hilde Schwab
Chairperson and Co-Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Society and Equity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The 2023 Schwab Foundation Social Innovation Awards recognizes 16 organizations, joining an outstanding community of 435 innovators operating in 190 countries, impacting almost 1 billion people.
  • Social innovators empower people excluded from mainstream systems by setting explicit goals on inclusivity and environmental sustainability.
  • The new award for Collective Social Innovation recognizes the growing importance of collaboration in nurturing grassroots action.

The world is at a critical juncture as economies and livelihoods are battered by multiple overlapping crises, from war in Ukraine to climate change and the fallout of COVID-19. Yet again, it is the most vulnerable populations that are being hit the hardest. Better ways to tackle exclusion, inequality and ongoing environmental damage are urgently needed to restore trust and rebuild societal systems.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship’s 16 award winning organizations for social innovation in 2023 represent a beacon of hope in these difficult times. By providing practical and scalable solutions to deep-rooted problems, they are demonstrating that change is possible, and they are achieving remarkable transformations through innovative cooperation.

Their work is providing a lifeline for those most at risk from traumatic disruption in today’s fragmented world – especially young people, women, and minority groups.

The 2023 award winners include 24 leaders working across sectors to leverage technology in education, agriculture, microfinance, environmental projects and empowering and representing women in the world’s growing informal economies. The impact of their programmes is felt from farms in Africa and villages across Asia to the rainforests in Latin America and left-behind communities in Europe and North America.

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Accelerating models of social innovation

For more than two decades, the Schwab Foundation has provided a global platform to accelerate outstanding models of social innovation, and the 2023 awardees join an existing community of 435 social innovation champions whose collective efforts have impacted the lives of nearly 1 billion people since 1998.

By focusing on inclusivity and working hand-in-hand with the communities they serve, this network of leaders has made huge progress in tackling entrenched challenges in sustainability and consumption, health and education, rural development, and youth training.

Because they set explicit social objectives and their operations are underpinned by the principles of equity and justice, they can tackle intractable issues that are overlooked by mainstream capitalism. Their model of inclusive governance – involving bottom-up input from groups who face barriers because of gender, race, ability or economic class – gives them an agility that stands in marked contrast to the “helicopter” approach of many of today's large institutions and companies.

This network of leaders has made huge progress in tackling entrenched challenges in sustainability and consumption, health and education, rural development, and youth training.

Hilde Schwab and François Bonnici.

Their reach is remarkable. The social innovation organizations that they have pioneered are together reaching people in 190 countries around the world, providing many hundreds of millions with better healthcare and nutrition, new sources of finance, and improved social and economic livelihoods.

This work has never been more crucial, given the economic hardships unleashed by ongoing geopolitical conflicts. The war in Ukraine, for example, has contributed to a global cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation that has made life even harder for the most vulnerable.

This year’s 16 are celebrated across four categories, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of the expanding social innovation field.

  • Social Entrepreneurs employ innovative, market-based approaches to directly address social issues.
  • Corporate Social Intrapreneurs use their influence to make companies more inclusive and purposeful.
  • Public Social Intrapreneurs work to create better policy environments and public programmes within institutions of government.
  • Collective Social Innovation – the newest award category – recognizes leaders who have brought together organizations to solve complex problems that cannot be tackled by individual actors.

The impetus to create a new collective award is an acknowledgement of the fact that no one organization or individual can achieve large-scale social change alone. In today’s complex world, collective efforts are increasingly important if groups are to mobilize action to achieve inclusive, lasting, and equitable social change.

Many social enterprises have a strong track record of working in collaboration with others, and the field is evolving fast – especially with the application of new digital technologies – and an increasing number of organizations now explicitly define collective action as their core function.

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These collective schemes can bring exceptional scale to important projects – such as reaching more than 2 million students across 19,000 government schools in Punjab; promoting conservation and sustainable land management in Brazil and 14 other countries; and protecting hundreds of millions of women working in the informal economy around the world.

The Schwab Foundation awards will bring significant benefits to this exceptional group of social innovators by increasing the visibility of their work, making them part of a powerful peer community of social change leaders, and integrating them into the networking structure of the World Economic Forum, including exposure to global decision makers. The winners also have a unique opportunity to hone their leadership skills by participating in an in-person executive education module “Leadership for System Change” at Harvard Kennedy School.

Outstanding Social Innovators of the Year 2023

Social Entrepreneurs

Ady Beitler, Chief Executive Officer, Nilus (Argentina); Aniket Doegar, Chief Executive Officer, Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions Private Limited (India); Aref Husseini, Chief Executive Officer, Al Nayzak Foundation for Extra Curricular Education and Scientific Innovation (Palestine Territories); Celina de Sola, President, Glasswing International (El SalvadorJoseph Kenner, Chief Executive Officer, Greyston (USA); Kola Masha, Managing Director, Babban Gona; Säbeen Haque, Executive Director, DoctHERS (Pakistan).

Corporate Social Intrapreneurs

Benoît Bonello, Social Innovation Director, SUEZ Group (France).

Kanika Pal, South Asia Sustainability Head, Hindustan Unilever (India).

Public Social Intrapreneurs

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor, Freetown City Council (Sierra Leone).

Bushra Al Mulla, Director General, Family Care Authority of Abu Dhabi (UAE).

Collective Social Innovation

MapBiomas (Brazil), co-led by Tasso Azevedo, founder and General Coordinator, Julia Shimbo, Scientific Coordinator, and Marcos Rosa, Technical Coordinator.

ProjectTogether (Germany), co-led by Philipp von der Wippel, founder and Co-CEO, and Henrike Schlottmann, co-CEO.

Punjab Education Collective (India), co-led by Khushboo Awasthi, Chief Operating Officer of ShikshaLokam, Rucha Pande, Chief Operating Officer at Mantra4Change, and Simranpreet Oberoi, co-founder and leader of Sanjhi Sikhiya.

Tamarack Institute (Canada), co-led by Liz Weaver and Danya Pastuszek, co-CEOs.

WIEGO (Global), co-led by Sally Roever, International Coordinator (UK/US), Janhavi Dave, International Coordinator of HomeNet International (India), and Lorraine Sibanda, President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (Zimbabwe).

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