Here Are 6 Lessons Social Entrepreneurs Learned About Creating Systems Change

Systems change, is “on a large scale, changing the way a majority of relevant players solve a big social challenge, such that a critical mass of people affected by that problem substantially benefit,” as defined by KicksStart International CEO Martin Fisher in a World Economic Forum (WEF) insight report.

At the forefront of creating systems change are social entrepreneurs. According to the WEF, social entrepreneurs have improved at least over 622 million lives over the past decades.

Along with this scale of impact are lessons learned. In the report, Two Decades of Impact, WEF in collaboration with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, more than 130 late-stage social entrepreneurs were interviewed.

As a summary, here are six key insights from the report:

  1. The collective is powerful
  2. Partnerships enable scale
  3. Technology is an equalizer
  4. Funding models are lagging
  5.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a rallying cry for action
  6. Systems are changing

Let’s look at each one by one.

The collective is powerful 

Joined together, social entrepreneurs are able to attain global reach and to address diverse issues. From the respondents alone, more than $6.7 billion has been distributed, 192 million tonnes of CO2 have been mitigated, and about 622 million people were directly affected by their activities across multiple sectors including:

  • Eco solutions
  • Economic activity
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Energy Access
  • Financial Inclusion
  • Healthcare
  • Housing
  • Land rights
  • Social inclusion
  • Technology

Partnerships enable scale

Partnerships, especially cross-sector ones will fast track growth since multiple skills can be synergized when it comes to coming up with solutions and innovations. In the context of social entrepreneurship, partnerships also allow entrepreneurs to financially support one another, to amplify exposure in the international scene, and to expand markets.

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Technology is an equalizer

Technological developments are experienced unevenly in our world. However, technology can serve as a great equalizer. It provides novel ways to provide access, it enables learning, sharing, as well as long-distance collaboration. It is important for us to ensure that technology will serve this equalizing purpose instead of being an instrument of further widening inequalities and access gaps.

Funding models are lagging

Innovating and developing solutions for the purpose of helping others is not the conventional reason why businesses invest. If anything, they are usually not commercially appealing and may also be high-risk. With this, it is understandable that investors will be hesitant to give their support. With this, it is highly important to enlighten and communicate to investors with the work that comes along with attaining systems change.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a rallying cry for action

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is a unifying framework which in essence attempts to create effectual change by tackling the roots. This is a type of thinking that is inherent in social entrepreneurs. This is also the type of thinking that we should adopt in order to create solutions that last.

Systems are changing

The materialization of systems change, according to WEF requires six conditions which need to be evaluated:

  • Policies
  • Practices
  • Resource flows
  • Relationships and connections
  • Power dynamics
  • Mental modes

A lot of people think of effectual change in terms of the first three conditions. However, these are surface level. With just these three, we will not create long-lasting change. Ater these surface-level conditions are tackled, we should also begin reassessing if disruptions are needed in the last three conditions as well.

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Systems change will only truly be attained when we begin to realize that the problems that we need to address are beyond what meets the eye, literally.  We need to go deeper, down to the very roots.

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