In early March, when we were fully realizing the magnitude of the impact of the COVID crisis, I never imagined I’d be writing this blog post. As we implemented our emergency procedures to make sure active programs could be virtualized and that all volunteers in the field could return home safely, we also received word that one of our corporate partners was defunding its social impact program, and that two other partners were putting theirs on hold. Concurrently, in-person Global Fellowship launches scheduled for New York, Berlin, San Francisco, and Mexico City in the coming months were being put into question.
Even though we operate with a strong balance sheet, the risk of payroll cuts loomed as some projections of the COVID-triggered recession warned of 18 months of slow-down. Our team rallied, each member committing individually to do whatever it took to support our social enterprise partners in the field, as well as our global community of professionals looking to create a bigger impact in their careers.
Amidst the onslaught of COVID-related headlines, other troubling developments bubbled up in the news. Governments, including the U.S., were rolling back environmental regulations. Corporations that only months before were making bold claims about only investing in sustainable and socially responsible businesses were now shamefully funding extractive and carbon-producing projects (i.e. BlackRock and the Keystone pipeline) in quiet moves behind the scenes. Foundations and philanthropists closed offices (OxFam) and refused to deploy more than 5% of their assets (most foundations).
The absence of established leaders, even though disappointing, created a space for new leaders to emerge. Individuals from around the world, like scientists, community organizers, and healthcare workers, have used this time to bring society’s shortcomings into the limelight, particularly as those inequalities relate to preventing, treating and recovering from COVID. Some CEOs did push back, like PayPal’s Dan Shulman, who rose to the occasion by committing to serving “multiple stakeholders, whether they be our employees, our customers, the environment [or] the communities” and imploring Wall Street leaders to “take a moral stance.” Businesses, like Amazon, met the challenge by utilizing its core business in ways that helped society through this crisis and made notable changes and improvements to its practices. Social enterprises, like Esusu in its early release of a rent relief fund tool, rapidly pivoted their models to ensure they were doing more for their stakeholders, not less.
At MovingWorlds, we are committed to being one of the social impact companies that steps forward to meet this challenge rather than shirking away from it. While we operate in a sector that is grossly underfunded (capacity building), especially during times of crisis, we are even more committed to finding a way to utilize our unique strengths in social entrepreneurship, design-thinking and corporate social responsibility to do our part to keep the social enterprise ecosystem thriving. We initiated conversations with international brands like eBay, SAP, and Microsoft. We assembled social enterprise ecosystem builders like Village Capital, SeedSpot, SOCAP, Conveners, Social Traders, and more. And most importantly, we spoke to social enterprises themselves, gathering input on the support they needed to make it through COVID.
All the parties we spoke with — from grassroots social enterprise to global corporations — recognized the negative impact of COVID on social enterprises, as well as the people operating within them. Many expressed concern that this crisis would put us further off track to achieve the SDGs, the deadline for which is now within 10 years. While the long-term implications of this crisis are still unknown, it’s clear that we are at a defining crossroads when it comes to our collective future: we can either maintain the pre-COVID status quo of shareholder capitalism (and the worsening inequality, environmental degradation, and instability that comes with it), or we can seize this moment to shift towards a regenerative model of stakeholder capitalism that can build back better for people and planet.
We can’t solve our biggest social and environmental problems using the same thinking that created them. That’s why we’re launching a new kind of program to accelerate the participation of social enterprises in the global economy, while making the private sector more sustainable in the process. As JUST Capital reported, the corporate sector is facing mounting pressure to engage in more sustainable business practices throughout the global value chain, “almost nine in 10 Americans agree that this [COVID] is an opportunity for large companies to hit ‘reset’ and focus on doing right by their stakeholders.”
But this isn’t a change that can be made unilaterally.
One need only look at the past to see that change starts at the local level. Adidas, Unilever, and Starbucks cannot become sustainable until there are sustainable farms and producers providing the foundational inputs into their value chains. Amazon, UPS, and Danone cannot procure and distribute sustainably without innovations along the first and last miles of supply and distribution to reduce carbon emissions and ensure equal access. These barriers to sustainability along “the last mile” and “the first mile” are well known, yet big companies traditionally fear investing in them because of low profit margins.
COVID has created a window of opportunity to change that.
These are exactly the areas where investments are most needed to drive transformational change, and also the areas where social enterprises flourish. As one sustainability leader of a global clothing brand shared with us, “every year I earmark budget to partner with social enterprises, yet I am not able to find enough that hit the quality and consistency bar needed for our size and value chain.”
In this gap, during these deeply challenging times, we also see a momentous opportunity to rebuild better. To create a “new normal“. Now is the time to invest in building the skills and capabilities of social enterprises so they are positioned to take advantage of cross-sector partnership opportunities post-COVID. To help harness this incredible opportunity to herald in a regenerative economy, we are launching S-GRID, a new kind of social impact program designed to upskill those working in social enterprises so that they can build sustainable revenue partnerships with the corporate sector.
S-GRID is enabling social enterprise to grow, achieve impact goals, and employ more people in world-positive jobs. In tandem, it will help force companies to become sustainable, equitable, and just, and create the partnerships needed to achieve that.
Built on the MovingWorlds platform, and in partnership with SAP and leading social impact organizations, S-GRID is open to entire teams from social enterprises (not just the founders and CEO) and will provide:
- An onboarding assessment to identify the biggest skill gaps
- Training to build skills and know-how to support the creation of new revenue-based partnerships with the corporate sector
- On-going and on-demand coaching
- Access to a global network of expert consultants
- Connections and networking
S-GRID is named after the simple concept of grids. The introduction of grid layouts in city planning dates back to 2600 BC. Their introduction fostered innovation of navigation, structures, business models, mobility, safety, and more. In cities with proper grids, you can easily navigate to any destination, even those with a loss of eyesight can do so. Beyond transportation, grids enable networks for more sustainable energy and efficient communication, too. Their simplicity in name and layout means we often don’t even think about their importance, yet they are foundational to progress. The Sustainable Growth of Revenues for International Development (S-GRID) seeks to provide simple and structured foundations to social enterprise so that they can continue to innovate along the first and last miles.
If we don’t seize this time to make things right, we will lose the perfect opportunity to fix our systems. Environmental degradation will accelerate, inequalities will grow, populism will expand, democracy will continue to be attacked.
The tragedies and hardships or COVID are real. And rebuilding is hard, hard work. And while we’re the first to admit that no one solution will create a more sustainable, equitable, and just planet, S-GRID provides one cross-sector approach with an amazing opportunity to help turn business spending into a force for good. I hope you’ll join us.
Interested in joining S-GRID to accelerate the growth of your social enterprise? Learn more and request an application here. Want to partner? Please do email us.