The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life on a global scale, causing its own problems and exacerbating those that already existed. Citizens and their governments around the world are facing over-burdened health systems, alarming hospitalization and death rates, unemployment, disruption to education, loneliness, grief and anxiety, to name just a few of the crises hovering over humanity.
In the midst of the crisis, governments are having to focus on the most immediate problems, including health and the economy, and those dual issues are stretching most leaders beyond their capacity. They are having to focus on firefighting, which is limiting their abilities to focus on the other issues that await us, just around the corner. That is where we believe social entrepreneurs can step in, filling in the gaps where governments can’t or, in some cases, won’t.
Social entrepreneurs – entrepreneurs whose motivation is rooted in changing the world for the better, particularly in areas of social and environmental enhancement – are well-positioned to step into the breach. They offer practical, workable and often scalable solutions to the ‘secondary’ problems which have been caused by the pandemic, such as education and employment. A great example is Citizen Schools in the US, which has supported students with their education and wellbeing while they’ve been forced to learn from a distance. The long-term impact on young people of the loss of face-to-face teaching is potentially huge, with gaps in knowledge, a lack of socialization and different qualifications all threatening their futures. Citizen School’s programs focus on supporting students and helping them develop their skills in fun and engaging ways. Particularly interesting are their ‘virtual apprenticeships’, which team students with volunteers to solve real community problems – no doubt empowering the students to understand their potential to make a difference to their communities and even the world.
The rise of fake, potentially dangerously misleading information has been a hallmark of this pandemic. Conspiracy theorists have spread countless harmful rumors about the ‘reasons’ behind the spread of the virus and how it is treated, leading to worrying trends such as anti-vaxxers and the destruction of 5G towers across Europe. Wikipedia, founded by social entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, has partnered with the World Health Organization to expand access to trustworthy information about Covid-19. Wales has also founded WT Social, a ‘non-toxic’ social media network where misleading content can be edited directly by other users, and bad actors are expelled.
The pandemic, for all the grief and upheaval it has caused, has also given humanity a time to reflect on how we want to move forward when it is all over. There is a recognition that the way we lived before was having a negative impact, on the planet, on ecosystems, and on people, both in terms of inequality and of mental health. Many are viewing lockdown as a pause, a chance to reset and consider how to create a new normal, to ‘build back better’ or even ‘build forward’. Can we create a new, fairer global system whereby we live within the means of the planet, and all forms of life can thrive?
At The New Ism, our goal is to provide a platform for those who want to create that system. We believe that social entrepreneurs will play a critical role in building a more sustainable, more equitable future. Even before the pandemic hit the world, social entrepreneurs were already creating solutions to the world’s most pressing problems – racial injustice, income inequality, climate change, deforestation and last-mile healthcare, to name just a few. They are already delivering ingenious, tangible and practical solutions to the problems we face, so it makes sense to follow their lead – why reinvent the wheel?
There are thousands of examples to choose from, from tiny one-person operations to huge international businesses such as BRAC, which supports people to lift themselves out of poverty across the world. The important thing is that each one is addressing the systemic causes of a problem – indeed, the ultimate goal of any social entrepreneur is to do themselves out of a job, because it is then that they have succeeded.
As a society, we need to empower social entrepreneurs and help them to join up their efforts so that they are working with the system, and not in spite of it. A number of initiatives such as Catalyst 2030 are identifying and implementing ways to create the right funding structures, but governments, businesses and institutions need to make a concerted effort to provide funding, structure and support so that social entrepreneurs can do what they do best, without being restricted by financial or governance concerns.
At The New Ism, we are building a platform for all people who want to create a brighter future, and a key part of that will be amplifying the voices, ideas and solutions of social entrepreneurs to act as practical inspiration for a way forward, but also for the values that will form the basis of that future.
Let’s get started – there’s no time to waste.
Written by Mel Young. Have you read?
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