Social Enterprises are Critical to COVID Recovery — Lessons from SEWF 2020

Rebecca Mitsch

Communications strategist working with MovingWorlds

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, it seems that every conference, working group, and panel has gone virtual. This format increases access and availability, enabling diverse communities to participate in the discussion of new ideas. But it also leaves us with more content than anyone could digest in a lifetime. To keep the MovingWorlds community in the know about leading trends and best-practices (and prevent you from having to experience digital overload) we watched select sessions of the 2020 Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) Digital conference and are reporting back to you on what we learned. What follows is a brief recap of why social enterprises are critical to COVID recovery. 

Social Enterprises Navigating COVID Successfully

One of the highlights of SEWF was seeing inspiring social enterprises take the stage to share their experiences. For example, in a panel session moderated by Beatrice Alain of Chantier de l’economie sociale we got to hear from:

Manos del Uruguay, represented at SEWF by Ana De Prado, which is a social enterprise founded in 1968 with a mission of creating economic and social opportunity for women in rural communities. It achieves this by creating cooperatives to provide these women with the tools and materials to create arts and crafts goods at a larger scale, and helping these artisans access the national and global marketplace. During COVID, all economic activity essentially stopped, and while its online store continued to operate, it did not make up for the lost income. Manos del Uruguay’s priority is to maintain the work and income for its communities during this time.

Fundacion Capital, represented at SEWF by Yves Moury, which is a group of nonprofit organizations working in 20 countries with a mission to improve the economic and financial lives of people living in social vulnerability. The group achieves this by partnering with governments and the private sector to design and deliver solutions that increase economic prospects. COVID has accelerated existing inequalities, which has further increased the need for Fundacion Capital’s work. It is hard for the socially vulnerable to find work and continue working during this time, which is exacerbating other issues like food insecurity and domestic violence. Fundacion Capital has created specific digital tools to assist its communities during COVID, increasing individual’s ability to be self-sufficient.  

Tips to Help Social Enterprises Navigate COVID

Because governments and organizations have diverted much of their resources to address COVID issues, finding funding is the biggest challenge that most social enterprises are reporting. Despite the challenges social enterprises have experienced as a result of this pandemic, there are opportunities to pivot in ways that traditional businesses cannot. During times of crisis, social enterprises have the unique ability to:

  1. Access to diverse forms of capital. Social enterprises, and particularly not-for-profit organizations, sometimes have capital reserves that they can deploy during difficult times to continue innovating. Even if they don’t have reserves, social enterprises are able to use the funds they receive from partners, grants, etc. to take risks that other organizations cannot (i.e. governments cannot use public money in risky ventures) and thus innovate more quickly. In fact, social enterprises can partner with fiscal sponsors or enable foundations to make program related investments in order to help fulfill missions.
  2. Gather last mile and first mile insights. Social entrepreneurs understand the “bottom of the pyramid” better than most. They have in-depth knowledge of their supply chains, and so can maintain stability while also proposing ways to revamp their logistical structures to meet the demands of a new economy. This makes social enterprises particularly valuable to corporate and government partners, and gives them the potential to align interests between public and private sectors, between business and policies, and between social programs and institutions in ways that other organizations cannot. 
  3. Build more partnerships to diversify revenue opportunities. Social enterprises work hand in hand with multiple partners, like governments, businesses, and philanthropies, which gives them an advantage in their ability to pivot. Of course, some social enterprises are smaller, less flexible, and thus less able to pivot, but COVID is an opportunity for social enterprises to stretch and participate in the digital transformation. 

Social Enterprises Rebuilding and Growing Through COVID

In the earlier mentioned panel, Ana De Prado and Yves Moury shared additional ideas on how social enterprises like theirs can use this as an opportunity to #BuildBackBetter and help create a more fair and equitable economy. They share the belief that the majority of social enterprises will come out of COVID stronger, with the ability to accelerate their growth if they can buy into the digital transformation. They also suggest using this time to prepare to meet the demands of businesses post-COVID, which will likely become more socially-focused due to consumer demand and the demand of different stakeholders.

During this pandemic, we saw the destruction and uproar that COVID-19 caused across the globe. But we also saw an opportunity for social enterprises to come through the pandemic stronger, with partnerships that will ensure a more sustainable future economy. This is the reason we partnered with SAP during a global pandemic to launch S-GRID; we agree with Ana and Yves that social enterprises can emerge from this crisis better and stronger, but they must take the opportunity to stretch. Check out our S-GRID program to see how we can help you take the next step forward today.