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Social Innovators of the Year – meet the first responders to the COVID-19 crisis

MD Staff

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Lindiwe Matlali, Founder and CEO, Africa Teen Geeks

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship today announced 23 awardees for social innovation in 2020.

From building hospitals in rural India, empowering Black-communities in Brazil, providing financial resources to last-mile communities in Ghana, harnessing 4IR technology to promote equity in education in South Africa, raising over 100 million USD for lower income families in the USA, to breaking the glass ceiling in the public sector in Spain, the 2020 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.

This ecosystem of change-makers is being recognised for driving significant social and environmental impact in service of vulnerable and excluded communities and have been well placed to respond to the needs of those disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic.

The awardees were selected by Schwab Foundation board members in recognition of their innovative approach and potential for global impact. Some of these Board members include 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).

“The Schwab Foundation Social Innovators stand for trust, truth and service. They truly devote their lives through innovative actions to improve livelihoods,” said Hilde Schwab, Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. “The Social Innovators of the Year 2020 represent a new ecosystem of leaders who are driving change and shifting organizations and systems towards a more just, inclusive, sustainable future”.

“The Schwab Foundation’s Social Innovators of the Year 2020 are pioneering agents of change, re-setting the way our institutions operate. Their work is incredibly pertinent as we respond, recover and reset from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that has disproportionately affected excluded and vulnerable populations”, said François Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The 2020 Schwab Foundation Awards are hosted in 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. “The 2020 Social Innovators of the Year prove that the complex work of reducing inequality and transforming society is possible by instilling human-centred innovation with principles of equity and justice into the levers of policy, finance, and research”, said Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Co-Chair, Motsepe Foundation

Social innovators are needed more than ever, but face immense challenges to operate, serve and support communities during this crisis. Therefore, the Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum, launched the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs with the goal to aid social entrepreneurs during the crisis and its aftermath. The Alliance, which consists of over 60 global members, representing over 50,000 social entrepreneurs globally, launched an Action Agenda outlining ways to support social entrepreneurs as first responders to the COVID-19 crisis.

The 2020 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

Lindiwe Matlali, Founder and CEO, Africa Teen Geeks (South Africa). This organisation’s AI-based learning platform for STEM subjects equalises equalizing access and quality of education for all students regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds, reaching over 100,000 students.

Daniel Asare-Kyei, Co-Founder and CEO, Esoko (Ghana). This company’s pioneering agriculture technology is powering Africa’s digital revolution, by providing critical services to millions of farmers and last mile communities.

Sooinn Lee, Enuma Inc, Co-Founder and CEO (USA).Enuma’s Kitkit School and other products use technology and design to empower all children to learn early reading, writing, and math independently, regardless of initial abilities and access.

Dharsono Hartono, Co-Founder and CEO, PT Rimba Makmur (Indonesia). This company is saving one of the largest areas of peat swamp forests in Indonesia while offering local populations sustainable income sources.

Anushka Ratnayake, Founder and CEO, myAgro (Senegal). This award-winning organisation is creating village entrepreneurs in 60,000 farmers in West Africa. myAgro creating a unique mobile layaway platform that allows farmers to use their mobile phones to purchase seeds and fertilizer in small increments

Javier Goyeneche, Founder and President, Ecoalf (Spain). This company is revolutionising the fashion industry one plastic bottle at a time. EcoAlf has collected over 500 tonnes of waste from the bottom of the ocean and recycled over 200 million plastic bottles to make high-quality and 100% sustainable fashion products.

Shanti Raghavan, Co-founder and Managing Trustee, EnAble India and Dipesh Sutariya, Co-founder and CEO, EnAble India (India). EnAble India is building the Indian ecosystem of skilling, employment and entrepreneurship for persons with disabilities through technology innovations, breakthroughs in skill trainings, new workplace solutions and behaviour change tools, partnering with 725 companires, 200 BGOs and multiple universities.

Guilherme Brammer Jr, Founder and CEO, Boomera (Brazil). This revolutionary circular economy business brings together industry, academia and environmental agents to turn waste that is difficult to recycle into raw materials or new products.

Jesús Gerena, Chief Executive Officer, Family Independence Initiative (USA). This national centre for anti-poverty innovation offers results-based, community-driven solutions to reducing poverty raising over 100 million USD to help thousands of families in the United States during the COVID-19 crisis.

Azim Sabahat, Chief Executive Officer, Glocal Healthcare Systems (India). In a short time, this company established 12 hospitals, over 250 digital dispensaries and a Telemedicine network spanning 8 countries, delivering low cost healthcare using technology to over 1.5 Mn patients.

Adriana Barbosa, Chief Executive Officer, PretaHub (Brazil). This company empowers the social mobility of Brazil’s Black population by promoting Black entrepreneurship, and addressing structural racism and gender disparities to promote entrepreneurship based on opportunities.

Ashif Shaikh, Founder & Director, Jan Sahas, (India). This revolutionary organisation has empowered millions of migrant workers in India by establishing and providing access to social security delivery system using a mobile app.

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

Prashant Mehra Vice-President, Social Inclusion, Mindtree (India). Prashant spearheaded technology platforms as a public good and capital asset that work at the grassroots level and address market inefficiencies reaching over 2 million people.

Corinne Bazina, General Manager, Danone Communities, Danone (France). Under Corinne Bazina’s, Danone Communities supports 12 social businesses who develop sustainable models that address challenges such as malnutrition, access to water, and overall poverty reduction, across 15 countries and is directly reaching 6 million people every day.

Nicola Galombik, Executive Director, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Catalyst Division, Yellowwoods Holding Sarl (South Africa). Under Galombik’s leadership, this company reaches over 1 million direct beneficiaries, including economically marginalized children, public school students, young work-seekers, and inclusive suppliers in the Yellowwoods business value chains.

Hadi Wibowo,President Director, Bank BTPN Syariah. This is the only bank in Indonesia that focuses on serving productive underprivileged families, also known as the “unbankable” for having neither financial records nor legal documentation. His prior experience in the parent company, Bank BTPN, includes leading Branchless Banking, a financial inclusion initiative. He has reached over 7 million people throughout his work with the unbanked communities.

Social Innovation Thought Leaders:

Recognized experts and champions shaping the evolution of social innovation

Jaff Shen Dongshu, Chief Executive Officer, Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation (People’s Republic of China). Jaff transformed and strengthened the social innovation space in China, partnering with global, domestic, business, academic and social sector partners.

Tse Ka Kui (KK), Co-Founder and Chair, Education for Good CIC Ltd. (Hong Kong SAR). KK is at the helm of many initiatives, projects and partnerships that have helped influence the field of social innovation in Hong Kong, and even taught the first course on social entrepreneurship at Hong Kong University.

Ndidi O. Nwuneli, Co-Founder Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd. & AACE Foods, and Founder of LEAP Africa and Nourishing Africa (Nigeria). Ndidi’s impact on agriculture, nutrition, youth development, and philanthropy sectors across West Africa has been significant given her role in shaping policy, launching ecosystem solutions, and training the next generation of social innovators. Her research and books on scaling social innovation, agriculture and food entrepreneurship, ethics, governance, and succession are widely utilized by entrepreneurs in the region.

Cathy Clark, Faculty Director, CASE (The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship), Duke University (USA). Cathy has helped to define and build impact investing and social entrepreneurship for over 30 years. She is a serial “intrapreneur”, collaborative partner and pioneering influencer.

Public Social Intrapreneurs:

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

Ada Colau i Ballano, Mayor of Barcelona (Spain). Ballano is the first woman to hold the office of the Mayor of Barcelona, as part of the citizen municipalist platform, Barcelona En Comú. Colau was one of the founding members and spokespeople of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages).

Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF Representative to China (People’s Republic of China). Under her leadership, UNICEF Global Innovation has reached millions of at-risk children and youth around the world.

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New Social Compact

Of Here and Now: Pandemic and Society in 2020

Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg

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Photo by E. Dos Santos-Duisenberg : Labirinto de David, Búzios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

After a century, the world population faced a new pandemic that fast spread globally, affecting individuals both physically and mentally. Covid-19 started in late 2019 in Asia, spreading so fast that despite the global connectivity and highly sophisticated information technology and communication systems, the interconnected society of the 21st century was incapable to fast react in order to avoid contagion and prevent the worst. Gradually, the pandemic is making a tour around the globe contaminating citizens even in rural communities from all continents. Worldwide, there have been 32 million confirmed cases with over 1 million deaths during the first 9 months of this year[1].

From this universal pandemic we learned that the interdependent globalized world of 2020 is connected but not synchronized – or as earlier in crisis, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic well-noted ‘world on autopilot’[2]. All scientific, technological and digital knowledge accumulated over centuries remains inept to protect our civilization from an invisible virus that, ironically, can be eliminated with just soap and water. Obviously, the magnitude and the economic, social and cultural impact of this pandemic took humanity by surprise.

Society was already undergoing a deep process of transformation on all fronts. Debates were focused on the fragility of democracy, climate change and sustainability, inequality and inclusion, gender and race, social media and fake news, virtual payments and crypto currencies, artificial intelligence and blockchain. Science, knowledge and technology were advancing at a fast rate in all fieldsincluding genetics, neuroscience and biotechnology. Nevertheless, health-care was not a top priority for public investments or national budgets. Yet, with the eruption of the pandemic, priorities had to be immediately revisited.  A human-centred and inclusive approach became imperative in every corner of the planet. Incontestably, the 2020s is bringing irreversible disruptions.

Lockdown measures and social isolation deprived individuals of free movements, restricting social gatherings and citizen’s mobility. The home-office dismantled solid organizational structures of daily work conviviality. Closure of schools prevented children from accessing formal in-person education, creating a childcare crisis for working parents.  Crowded metropolis became empty urban centres, no shopping, no restaurants and no city life. Cultural festivities and spaces such as theatres, cinemas, and museums had their activities suspended leaving artists, cultural and creative professionals as well as street-vendors out of jobs. Parks and sportive centres became inactive and international tourism ceased.

Conversely, family life became the heart of social order. Parents that were extremely busy with their jobshad to juggle between work and the education of their children. People became less egocentric and started showing more empathy with the needed ones. Solidarity has been manifested in donations and collective assistance by civil society. Companies engaged with social responsibility.  Artists, cultural and creative workers were defied to work even harder at home to find new niches in the virtual domain. The confined society had to rediscover its ethical values, principles and priorities.

Free-time and leisure at present

Paradoxically, this shift in human behaviour brought us back to a theory of economics that emerged a century ago (Ruskin, 1900) “There is no wealth but life”. In this new-old context, free-time, leisure, well-being and culture are closely associated. Usually, we use our free-time to carry out activities that are not directly related to work, duties or domestic occupations. May be free-time is an illusion because only in exceptional occasions our time is completely free. Leisure, however, is a subjective concept which varies depending on the society which we belong. It is connected with our participation in cultural life, reflecting the values and characteristics of a nation. Thus, it can be considered a human right according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and in particular the International Convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural rights (1967).

Despite some divergent definitions of leisure there is convergence around three distinctions: (i) leisure as time; (ii) leisure as activity; and (iii) leisure as a state of mind. Firstly, it is defined as the constructive use of available time. Leisure as a variety of activities includes the practice of sports or actions related to intellectual and human development like reading, painting, gardening etc. and those can be leisure for ones and work for others. Understanding leisure as a state of mind is complex since it depends on individual perceptions about concepts such as freedom, motivation, competency etc. Certain skills can be considered leisure depending on the degree of satisfaction, emotion or happiness it causes. Yet, the most important is the possibility of free will.

Time available for leisure also varies according to cultural, social and even climate considerations. The notion of time can be different in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Europe. Usually people who live in areas of hot climate enjoy outdoor activities and sports while Nordic people whose habitat is in cold weather prefer indoors socialization and hobbies like playing chess, classic music etc. Social leisure embraces communitarian happenings such as going to the beach, practicing sports in a club etc. Behavioural studies indicate the benefits of social leisure for the well-being of individuals, self-esteem and cultural identity[3].

Moments of leisure are essential in all phases of our life. During childhood and adolescence most of our time is devoted to study and sports while at adulthood our time is mostly consumed with work and family. Indeed, it is at senior age that retired people generally have extra free-time to enjoy cultural events, leisure and tourism.  Globally people are living longer and a newage structure is taking shape: the young senior (65-74 years), the middle senior (75-84 years) and the older senior as from 85 years old. According to the United Nations,[4] in 2018 for the first time in history, persons aged 65 years or over outnumbered children under age five. This partially explains the vast number of people in the group of risk requiring quarantine protection throughout the pandemic period.

Well-being and spirituality in pandemic times

During the pandemic, reflections about well-being and spirituality gained space in our minds. It is undeniable that the constraints brought about by lock-down measures and social distancing, offered us more free-time but very limited leisure options. We gained additional time to be closer to loved ones and to do things we like most at home. Enjoying family life, including eating and even cooking together became a shared pleasure and a new leisure style. Individuals had to optimize the quality of their temporarily sedentary lives.  

Global pandemics affect our collective mental health. Given the prevailing health and economic insecurity, the focus of our attention has been on well-being, strengthening friendships, expanding social network, practicing solidarity, improving self-esteem as well as reflecting on spirituality and religion. Suddenly the exuberant society of 2020 is afraid of the unknown virus and its long-term harmful consequences on day-to-day life. Well-being and happiness became the essence of achievable goals.

People are emotionally fragile in this moment of anxiety. Individuals are suffering losses that will persist long after the pandemic will be over.  Some feel stressed or depressed while others react by searching for relief in exercising, relaxation, meditation, yoga or mindfulness training. Individuals are finding new ways to overcome solitude and boost mental resilience. Current philosophical thinking (Harari, 2018) is reminding us that homo sapiens have bodies but technology is distancing us from our bodies[5].

Inspirational talks in likeminded groups have been helpful for reconnecting people dealing with an uncertain future. Social engagement and advocacy for health causes are used for promoting social change. Thus, besides upgrading healthcare systems and putting in place special measures for accelerating economic and cultural recovery, targeted governmental support will be needed to improve mental well-being and raise the overall level of satisfaction and happiness of citizens in the post-crisis.

Culture and e-learning nowadays

In a short period of time, many went from an exciting social and cultural lifestyle to a simple life. People had to assume the role of protagonists of their actions. Due to open-air limitations, free-time activities had to be less physically-intensive (no bike, tennis, jogging etc.), and more creative-oriented such as designing, playing music, writing. Much time has also been spent watching TV series, surfing the internet, viewing live music concerts, video-gaming, attending video-conferences as well as socializing in virtual chats. Equally, there are growing concerns about the ethics of consumer technology and internet addiction “time well spent” (Tristan, 2015)[6].

 A recent study[7] carried out in the UK to track digital cultural consumption during the pandemic, indicates that the median time spent daily watching TV are 4 hours, while listening to music, watching films and playing video games each day are 3 hours respectively. Understanding human behaviour, in particular youth habits can help to indicate new cultural trends and consolidate social cohesion in post-pandemic times. Moreover, policy-makers could consider engaging cultural institutions and employing artists and creatives to help facilitate a collective healing process and kick-start recovery.

It is widely recognized that the arts, culture and creative sectors were hit hard by the pandemic. Whist digital cultural and creative products for home consumption were in high demand, others tangible creative goods like arts, crafts, fashion and design products sharply contracted. Many artists and creatives had no option than to experiment on work in digital spaces, since they had to go global from home.

Despite the fact that 4.5 billion people (60% the global population) use internet[8], the availability of affordable broadband access is a pre-condition to use and benefit from the opportunities provided by digital tools. This applies to both producers and consumers of cultural and creative digital content. Currently, videos account for 80-90% of global digital data circulation, but at the same time Latin America, the Middle East and Africa together represent only around 10% of world data traffic[9]. This evidence points to digital asymmetries that are being aggravated. Creativity only is not enough to transform ideas into marketable creative goods or services if digital tools and infrastructure will not be available.

The pandemic also had a strong impact on education and learning.  Re-thinking education was already a topic on the agenda of many countries in order to respond to the realities of the jobs market in the 2020s.  Besides the need to adapt methodology and pedagogical practices, many believe it is necessary to bring an interdisciplinary and applied approach to curricula with focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)[10], preferably also integrating arts (STEAM). In any case, the education system has been forced to quickly adjust to remote learning. Globally over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom in 186 countries[11]. In Latin America schools are closed and around 154 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 are at home instead of in class[12]. Furthermore, access to school-related inputs is distributed in an unbalanced manner; wealthier students have access to internet and home-schooling while the poorer have not. Young people are losing months of learning and this will have long-lasting effects. The loss for human capital is enormous.

On the positive side, continuous e-learning became a trend and a necessity.  Innovation and digital adaption gave rise to a wide-range of on-line courses. Millions of learners are upgrading their knowledge and skills in different domains through distance learning, whether through language and music apps, video conferences or software learning.  Some are free others have to be paid for, but what is absolutely transformative is that access to knowledge became more democratic.  Independently of age or field of interest, learners from different parts of the world can have access to prestigious universities or practical training.  E-learning, where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms already existed, but demand has sharply increased during pandemic and this might be a point of no return.

Over these critical 9 months, there are growing signs that the 2020s will face a new set of challenges and life will not be back as usual. The future will be very different when compared to the recent past.  Hope and fear are likely to co-exist for a certain time. There are new values, new lifestyles, new social behaviour, new consumption standards, and new ways of working and studying.  The pandemic has imposed a deep ethical and moral re-assessment on society. This turning point is leading to a deep socio-economic renovation and hopefully to a more inclusive and sustainable society.


[1]https://covid19.who.int/

[2]https://www.diplomatic-press.net/ueber-uns/geschichte.html

[3]E. Dos Santos-Duisenberg (2013) – Tempo livre, lazer e economia criativa, Revista Inteligência Empresarial (37), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazilhttp://www.epapers.com.br/produtos.asp?codigo_produto=2455

[4]https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/world-population-prospects-2019-highlights.html

[5]https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons-book/

[6]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_Humane_Technology

[7]https://pec.ac.uk/policy-briefings/digital-culture-consumer-panel

[8]https://internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[9]https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2466

[10]https://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html

[11]https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/

[12]https://blogs.iadb.org/ideas-matter/en/pandemic-and-inequality-how-much-human-capital-is-lost-when-schools-close/

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When Fundamentalists Come to Power, Women Lose

Dr. Elise Rainer

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As the United States mourns the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we find ourselves in crisis over women’s rights in the United States. Justice Ginsburg’s nominated replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, would be a disaster for women’s equality. Legally, Barrett opposes reproductive rights, LGBTI equality, and access to comprehensive health care; personally, she advocates that women should be subservient to their husbands. Barrett, and her ilk, are part of a global trend of religious fundamentalists seeking to dismantle modern egalitarian gender policies.

Barrett, and the majority of conservatives that she will join on the Supreme Court, will be a grave threat to the progress we’ ve made on gender equality in the United States. Here, and around the world, when religious fundamentalists come to power: they roll back women’s rights, degrade human rights standards, exacerbate discrimination, and stoke violence. People may mistakenly believe that women’s rights is on a natural trajectory towards progress in the U.S. and other liberal democracies. Yet, evidence around the globe demonstrates that when religious fundamentalists take power, the human rights of half the population are severely denigrated.

In countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Brazil, and India when religious fundamentalists come to power, progress on women’s rights unraveled. In Iran, before the 1979 revolution, women were doctors, lawyers, university, and political leaders. When religious fundamentalists took power was one of the first issues to attack and repeal was progress for women. Similarly, in Afghanistan, when the mullah’s took power, rollbacks to women’s rights were first. [1] Looking at these two countries today, it is easy to forget the progress that was dismantled. My Afghan friend at the University of Washington recently showed me a picture of her mother and father sitting in a park holding hands in the 1970s in Kabul. The picture could have been taken in London; both of them are wearing summer clothes and holding hands. Less than a decade later, many of their individual liberties, from clothing- choices to public displays of affection, would be banned. In India and Brazil, Prime Minister Modi and President Bolsonaro are part of a growing global trend of national leaders who openly belittle women with little recourse. Worldwide, progress is precarious for women’s rights.

Western societies are not immune from these threats. In Poland and Hungary, leaders have recently closed gender studies departments of national universities; banning classes and research on gender studies.[2] Polish leaders are actively repealing women’s reproductive rights,[3] and established new “LGBT-free zones.”[4] Emboldened by religious doctrine, right-wing leaders re-assert male dominance in national policies.[5] As in the U.S., the current president even jokes about sexual assault towards women.

Women’s rights should not be narrowed to the limited scope of abortion. Maternity leave, political representation, universal childcare, equal pay are all critically important policies for women’s equality. And yet, choice, and reproductive rights can be a barometer for how women are treated in a country. When abortion is illegal, it is the single largest cause of death in countries for women of child bearing age. Leaders have asserted anti-abortion campaigns in Chile and Argentina as a “cultural value”, disregarding the danger for vulnerable women and human cost of not having access to reproductive health care. When abortion is illegal, women die. This may be the reality of American women in the near future, when fundamentalists such as Barrett rise to power.

Women were not ‘given’ the right to vote; they fought for it. Historically, women are not given anything, rather they worked for decades in advocacy, protest, and building public support for progress on an issue, such as equal pay in the work place. [6] As RBG once said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Around the world, women have fought hard for their rights. These rights are often the first targeted when conservatives come to power. American women have lost a lot of ground over the last four years during the Trump Administration. Barrett, and other fundamentalist leaders, could derail decades of progress for women in the United States. I hope readers actively think about how they will vote, and support the local, national, and global battle for women’s equality.

The views in this article are the authors alone and do not reflect the views of any institution.


[1]Ahmed-Ghosh, Huma. “A history of women in Afghanistan: lessons learnt for the future or yesterdays and tomorrow: women in Afghanistan.” Journal of international Women’s Studies 4, no. 3 (2003): 1-14.

[2] Helms, Elissa, and Andrea Krizsan. “Hungarian government’s attack on Central European University and its implications for gender studies in Central and Eastern Europe.” FeminaPolitica–ZeitschriftfürfeministischePolitikwissenschaft 26, no. 2 (2017).

[3]Król, Agnieszka, and Paula Pustułka. “Women on strike: mobilizing against reproductive injustice in Poland.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 20, no. 3 (2018): 366-384.

[4]Korolczuk, Elżbieta. “The fight against ‘gender’and ‘LGBT ideology’: new developments in Poland.” European journal of politics and gender 3, no. 1 (2020): 165-167.

[5]Graff, Agnieszka, RatnaKapur, and Suzanna Danuta Walters. “Introduction: gender and the rise of the global right.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 44, no. 3 (2019): 541-560.

[6]Wade, Michelle, and Susan Fiorentino. “Gender Pay Inequality: An Examination of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Six Years Later.” Advancing Women in Leadership Journal 37 (2017): 29-36.

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Coronavirus and the Female leaders of the World

Sruthi V S

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The entire world is handling the novel coronavirus pandemic. One thing which has emerged in these months is that the countries led by female leaders are handling the pandemic, lockdown and exit strategy of the lockdown better than their male counterparts.

The global Covid 19 pandemic has brought the existing world communities to their knees. According to Johns Hopkins University’s Covid-19 tracker, as of October 14, a total of 38,642,377 Covid 19 cases have emerged across the world. The coronavirus pandemic has affected 1,094,399 lives in the world. Countries across the world imposed lockdown measures to reduce the spread of viruses. Countries are not just dealing with the pandemic but also with the additional crisis brought forward due to the pandemic and  unplanned response to it. which include slower economic growth, unemployment, digital divide, increasing cases of domestic violence, etc.

Let us look at how  some of the female led countries responded to Covid-19-

Angela Merkel – Germany

Germany has witnessed a far lower death rate compared to its neighbours, Italy, France and Spain. A scientist herself, Angela Merkel, considered a variety of different information sources in developing Germany’s coronavirus policy such as South Korea’s successful testing programs,  epidemiological models, etc. Germany’s response to coronavirus began as early as March in which ICU beds were started to be freed up so that the hospitals do not get overburdened like Italy or Spain. As the country’s leader, Angela Merkel herself provided the weekly updates to Germany’s citizens.

Tsai Ing Wen – Taiwan

Under the leadership of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan has recorded 7 deaths due to coronavirus. Taiwan was also hit hard by the previous SARS outbreak, and had used the lessons from that experience to tackle the novel coronavirus. As response to the pandemic, Taiwan implemented quarantine of foreign travellers from Wuhan since December 2019 itself. With increased testing facilities and harnessing technology to connect travellers to community care support management systems, Taiwan has emerged as the global example for other countries.

Mette Frederiksen – Denmark

Denmark’s approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic could be best summarized by saying “Act fast and act with force”. With the first case of Covid 19 on February 27, lockdown measures were taken in March with its borders closing on March 14. Under Mette Frederiksen’s leadership, preventive measures were taken much earlier compared to the UK.

When the coronavirus cases were increasing worldwide in April, Denmark started its systematic plan to bring the country out of lockdown, becoming one of the first European states to announce the gradual and controlled easing of restrictions. As of October 13, Denmark registered its lowest number of new Covid-19 infections for over a month

Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand

New Zealand was one of the country’s to announce lockdown and take this new disease seriously. When the first man outside of China died due to Covid 19 in February, New Zealand started banning entry of people returning from China. Thereafter, the country closed its foreign travel when it had only about 100 cases. On the other hand,

Fast forward, on June 9, it was announced that New Zealand is free of covid 19 and they marked August 9th as the 100th day of virus elimination. With the second wave of coronavirus hitting New Zealand, the country has increased their testing capacity to combat it through effective public communication.

Other countries which have received praise on their handling of coronavirus include Iceland, Finland, Bangladesh, under the leadership of Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Sanna Marin, Sheikh Hasina. Iceland adopted the strategy of aggressive testing and coordinating between various government agencies to enforce quarantine rules and contact tracing. Finland had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe. Finland adopted the approach of not shutting down everything during lockdown and used the lockdown period to amp up its preparedness. Compared to other countries, even though Bangladesh had a higher population density, it fared better than the Philippines and Pakistan in terms of deaths.

Female leaders are handling the coronavirus pandemic better than male leaders

According to the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum’s study, countries led by female leaders are handling the coronavirus far better than their male counterparts. The research paper reasoned that this may be due to “the proactive and coordinated policy responses” adopted by female leaders.

Empathy and decisiveness are the two key traits that have allowed female leaders to succeed through the coronavirus crisis. Empathy allows these leaders to quickly grasp the severity of the situation, while timely decision-making means action is taken quickly. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor of business at Harvard Business School remarks, “Women don’t have a monopoly on these skills, but they might be less likely to let their egos get in the way, or play politics with the crisis.”

More females required in workforce

According to the World Bank, women’s participation in the workforce has dropped since 1995. U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted that more than a third of female 15-to-24-year-olds aren’t in school, jobs or training, more than twice the proportion of their male counterparts.

While these female leaders are inspiring women around the world, there is a long way ahead to reduce the gender gap. Out of 193 countries of the world, 21 countries have a female head of state. The pandemic has not only been a health crisis but also exposed the already existing socio-economic disparities. The United Nations had warned that the pandemic is exacerbating gender inequities. 

The leadership qualities and values shown by the female leaders have the potential to change the perception of leadership itself. This could shape the leadership in future especially with the new challenges coming ahead due to climate change.

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