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Here's how 16 social innovators are leading change at Davos

The feet of two people in front of the words on a pavement read: "passion led us here"

Social innovation is needed now more than ever. Image: Unsplash/Ian Schneider

Maria Inés Martin
Selections, Community and Impact Lead, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
Sophia Otoo
Selections, Community, and Impact Specialist, World Economic Forum
Amy Kirby
Communication Specialist, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Social innovation is needed now more than ever as multiple crises drive inequality further and slow progress on tackling climate change.
  • The Schwab Foundation’s Social Innovators of the Year 2023 includes both business and government leaders, and collective change orchestrators.
  • Through innovative and collaborative approaches, these 16 change leaders are for transforming the world for the better, for everyone.

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 and better ways to tackle exclusion, inequality and ongoing environmental damage are urgently needed to restore trust and rebuild societal systems.

From crowdsourcing geomapped evidence to tackle deforestation in the Amazon, finding hidden talent and overcoming racial bias in the workforce in the United States, reintegrating women healthcare providers in Pakistan’s health system, mobilizing working women in the informal economy to secure livelihoods across 24 countries, the Schwab Foundation’s Social Innovators of the Year 2023 includes a list of outstanding founders, business leaders, government reformers and collective change orchestrators.

Have you read?

The work of this extraordinary cohort of social innovators helps us recognize that change towards a better future is not only possible – it is already at work.

These are the outstanding Social Innovators of the Year 2023.

Social Entrepreneurs:

Hungry for change: turning unwanted food into cut-price dinners

Ady Beitler is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nilus, an Argentinian social enterprise that uses technology and sharing economy models to reduce food loss and waste. His organization’s mission is to alleviate hunger by lowering the cost of healthy food for those on low incomes – a goal it achieves by rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted and distributing it at discounted prices.

Previously, Beitler worked at the Inter-American Development Bank on projects supporting small businesses in the Americas. His areas of expertise include social entrepreneurship, poverty alleviation, nutrition and last-mile logistics.

Getting India’s poor the help they deserve – via digitized welfare schemes

Aniket Doegar is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions Private Limited (HESPL), an Indian social impact organization working on easing access to welfare. He has led the HESPL team for seven years as it has digitized welfare schemes and provided application support to more than 120,000 people in low-income rural and urban communities.

An alumnus of Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi, Doegar first started out in the development sector as a Teach for India Fellow. He has co-founded several non-profits and other organizations in the development space. He is also a board trustee at The YP Foundation.

Training the scientific thinkers of tomorrow across the Palestine Territories

Aref Husseini is founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Al Nayzak Foundation for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation, Palestine Territories. His non-profit organization is challenging traditional teaching methods in the Palestinian education system to produce more students who are critical thinkers and who approach problem solving through research, analysis and scientific thinking.

Husseini is an electrical engineer, a physicist and a novelist from Jerusalem who has worked in many industrial and educational fields as a developer, researcher and leader over the last 20 years.

Rooting out the causes of violence and poverty in the world’s trouble spots

Celina de Sola is Co-founder and President of the non-profit organization Glasswing International, which empowers individuals and communities to address the root causes of poverty and violence through education and health programmes.

Glasswing has expanded from its El Salvador base to 10 other countries and has impacted more than 1.5 million lives since 2007. De Sola also has extensive experience in international development after leading responses to humanitarian crises in Liberia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Indonesia. She is a Fellow of the Obama Foundation, Ashoka and LEGO ReImagine Learning.

Pioneering 'open hiring' for left-behind Americans – from a New York bakery

Joseph Kenner is President and Chief Executive Officer of social enterprise Greyston, the New York-based pioneer of “open hiring” that helps individuals facing barriers to meaningful employment by offering work with no interviews, no background checks and no CVs.

Best known for its bakery, Greyston is now expanding its reach and aims to provide open hiring employment opportunities to 40,000 Americans by 2030. Kenner also serves on the board of Conscious Capitalism Inc, the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, the New York City Workforce Investment Board and the B-Team.

Breaking rural Nigeria’s cycle of poverty – through higher crop yields and better jobs

Kola Masha is the Co-founder and Managing Director of Nigerian social enterprise Babban Gona, which helps smallholder farmers increase profits and turns at-risk young people into entrepreneurs. Its unique technology platform helps farmers increase yields and aims to create millions of youth jobs, breaking a cycle of poverty and violence in rural communities.

Previously, Masha was CEO of a subsidiary in the Notore Group, one of Nigeria’s leading agricultural conglomerates, where he led commercial strategy across West and Central Africa. His experience spans corporate finance, business development, sales and marketing.

How women doctors are reaching marginalized communities in Pakistan

Säbeen Fatima Haque is the co-founder and Executive Director of doctHERs, an innovative healthcare platform in Pakistan that connects female doctors to millions of under-served patients using digital technology. The online marketplace helps reintegrate women practitioners into the workforce and empowers marginalized communities by circumventing sociocultural barriers that can restrict access to healthcare.

Haque was previously Country Director for Ashoka and Advisor to the US-Pakistani Women’s Council. An alumna of INSEAD and Harvard Kennedy School, she launched a boutique consultancy in 2014 focused on women-centric projects.

Corporate Social Intrapreneurs:

Championing inclusive opportunity and a circular economy at environmental group SUEZ

Benoît Bonello is Social Innovation Director at French environmental solutions group SUEZ, leading the company’s inclusive business approach with the goal of delivering a positive impact on society and the environment.

He steers the social enterprise schemes SUEZ Rebond Insertion and Maison pour Rebondir, which help long-term unemployed, disabled, senior and young people into work, while also developing jobs in the circular economy. At the same time, he champions transformation within SUEZ, including the launch of the employee-driven initiative SUEZ Act for the Planet.

Cleaning up: the Unilever intrapreneur campaigning for healthy, sustainable communities

Kanika Pal is South Asia Sustainability Head at consumer goods group Unilever. An award-winning corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability professional with more than 17 years of experience, she quit the corporate sector from 2015 to 2017 and founded the Solutions for Clean and Healthy Environment Foundation to influence behaviour change for a cleaner planet.

She has a great passion to understand the inter-connectedness between conserving the environment, enhancing livelihoods and improving the health of people to create sustainable communities. Pal was a Global Women in Leadership Award winner in 2022.

Public Social Intrapreneurs:

Transforming Sierra Leone’s capital city – with data and commitment

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has been Mayor of Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone, since May 2018. A finance professional by background, she is committed to transforming the city’s services, infrastructure and environment using an inclusive data-driven approach.

Her three-year Transform Freetown plan details 19 concrete targets in 11 sectors covering issues ranging from waste management to improving urban planning and tackling environmental degradation. Yvonne’s public-sector engagement began with her work as Director of Planning at the National Ebola Response Centre during the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015.

Bringing joined-up support to Abu Dhabi’s families

Bushra Al Mulla is Director General of the Family Care Authority (FCA) of Abu Dhabi and a serial intrapreneur in the Abu Dhabi government, driving the vision and direction of the emirate’s social sector services.

Her work at FCA empowers and improves the quality of life of families, children, and people with disabilities by offering specialised and centralised services through a holistic and proactive approach and by adopting the unique, proposed the Integrated Case Management (ICM) Model, which provides streamlined support by identifying and addressing root causes behind prevailing social challenges and consolidating services distributed across several authorities.

Collective Social Innovation:

Mapping land use to protect the Amazon – and other wild places

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

MapBiomas is a collaborative network of more than 70 organizations in 14 countries that monitors land use and land use change in order to promote the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources and fight climate change. The initiative includes universities, NGOs and technology start-ups, which leverage state-of-the-art technology, shared tools and open codes to provide accessible and free data.

Helping Germany’s next generation of social innovators to change the world for the better

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

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ProjectTogether is an innovation platform based in Germany that supports the talents of the next generation in developing ground-breaking ideas and concrete solutions to future challenges and areas of conflict between society, economy and politics. This work ranges from circular economy projects to climate-positive agriculture to support for refugees. It has already supported more than 1,000 social pioneers and built a network of over 500 volunteer coaches and 400 experts.

Transforming Punjab’s public education – and helping 2.3 million students

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.

Punjab Education Collective exists to transform the public education system of the state of Punjab, India, and improve its educational standards against global benchmarks. It does this by identifying challenges faced by stakeholders on the ground and then co-creating solutions to improve the educational experience. It is a collective of four organizations in the education space working together to impact 2.3 million students across 19,000 government schools in Punjab.

Ending poverty in Canada by targeting deprived communities

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

Tamarack Institute develops and supports collaborative strategies to fight poverty and solve major community issues mainly across Canada. It focuses primarily on vulnerable individuals, families and communities in deprived rural or peri-urban areas, and from Indigenous or immigrant backgrounds. The network has grown to more than 90 regional members, local non-profit or community associations, whose work impacts 22 million Canadians – equivalent to 58% of the country’s population.

Empowering women – and giving them voice – in the informal economy

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (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).

Discover

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

WIEGO is a global network dedicated to improving the working conditions, rights, protection, economic opportunities and voice of all the working poor – particularly women – in the informal economy.

By combining the functions of a social movement and a think-tank, it promotes change in several ways. These include improving statistics and expanding knowledge on the informal economy; building networks and capacity among informal worker organizations; and networking to influence local, national and international policy-making.

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