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Democracy, Ancient and Modern

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“Poverty is not measured by how much one possesses but by how big are one’s desires.”–Plato

“A well regulated State is based on the common sense of the people.”–Giambattista Vico                

“No one pretends that Democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.” –Winston Churchill

In a relativistic age which beliefs in functional relativistic truths but not in Truth itself, when consequently many sing the praises of democracy but precious few can pin down its essence, a revisiting of Plato’s skeptical attitude towards it may be in order. It may lead us to a surprising discovery, that of Giambattista Vico in the 18th century (see his New Science): that democracy has never been based on the rule of a few all-wise leaders and not even on that of well-learned people, i.e., the philosopher-kings and the all-powerful manipulating politicians, but on the “common sense” of all the people.

The statement on democracy quoted above was proffered by Churchill in the House of Commons on the 11th of November 1947 at the origins of the EU. Some have assumed that Churchill had Plato’s critique of democracy in mind when he proffered it. That assumption is based on a kind of rationalism devoid of imagination which ends up missing the irony of Churchill’s statement, not to speak of the paradoxical nature of Plato’s critique of democracy in The Republic.

Indeed, in an age of relativism, when many sing the praises of democracy as the gift of the age of Enlightenment, ignoring the fact that in reality its cradle is ancient Athens, when others (the futurists who run on cars with no rear view mirrors) say that its essence may have changed even in the last fifty years or so, and will keep on changing faster and faster, while precious few bother to explore its essence, its ambiguity and paradox, perhaps a revisiting of Plato’s critique of democracy may be worthwhile. In book VI of The Republic Plato narrates a parable as a way of answering this crucial question by Adeimantus: “How can you be justified in saying that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are acknowledged by us to be of no use to them?” This is the parable by which Plato answers the question, via Socrates: “Suppose the following to the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain is large and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short sighted and similarly limited in seamanship. The crew are all quarreling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they have never learned the art of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it; indeed they say it cannot be taught and are ready to murder any one who says it can. They spend all their time milling around the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs or drinks or in some other way, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and turn the voyage into the sort of drunken pleasure-cruise you would expect. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the wind and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship (488b-d).”

The above allegory, as per Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric, can be interpreted thus: the ship is the Athenian ship of State, the rather incompetent captain is the Athenian people. The people own the state and are supreme in it, as indeed it ought to be in any democratic Republic, even a rudimentary undeveloped one. The motley crew represents the politicians who are constantly quarrelling with each other on how best to navigate the ship while regularly attempting to take the helm from the captain.

Now, it would appear that things have not changed that much in twenty four hundred years. Undoubtedly, this allegory from The Republic paints a rather bleak picture of democracy. Plato seems to be neither a “republican” nor a “democrat.” Had he lived today in the US or somewhere in the EU, he might have ended up voting for the green party. Be that as it may, some of his readers over the ages, while acknowledging his penetrating genius, have attributed to him totalitarian-elitists intellectual tendencies, the attempt to explain the whole of reality with one over-reaching theoretical scheme. This charge seems to be supported by the fact that Plato maintains a rather skeptical attitude toward the poetical in general, and that his ultimate solution to the conundrum of the political incompetence of ordinary people who own the ship of state in a democracy, seems to be that philosophers become kings or vice versa, kings become philosophers. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that he also advocated that no one is ready to be a philosopher before the age of fifty; wisdom arrives, if at all, with the experience of a life-time of virtue, or to say it with Shakespeare: “maturity is all.”

Were we to seriously survey the history of mankind we would soon find out that humanity has had as their leaders precious few philosopher-kings and an abundance of Caesars and Napoleons, people who in general are in love with Machiavellian “power politik” which they practice rationally on the chess-board of life while being completely uninterested in philosophical speculations. Exceptions are Alexander the Great (a student of Aristotle) and Marcus Aurelius, the author of The Meditations.

We would also find out that sometimes the rule of the majority turns into the tyranny of the mob which represses the few who may be branded as outsiders. This ugly phenomenon is observed and commented upon in modern times by none other than Tocqueville; despite the fact that he had great sympathies for democratic systems, he suspected that it applied to democracies also. The founding fathers of the United States were in fact so troubled by this sad tendency of human nature to rule and manipulate others, that they decided to add the Bill of Rights to a Constitution which already proclaimed and enshrined inalienable and universal truths and values.

At this point one may ask: is Plato’s critique still valid today, and if so, what are the practical consequences of ignoring it? Let us try to apply this critique to an overarching problem of modern Western Civilization, namely the principle of sustainable development. This principle would require that we change the way we live our lives. We should distinguish what we truly need from what we want, as Aristotle teaches in The Nicomachean Ethics. In other words, we the people would have to democratically agree to place a greater value on the future quality of the environment than on our present comfortable life-style. This is particularly true in the developed countries, the so called first world, such as the US and the EU.

This moral concept creates obligations not only for the common good of the present inhabitants of the world, but also toward future generations. There is a problem however: in a free market there is no normative standard of what constitutes a need and what constitutes a want. The only standard is one’s desires, as Madison Avenue well knows and as Plato intimated when he said that poverty is not measured by how little one possesses but by how big are one’s desires. In effect the idea that the majority of the people in a democracy would deprive themselves of their wants is redolent of one of Eco’s hyper-reality fantasies.

Most “successful” politicians would not risk their popularity with the ones who elected them for the sake of voters yet to be born, to wit the jettisoning of the Kyoto agreement by a President Bush and its disregard by the EU political leaders despite its pious lip service to it. Hence Plato’s dire pessimism about democracy. He would tell us this: in rational terms, you lovers of democracy have a clear choice; you can keep democracy or keep the earth cool so that you can keep on living on this earth, but you cannot do both. You may ask: what Is Plato suggesting that we opt for dictatorship or perhaps that we vote for the Green party and Ralph Nader? Not exactly, but he is however suggesting a rational pessimism about democratic governments.

The question at this point is this: is such pessimism warranted? Yes, if one keeps in mind Plato’s metaphor of the ship of State and its assumptions. No, if one challenges any of its assumptions. One such assumption is that wisdom does not reside with the people but with a select few elites: the philosopher-kings. However, Giambattista Vico asserts in his poetic philosophy that such an assumption is unwarranted. He has another better idea: he called the wisdom of the people “common sense” and he considered it superior to that of the few which he called “la boria dei dotti” (the conceit of the learned). He is the first philosopher to put forward a radical notion: that Homer, the blind poet, did not exist, that he is the poetic representation of the common oral tradition and wisdom of Hellas, i.e., of all the ancient Greek people which he calls “common sense.”

Vico proved this notion philologically by comparing The Iliad and The Odyssey and showing that they could not have been written by the same author. He repeatedly explains in his New Science how this common sense wisdom has, time and again, saved humankind; that Providence avails itself of that wisdom within the immanence of human history, and it is that kind of wisdom, much more than the elitist kind of wisdom of the learned parading as “leadership,” that saves humankind time and again.

Here we need to remember that in the above statement by Churchill there is an “exception:” Churchill seems to agree with Plato that democracy is inefficient, the worst kind of political system imaginable when manipulated by incompetent politicians, yes, but with the exception of all the others. This paradox that Churchill perceived and Plato seems to miss can be explained thus: when one has trust and faith in the innate wisdom of the people, then democracy begins to appear as the only possible solution to the problems of all the people, for democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people.

This explanation has been proven even empirically and mathematically based on fixed statistical laws by which most modern insurance companies operate. Two or three people are asked to guess how many jelly beans are in a jar; an average is taken and recorded. Then six more people are asked and the average is again taken and recorded. Twelve people are than asked and the average is taken and recorded again. Consistently, the average for the last group will be closer to the reality of the situation than the second or the first, the second closer than the first, that of all the groups together closer than any individual group and closer than the guess of any single individual. This phenomenon was observed even by Aristotle who observed that the decisions of many people tend to cancel out the blunders of a lonely tyrant or even a group of tyrants, hence democracy is always preferable.

In practical terms, the above statistical mathematics proves that one can trust the common sense of all the people more than the conceited knowledge of a few elites. Not to do so, is to risk ending up with dictatorship, albeit that of a philosopher-king. Which is to say, trusting the people, the way an Abraham Lincoln did, for example, when he advocated a government of the people, for the people, by the people, has far better consequences than not trusting them, as a Machiavelli would suggest in his Prince and his geo-political considerations.

Indeed, few people would cooperate with a State that denied them some sort of participation in the decisions affecting their own lives. They would only do so under coercion. In conclusion we can say that from a purely rational viewpoint Plato was justified in being skeptical of democracy, nevertheless he was wrong in the assumption that it was a mere matter of logic and rationality; it is also a matter of imagination and faith: faith in the ultimate wisdom of the “common sense” of the people.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

New Social Compact

E-resilience readiness for an inclusive digital society by 2030

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Photo: United Nations/Chetan Soni

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the link between digitalization and development, both by showing the potential of digital solutions and by laying bare the significant digital divides that still exist. Digital transformation means the new development paradigm change and its process of the whole social fabric of value creation, management, use, and distribution by using disruptive technologies including AI, digital data, connectivity, and network. E-government, platform enterprises, payments via the cloud, streaming entertainment, and social networks are some examples.

In this regard, the Fifth Session of the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway Steering Committee (AP-IS SC-5) adopted the AP-IS Action Plan 2022-2026 on 25 November 2021. The Action Plan consists of three main pillars with 25 actions centered on Connectivity for All; Digital Technologies and Applications, and Digital Data. One of the key focus areas under the pillar of Connectivity for All is e-resilience. It is identified as essential to accelerate digital transformation.  

E-resilience is essential for the operation of a digital economy and society in the long term.  The ability of a society to resist, accommodate, adapt to, and recover from the effects of shocks including disasters, in a timely and efficient manner can be measured through resilient ICT infrastructure. 

In this connection, ESCAP has developed a new ESCAP e-resilience monitoring dashboard, which combines all ICT indicators into four thematic pillars of assessment of e-resilience readiness, in the background of hazard and exposure scoring:  (i) ICT infrastructure as a physical basis, (ii) ICT policy in various sectors,  (iii) the role of ICT in data management, and (iv) the role of ICT in creating new systems and applications. The e-resilience dashboard offers visually appealing Internet speed maps for various economic groups as well as risk maps, ranked by the degree of risk for each country. For example,

E-resilience of ICT infrastructure scores low across several indicators. Internet penetration in Bangladesh and Afghanistan is at 15 and 14 per cent, respectively. Cross-sectoral coordination among government agencies and telecom operators is lacking and creates problems in these countries. Security challenges in Afghanistan pose considerable impediments to the laying of optical fiber cable networks. There is much room for improvement in Kyrgyzstan (38 per cent) and Mongolia (47 per cent), which could be attributed to the lower use of computers. Although, Kazakhstan, a landlocked developing country, demonstrated the highest level of internet penetration regionally (79 per cent), the structural and societal barriers reduce the affordability and access to broadband networks in rural areas and lower the e-resilience readiness of the country. 

ICT policy in different sectors in the least developed and landlocked developing countries does not provide a full picture of how to equip policymakers on disaster risk reduction measures.  Cybersecurity regulations and cross-sectoral deployment are lacking as well. DRR measures and e-resilience are weak in most least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, despite the efforts and investments made in ICT infrastructure improvement and enabling regulatory environment. 

The importance of partnerships and cooperation to continue e-resilience monitoring and actions includes highlighting the need to collect ICT data.  The e-resilience readiness metrics of ESCAP organize this data under four pillars to assess progress towards 2030 through digital foresight planning, considering the abilities to respond to hazards and exposure.

  • For example, in Japan, it was found that the earthquake and tsunami in the east in March 2011 destroyed more than 56,000 households. In this regard, the country has contributed to the relocation of power lines according to new requirements and has compelled all municipalities and prefectures to make plans to replace overhead cables with underground ones.
  • One illustrative example is the current developments in the policies of Bhutan, which is entering into a partnership with Skylink to ensure that the population has access to low-orbiting satellites, providing internet access to support the development of a third national language around coding and software programming language. Computer software, apps, and websites are created by the coding language.

The ICT technology should serve the economy, and, in turn, the digital economy must support the environment and society. The shared vision among businesses and the government in Thailand defines the digital economy as a transformative economy that maximizes digital technologies in all socio-economic activities. This understanding will influence infrastructure, innovation, data, human capital, and other digital resources.

In summary, e-resilience is an essential foundation for achieving an inclusive digital society based on strong partnerships and regional cooperation.  

UN ESCAP

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New Social Compact

Delivering on Our Promise for Universal Education

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Image source: educationcannotwait.org

On the International Day of Education, we call on world leaders to transform how we deliver on education.

The clock is ticking. As a global community, we have committed to delivering universal, equitable education by 2030. That’s just eight short years to get a quarter of a billion children into the classroom.

While remarkable efforts are underway, armed conflicts raging worldwide, forced displacement, climate change-induced disasters, and now COVID-19 are derailing progress, compromising the futures of entire generations. Unless we act now, it will affect all of humanity one day.  

On the International Day of Education, it’s time we change course and transform how we deliver on our promise of universal education – especially for the millions of girls and boys caught in emergencies and protracted crises who are being denied their inherent human right to go to school, to learn and to thrive. They are the ones left furthest behind and whom we need to place at the forefront at this critical juncture.

According to UNESCO, as many as 258 million children and youth don’t attend school across the world. Two out of three students are still impacted by full or partial school closures from COVID-19. Girls are particularly at risk, with estimates projecting that between 11 million and 20 million girls will not return to school after the pandemic.

While a minority of people on the planet are enjoying all the comforts of modern life, over 617 million children and adolescents cannot read or do basic math. That’s more than the total population of Germany, the United Kingdom and United States combined.  

The children living on the frontlines of conflict, forced displacement, disasters and protracted crises are the most at risk, with as many as 128 million in need of urgent education support.

So how do we get back on track and deliver on our promises? There are three key pillars to transforming education for children in emergencies and protracted crises. Number 1. We need to step up in a major way to fund these efforts. Number 2. We need to deliver in partnership, break down silos, and find ways to be more agile and responsive. Number 3. We need to deliver context-specific whole-of-child solutions geared to the realities of crisis.

Number 1. Funding education in emergencies

It starts with substantive financing and predictable funding. As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has surpassed $1 billion in funds mobilized for its Trust Fund (and $1 billion leveraged or aligned in-country to ECW’s investments).

This milestone was possible thanks to ECW’s strategic donors, such as Germany who announced today US$228.3 million (Є200 million) in additional funding to support the fund’s multi-year investments, becoming ECW’s single largest donor to date with US$362.7 million (Є318 million) in total contributions.

Beyond scaling up significant financing, flexibility and predictability are also crucial. Quality learning outcomes cannot be achieved through short-term emergency responses. We need multi-year funding and programmes that can adapt to evolving needs amidst the instability that is intrinsic to crisis and which can ensure a continuous and uninterrupted education.

Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4: inclusive, equitable quality education, is the best way to advance all the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is the silver bullet for creating social and economic impacts that can generate long-lasting human development and prosperity.  

For every $1 spent on girls’ education, we generate approximately $2.80 in return. Making sure girls finish secondary education could boost the GDP of developing countries by 10% over the next decade.

In just five years, ECW has been able to reach five million children and adolescents with the safety and opportunity of a quality education

On the ground, this means that in places like Bangladesh, Chad, Ecuador and Syria children are receiving the holistic support they need to return to the safety, protection and opportunity of quality learning environments.

As we’ve seen from Germany’s generous contribution today, key public donors are rising to this challenge and prioritizing education in their official development or/and humanitarian assistance.

Now it’s time for others to follow suit. ODA governments will need to scale up financing to match the actual needs, all while we must also further engage with the private sector and philanthropic foundations to dramatically bolster our global investment in education based on realistic calculations commensurate to the actual costs.

In a world where football teams sell for billions of dollars and billionaires fly themselves into space, how is it possible that we are not finding the resources to send every child to school?

Investing in a child’s education means investing in all of humanity. It is time to transform our perception of the world, our priorities and how we shoulder our responsibility as a human family.

Number 2. Delivering in partnership

No single stakeholder can do it alone. At this year’s Transforming Education Summit, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, we will ask ourselves how we can avert a generational catastrophe and rethink our education systems and financing thereof to make good on our commitments and promises.

When it comes to investing in education, one part of the solution is to break down silos and build bridges. Based the United Nations Secretary-General’s reform, this means partnerships through joint programming, or ‘The New Way of Working.”  ECW’s global investments translate the Secretary-General’s UN reform into results.

Think how partnerships can work to deliver education in a crisis like Afghanistan – where ECW has invested in joint programming for holistic approaches, bridging humanitarian and development operations, since 2018.

Teachers’ salaries must be paid. Schools and learning centers need to be built and equipped. Girls and female teachers need to feel safe going to school – and girls’ rights to an education must be upheld. Students that have dealt with a lifetime of conflict and trauma need mental health services.  

On my recent mission to Afghanistan, I saw firsthand how collaboration among humanitarian and development stakeholders is crucial to effectively address these multiple challenges. Despite the bulk of international aid to Afghanistan remaining frozen, on the ground UN agencies, and international and national NGOs have the operational capacities required to deliver the response – they only lack the funding.

ECW partners like UNICEF and WFP, as well as numerous NGOs – such as Save the Children, Swedish Afghanistan Committee, the Aga Khan Foundation and Wadan – are jointly supporting education in this mountainous and seemingly inaccessible country, including secondary girls’ education.

To transform the delivery of education, visionary leaders such as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of ECW Gordon Brown, António Guterres, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, and German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulze are approaching education through a new lens, connecting humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding aid interventions. 

Number 3. Whole-of-child solutions

A child who is hungry or traumatized by the unspeakable violence they have witnessed will most likely struggle to achieve quality learning outcomes. No matter how well-trained a teacher is, or how well-equipped a classroom is, if a girl skips classes each month during her periods for a lack of sanitary products or of adequate sanitation facilities at the school, or if she dares not go to school for fear of harassment and kidnapping – we are failing her.

Delivering education to children and adolescents living in crisis settings goes beyond providing classrooms and textbooks. We must create the enabling environments and policies needed to support the overall wellbeing of a child – including educational, psychological, socio-emotional needs, health, nutrition, and protection – and ensure that gender equality and disability inclusion are at the core of our responses.

Only by working collectively will we have the breadth of expertise and the operational outreach to support these multiple facets of a child’s or adolescent’s needs. Only then will we unlock the power of education for these girls and boys to achieve their potentials and thrive. 

Our place in history

We are living in one of history’s inflection points.

Seas are rising and threatening human existence, and millions of children are being denied their inherent right to an education, as a consequence of conflict, abject poverty and climate-induced disasters, which displace families and entire communities, erode infrastructure and brain-drain a country. In two years, a virus has taken over 5 million lives, disrupted global commerce, and impacted the lives of people around the world.

Education is the very bedrock that can steer our efforts to safeguard our humanity. The clock is ticking, and there will be no other chance. Now is the time to define the future of our existence on earth to deliver on our global promises for a better, more stable, just and prosperous world.

In the final analysis, leaders driven by humanity rather than power see things from afar and within. And so, they recognize the relation between themselves, the world, and universal values and human rights.

In honor of the rights of the 128 million children and youth whose education has been disrupted in their young lives due to conflict, forced displacement and climate-disasters, I call on all of you – not only to define – but to direct their and our future.

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New Social Compact

The Social Innovators of the Year 2022

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Mikaela Jade. (Image: Veuve Clicquot New Generation Awards)

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced today 15 awardees for social innovation in 2022.

From a Brazilian entrepreneur using hip-hop to turn Favela youth away from crime, a Dutch nurse revolutionizing home healthcare and a park ranger turned tech founder using Minecraft to revive Australia’s Indigenous culture, the 2022 Social Innovators of the Year includes a list of outstanding founders and chief executive officers, multinational and regional business leaders, government leaders and recognized experts.

The awardees were selected by Schwab Foundation Board members, including Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark (2011-2015), and social innovation expert Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance in Germany, and H.M. Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Honorary Board Member, in recognition of their innovative approach and potential for global impact.

“The Social Innovators of the Year 2022 represent a new ecosystem of leaders who are driving change and shifting organizations and systems towards a more just, inclusive, sustainable future,” said Hilde Schwab, Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The Schwab Foundation’s unique community of social innovators dates back more than two decades to 1998 when Hilde Schwab, together with her husband Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, created the foundation to support a new model for social change, combining often-overlooked values of mission, compassion and dedication with the best business principles on the planet to serve the most disadvantaged people on earth and build a better society.

Today, the foundation has a thriving community of 400 global social entrepreneurs that have impacted the lives of 722 million people in 190 countries. They offer access to healthcare, education, housing, finance, digital skills and advocacy networks resulting in job creation economic opportunity, improved health and stability.

To help the social enterprise sector increase its reach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Schwab Foundation established the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs early 2020, representing 90+ members and an estimated 100,000 entrepreneurs as the largest collaborative in the sector.

“This year’s Schwab Foundation Awardees demonstrate that through values-based approaches centring on inclusivity, collaboration, relationships of trust and long-term sustainability, we have proven ways of changing institutions and mindsets, and disrupting traditional ways of working that hold systemic barriers in place,” said François Bonnici, Director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The 2022 Schwab Foundation Awards are hosted in a long-term partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, founded on the philosophy of “Ubuntu”, the African concept of giving and caring for your neighbour and other members of your community.

“I strongly believe social entrepreneurship, combined with local innovation and technology, can create meaningful change and recovery in Africa and many developing nations. At its core it is about bringing together the best of business discipline and efficiency with the best of human and social values. We need this synergy, now more than ever,” said Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Co-Chair, Motsepe Foundation and Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

The 2022 awardees are:
Social entrepreneurs

Founders or chief executive officers who solve a social or environmental problem, with a focus on low-income, marginalized or vulnerable populations.

Ashraf Patel, Co-Founder of Pravah and ComMutiny Youth Collective (CYC), India: For almost three decades, Patel has nurtured inside-out youth leadership with collective organisations. This ecosystem has co-created the right space, context and narrative that has reached over 15 million young people.

Celso Athayde, Founder, Central Unica das Favelas (CUFA) and Chief Executive Officer, Favela Holding, Brazil: One of Brazil’s best-known social entrepreneurs, Athayde founded the nation’s largest social enterprise focused on favela communities, using music and sport to transform their lives.

Jos de Blok, Founder, Buurtzorg, Netherlands: de Blok is revolutionizing nursing around the world with buurtzorg, meaning neighbourhood care, which puts nurses and patients at the heart of its social enterprise model.

Kennedy Odede, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), Kenya: Passion, 20 cents and a soccer ball were the building blocks for Odede’s social enterprise SHOFCO, which is transforming urban slums and providing economic hope.

Marlon Parker, Co-Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) and Rene Parker, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, RLabs, South Africa: Marlon and Renee Parker grew a Cape Town community project helping ex-convicts into a global social enterprise that has helped around 20 million disadvantaged people by offering tech skills, training, funding and workspaces.

Mikaela Jade, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Indigital, Australia: From park ranger to tech founder, Jade founded Australia’s first Indigenous edu-tech company using augmented and mixed realities to preserve and teach Indigenous culture and history.

Rana Dajani, Founder and Director, Taghyeer/We Love Reading, Jordan: Dajani sparked a global reading revolution, training female volunteers to read to kids. We Love Reading now operates in 56 countries, benefiting nearly half a million children.

Wenfeng Wei (Jim), Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DaddyLab, People’s Republic of China: “Daddy Wei” is a social media champion for safer consumer goods. His enterprise DaddyLab is a one-stop shop for trusted product testing, consumer rights advice for families.

Corporate social intrapreneurs

Leaders within multinational or regional companies who drive the development of new products, initiatives, services or business models that address societal and environmental challenges.

Gisela Sanchez, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Strategy and Sustainability Director, Bac International Bank and Board Member, Nutrivida, Costa Rica: Nutritional food firm Nutrivida, the brainchild of Gisela Sanchez, combats a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet, known as hidden hunger, that affects 2 billion people.

Sam McCracken, Founder and General Manager, Nike N7, USA: A member of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes from the Ft Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, McCracken founded Nike N7 20 years ago with a vision of using the power of sport to promote cultural awareness. It demonstrates Nike’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the Indigenous populations of North America. Today, N7 has benefited more than 500,000 Indigenous youth.

Public social intrapreneurs

Government leaders who harness the power of social innovation social entrepreneurship to create public good through policy, regulation or public initiatives.

Pradeep Kakkattil, Director of Innovation, UNAIDS, Switzerland: Kakkattil founded global platform HIEx to link innovators, governments and investors and find solutions to global healthcare problems, from COVID diagnosis to the cost of medicines.

Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership (OGP), Global: Pradhan has been a tireless champion of good governance and fighting corruption, leading a partnership of 78 countries, 76 local governments and thousands of civil society organizations that are working together to make governments more open and less corrupt.

Social innovation thought leaders

Recognized experts and champions shaping the evolution of social innovation.

Alberto Alemanno, Professor of Law, HEC Paris and Founder, The Good Lobby, European Union, France: Alemanno is passionate about overcoming social, economic and political inequalities. His civic start-up, The Good Lobby, kickstarted a movement for ethical and sustainable lobbying.

Adam Kahane, Director, Reos Partners, Canada: Kahane is a global leader in helping diverse teams of leaders work together, across their differences, to address their most important and intractable issues. He has facilitated breakthrough projects in more than 50 countries on climate action, racial equity, democratic governance, Indigenous rights, health, food, energy, water, education, justice and security.

Hahrie Han, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science, Inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, USA: Han is a leading academic and author on collective action and the way citizens can collaborate to solve public problems and influence policy, from immigration to voting rights.

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