The World Economic Forum is Betting on Social Enterprises to Help Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of

According to Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal (disclosure: MovingWorlds client), even before the pandemic, there was a crisis. Economic, health, social, civic, and environmental.

Only 25% of Americans think that capitalism is working in its current form. Globally, these rates are even more dire. This is the first generation that does not think that their lives will be better than their parents.

The pandemic has accelerated all of this. In just the past six months, over 100,000 million people have moved into extreme poverty.

As governments from around the world are still debating on how to best protect the health and economic stability of their citizens. social enterprises have already taken action. In fact, they were taking action in the very first months of the pandemic.

Why social enterprises react more quickly in crisis

Jacqueline Novogratz speaks at the S2B Impact Forum

According to Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, “COVID-19 has exposed both the vulnerabilities facing low income communities and underlying power imbalances. Social enterprises represent diverse local leaders needed for inclusive change.”

By virtue of their founding missions, social enterprises use the power of the market to create social impact. This means they have to understand their customers, and then deliver value to them. As such, social enterprises need to constantly be aware of the needs of their customers and beneficiaries. This means they are oftentimes first to realize shifting needs and desires, and are able to react to it quickly.

In addition, social enterprises have to take care of their internal operations and team health, too. Social enterprises are measured not only on the impact they create, but also how equitably and fairly they treat their employees. As an example, in the B Lab impact assessment that helps organizations understand if they are truly world-positive, 20% of a company’s score is based on employee transparency, equity, diversity, and fairness. As such, social enterprises have a better understanding of the needs of their employees than other organizations.

Lastly, social enterprises are more invested in the success of all their partners and community members. This means that social enterprises don’t just measure their success based on profits, impact, and employee health, but also on the success of their partners and the communities where they operate. This means that in addition to understanding their workers and consumers, they also have a more real-time and accurate understanding of all those that interact with their business.

All of this knowledge — from employees, consumers, partners, community members, and other stakeholders — enables social enterprises to learn fast and react more quickly.

Take, for example, the work of Instituto Muda to respond to the crisis. Since 2007, Instituto Muda has been providing recycling collection services in São Paulo. It then allocates more than 300 tons of recyclable materials per month to cooperatives that employ people living below the poverty line. In response to COVID, Institute Muda provided cooperatives not only with financial help to pay their workers to support their families, but also with a supply of masks, equipment, and disinfectant gel.

The work of groups like Instituto Mudo are important, but more can be done.

Why social enterprises are critical to COVID recovery

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently shared a report stating that, “We call on all actors to stand by social entrepreneurs as frontline responders to the COVID-19 crisis and as pioneers of a green, inclusive society and economic system.

The WEF is betting on social enterprises to help #BuildBackBetter for one simple reason: They are the fastest-moving organizations to create meaningful change.

Take Praekelt as an example. It is a mobile technology company that supports communication between patients, health workers and the health system at large. It has helped improve health outcomes in many countries across the world. During the COVID crisis, within months, Praekelt partnered with the World Health Organization and WhatsApp to develop the WHO’s global public health WhatsApp information tool for citizens. These solutions provide citizens and health workers with reliable, up-to-date information and relevant services related to COVID-19 and are reaching over 20 million people in 20 languages worldwide.

How to best support social enterprises during the crisis

Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus
on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies
that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges we face
” – WEF report on COVID-19 Action Agenda

When the COVID crisis hit, Eneza Education moved quickly. Eneza Education already provided education to students via mobile phones for those that did not have access to classrooms. During COVID, Enza Education expanded its partnerships to open its platform without charge to learners in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, reaching 2.2 million learners who otherwise would not have access to education during this time.

Eneza Education in action

The aforementioned WEF report shares a few key ideas on what we can all do during this era to support social enterprises, but the core idea comes down to this: social enterprises need capital. This can be through donations, investments, grants, or through earned-revenue partnerships.

Everyone can support social enterprises simply by spending money with them.

Need help finding social enterprises? You can start by looking at Good Market, Benefit Corporation, Sistema B and other B Lab Global Partners, Buy Social (USA, UK, Canada), SocialTraders, and Start Some Good all have lists within your region of the world. You can use these lists not only for purchases at home, but also, and perhaps more importantly, through any budget you might control at your job.

“Social Procurement”, using business spending on social enterprises, has massive potential to empower the social enterprise sector. SAP, our partner in the S-GRID Social Enterprise Support Program, just committed to spending over 5% of its annual procurement budget with social enterprises. More companies must follow suit, and you can help your company do this by embracing an intrapreneurship mindset.

(Learn more about social procurement by joining us for this webinar)

How to learn more and support the social enterprise movement

As corporations, governments, and the nonprofit sector are scrambling to mitigate the effects of COVID, social enterprises are already working to rebuild a more equitable and sustainable economy. Take a few examples of inspiring social enterprises in the S-GRID accelerator that are making impressive progress for a new normal:

  • EveryShelter is creating dignified homes
  • A-R-E-D is connecting disconnected communities
  • Belouga is scaling interactive education
  • PhoenixSpace is connecting refugee children to educational opportunities
  • Seabin is removing plastic waste from waterways
  • EOS is providing safe drinking water
  • Voiceitt is making speech recognition software available to all

The WEF is betting on social enterprises to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals and you should too. Here’s what you, and your organization, can do to support the social enterprise movement.

Recognizing the significant strains that governments and social
partners are under as leading responders to the crisis, it is even
more important to acknowledge social entrepreneurs as vital
players in protecting the most vulnerable.
– Victor van Vuuren, Director, Enterprises Department, International Labour Organization (ILO)

Step #1: Learn about the importance of social enterprise. Read about the history of the social enterprise movement and consider joining a social enterprise education program like the MovingWorlds Institute.

Step #2: Follow the movement. Subscribe to organizations like ours, as well as B Lab, Skoll, Schwab Foundation for Social Enterprise, Social Capital Markets, and more.

Step #3: Find local social entrepreneurs and social enterprises through the links referenced in the above section.

Step #4: Support intermediaries and social enterprise capacity building. Organizations like Acumen, Village Capital, Agora Partnerships, Yunus Social Business, MovingWorlds, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and more are helping to provide funding, technical assistance, connections, mentoring, and capacity-building support to organizations. To quote Ben Powell, former CEO of Agora Partnerships, “When we strengthen intermediaries, we strengthen the world’s ability to surface the innovations to help us achieve the Global Goals. Now, more than ever, we need creative, strategic partnerships across industry actors to help these vital, on-the-ground organizations succeed in their mission.

Step #5: Talk to your team at work and spend money where it matters. Work with your finance team and other members of your company that have a budget to see if there are ways that your work can advance by partnering with social enterprises. Follow the S-GRID social enterprise support program for more ideas and updates.

In Summary

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, recently said “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine and reset our world“.

Resetting the world: Klaus Schwab on this week's Great Reset podcast |  World Economic Forum
Klaus Schwab

We can build a more sustainable and equitable economy if we invest in social enterprises. Join us.