The word begin on a mug. symbolizes social entrepreneurship.

COVID-19: Social Entrepreneurship


Blogpost on COVID-19 and social entrepreneurship by Jasna Pocek, Postdoctoral Researcher, Sten K Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship, Lund University School of Economics and Management.

History teaches us that the increase in inequality and human rights neglects are typical of times of crisis, and this by no other means is one of them, writes Jasna Pocek.

As already stressed in several previous posts on the RWI blog COVID-19 & Human Rights, the poorest and most marginalized parts of our society are those whose human rights are being mostly affected in the current crisis. In such circumstances, we have witnessed several events supported by states and governments, some even in collaboration with UN agencies, which call for creative people and entrepreneurs to offer solutions to some of the issues our societies are facing due to the COVID-19 situation.

Hack For Sweden

For example, the Swedish initiative “Hack for Sweden” (https://hackforsweden.se) supported by the Swedish government, brought together 7400 participants to design digital or concept based solutions for the future of Sweden in three categories: save lives, save business and save communities. Among the six winners of the competition, the VoiceMEd proposed solutions for health diagnosis via phone call or voice recording. Another winner is Telehelp – Bridge the Digital Divide: using location-based matching it brings together the elderly as a high group at risk of Covid19 with volunteers who provide them with groceries.

The implementation of the winning ideas will be assisted by the Swedish Agency for Digital Government. Similar initiative took place in Montenegro (https://coronathon.me), also supported by the government and the UN agency- UNDP, among other partners.

Youlearn

There, the winning idea “Youlearn” tackles problems related to access to education, and they described their solution as a “Youtube for learning”: an online platform which allows creation of interactive exercises, allowing at the same time teachers to evaluate and follow the progress of their students. Additional example is  the currently ongoing CodetheCurve hackathon launched by UNESCO in collaboration with partners, with the aim of supporting and inviting innovators, data scientist and designers to provide solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These solutions are needed in the contexts of both developing and developed countries and they could potentially aim at help solving local and global problems. Indeed, most of such problems are tightly related to the human rights of people and many of these are also backed up by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and their targets.

Social Entrepreneurs

While all entrepreneurs can potentially improve the lives of others, in the entrepreneurship literature the entrepreneurs whose primary aim is pointed towards addressing a social concern, rather than obtaining a profit, are labelled as “social entrepreneurs”. Social entrepreneurship is a phenomenon that recently attracted attention as, among others, a vehicle that can address different societal problems that the state alone cannot address, some of these being recognized under the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. However, in practice the different public and UN agencies that supported the above-mentioned initiatives ones in Sweden and Montenegro did not differentiate between social and other types of entrepreneurs in their calls for assistance.

Why Do We Need It?

Human rights such as access to health, food, clean water, education – just to name a few that are relevant in the times of Covid19, can be accessible to all through the introduction of proper innovations, which could be, sometimes but not necessarily, of technological nature. The state is not always able to meet the necessities of everyone and, due to the market logics and failures, these cannot be met by existing companies in the private sector as well.

Consequently, there are numerous reasons why the public may choose to rely, guide and support creative individuals in these situations. For example, the innovative capacities in the public sector may be lacking, or the long and exhaustive bureaucratic procedures may hamper quick responses to new emergencies in both the public sector and the large companies.

On the contrary one could expect that these would not be great issues for the outsider folks, new entrepreneurs who could be able to provide creative, innovative and quick solutions.  Moreover, social entrepreneurs often come directly from the community they wish to offer help to, since they have a unique insight into the needs of their own community.

Social Enterprises Helping Respond To The COVID-19 Crisis

In a recent post, the World Economic Forum (WEF) listed cases of social enterprises helping respond to the COVID-19 crisis by protecting the vulnerable and ensuring access to health. For example a Hong Kong based initiative- Senior Citizen Home Safety Association (SCHSA) – offers 24 hours care and emergency assistance to elderly, including distribution of masks and cleansing material to this vulnerable group. They also offer  assurance calls to the elderly living alone, as a form of mental health protection from loneliness and depression. Another example the WEF refers to is AlTibbi – an e-health platform offering medical information in Arabic to the Middle Eastern and North African region countries. They recently launched in Jordan a Corona dedicated hotline in collaboration with the public sector, which connects patients to the certified doctors allowing them to obtain medical assessment online and receive advice.

What Does The Supportive Environment Look Like?

As any other social phenomena, entrepreneurship is context dependent. Therefore, we don’t have one-size-fits-all recipes, not even regarding how the systems which help social entrepreneurs should look like. Social norms, culture, values are some of the elements which may have an impact upon the image and reputation that people who wish to address the social needs in innovative manner enjoy in the society.

This in turn may impact the level of their engagement and activity, and potentially the contribution to solving the societal problems. The regulative element is also important and it should be supportive and adapted to the local conditions. Research also shows that this environment in more broad terms should be open to change, receptive of new ideas and with strong collaboration between public and private sector, academia, NGOs.

Furthermore, public state support and guidance are crucial. For example, in their endower social entrepreneurs sometimes collaborate with the public sector, which can support them either financially or by connecting the entrepreneurs with the communities they are targeting.

On the other hand, since social entrepreneurs sometimes come directly from vulnerable communities, the close collaboration may be in turn beneficial for the public sector:  it could open the doors to the inaccessible communities or expose the public towards the problems which were somehow overlooked by the policy.

Since in both developed and developing economies some vulnerable communities seem to be comparably more affected by Covid 19 than the rest of the population, also because of a lack of communication between the government and the individuals inside those communities, social entrepreneurship could offer indeed possible solutions in these cases.

References:

World Economic Forum, 6 ways social innovators are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, viewed 27 April, 2020 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/how-social-innovators-are-responding-to-the-covid19-pandemic/

UNESCO, UNESCO launches CodeTheCurve Hackathon to develop digital solutions in response to COVID-19, viewed 27 April, 2020 https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-launches-codethecurve-hackathon-develop-digital-solutions-response-covid-19

Coronathon.me, Izabrani timovi I ideje za finalnu fazu takmicenja, viewed 27 April, 2020, https://coronathon.me/izabrani-timovi-i-ideje-za-finalnu-fazu-takmicenja/?fbclid=IwAR1G9XhngeegMtJBI7Fq06uuOTCf37tQCwZ9Sust65vgxAUpPJKGRQNmh-Q

https://www.hackthecrisis.se/, viewed 27 April, 2020

This is a series of updates regarding the Coronavirus from Human Rights Experts – read more here