Social Innovation

How change makers have improved 891 million lives worldwide

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Social innovators The Schwab Foundation annual summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

Social innovators can provide alternate economic models of success.

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Social Innovation

  • Social innovators are addressing the world’s most complex social and environmental challenges.
  • Since its inception in 1998, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has grown to bring together a community of 477 leading social innovators operating in over 190 countries.
  • These social innovators have collectively impacted over 891 million people’s lives around the world to date.

The impact social innovators are making around the world.

From creating the first rural women’s bank in India to teaching young adults how to code in South Africa, transforming school attendance for hard-to-reach children in Nigeria, and restoring thousands of hectares of forests that provide sustainable income sources for local communities in Brazil, social innovators are making an impact around the world, significantly progressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Through values-based and innovative approaches focusing on inclusivity, collaboration and sustainability, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship’s community of social innovators and newly selected social innovators have directly and indirectly impacted over 169 million people globally from 2022 to 2024.

Image: Social innovators are improving the social and economic quality of life of their communities.

Social innovators surveyed on the Schwab Foundation annual survey have mobilized $1.2 billion in the past year, largely through government and philanthropic funding, to grow their innovative models that continue to unlock new revenue streams and enrich the lives of marginalized individuals through enhanced income and economic participation. It shows the value of social innovation models yet to be harnessed by mainstream finance systems.

The analysis highlights that social innovators are achieving scale through strategic partnerships, identifying and harnessing local actors’ capacity, knowledge and networks for solving challenges in a sustainable and resource-efficient way. Of those surveyed, 90% trust their peers within the Schwab Foundation community – a key factor in partnerships and collaboration.

The full impact of this community of social innovators is presented in the Foundation’s 2024 Awardees and Impact Report.

These innovators are improving the social and economic quality of life of their communities through diverse solutions such as providing appropriate and increased access to healthcare, bridging education and the jobs market, protecting urban ecosystems, or developing water and sanitation infrastructure in partnership with the communities who will access it.

Embedding integrity, humility and positive values into building organizations, technologies and partnerships, and by putting people and communities at the heart of their work, these social innovators are strengthening the agency of those affected and enabling them to drive their own solutions to create lasting change.


We are inspired by these leaders in social innovation who are playing an outsized role in implementing local sustainable solutions – and on a global scale – that are changing the systems in which we live for the better. Their proven approaches offer alternative models to others and continue to demonstrate that such models can transform society and be economic models of success.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum

What’s the challenge?

Social innovators are addressing the world’s most complex and entrenched social challenges. To achieve maximum impact and simultaneously address the root causes, they need greater visibility, credibility, access to finance, favourable policy decisions, and, in some cases, a better perspective and influence of global affairs.

Today, for such leaders to continue to flourish and for such models to be adopted into mainstream practices, decision-makers need to rapidly scale up the recognition, infrastructure and investment necessary for them to thrive in their work.

The work of social innovators continues to be not only relevant, effective, and impactful, but also fundamental in changing the status quo across many aspects of daily life.

Hilde Schwab, Co-Founder and Chairperson, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Our approach towards social innovators.

Since its inception, the Schwab Foundation has acknowledged social innovators as a brave new breed of leaders – values-driven, inclusive, entrepreneurial individuals who challenge entrenched approaches to develop sustainable new models across businesses, social development and environmental initiatives to transform society for a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable world.

Image: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

The Schwab Foundation has grown its community through the Social Innovation Awards, which every year identify a diverse cohort of well-established social innovators and invites them to join a customized three-year development journey to grow themselves and their organizations before becoming lifelong community members, gaining continued support and access to opportunities through the network.

The annual Schwab Foundation Social Innovation Awards recognize outstanding work in the following categories:

The Schwab Foundation is delighted to introduce the new cohort of Social Innovators 2024 announced at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos, Switzerland.

Being affiliated with the Schwab Foundation has let me have a deeper understanding of the structural social problem I work to fight against and have a broader view of how systemic work could find solutions.

Adriana Barbosa, PretaHub, Social Entrepreneur 2020, Brazil

The Schwab Foundation helps advance the field of social innovation towards more systemic change in four ways:

  • Building a vibrant, trust-based community of social innovators.
  • Amplifying and raising awareness of outstanding social models of social innovation.
  • Facilitating opportunities for collaboration and partnership.
  • Offering capacity-building resources and learning opportunities.

The Schwab Foundation also houses the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship, which was initiated in 2020 as the most comprehensive multi-stakeholder coalition supporting the social innovation sector. The Alliance has grown to 100+ members representing over 100,000 social entrepreneurs. It focuses on mainstreaming social innovation by helping private and public sector actors build partnerships with social entrepreneurs and their intermediaries to scale these models and implement policy solutions that support the social economy.

We’re creating spaces where people are in charge of their own future and we’re bringing it back to the human being.

Rene Parker, RLabs, Social Entrepreneur 2022, South Africa

How can you get involved?

The Schwab Foundation recognizes that social innovation takes place throughout multiple sectors and dimensions. Our global network of experts, partner institutions and Forum constituents are invited to nominate outstanding social innovators each year. Visit the Schwab Foundation website for more information about the award process and the selection criteria. Corporations, investors, governments, intermediaries, academics and media who share our commitment to social entrepreneurship and innovation are invited to join the Alliance.

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