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

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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

WHO and Future Frontiers of Global Pandemic Governance

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The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the deep fissures among the countries with regards to governance of the pandemic .The uncoordinated and the haphazard  knee-jerk reactions and policy nostrums is indicative of the abysmal sclerosis of the governance mechanisms of the WHO .While  with the advent of the hyper-nationalism and  kindred predilections  of the countries in  protectionist initiatives global governance across the issue areas has witnessed a diminishing efficacy or outright floundering, it is however in the health issue that the governance mechanism aimed at containing pandemic has unraveled  deplorably.

The global efforts aimed at grappling with the unwieldy virus can be termed as a debacle as the hitherto infrastructure that   framers of institutions have forged had met with outright disregard  in favor with a  harkening back to the 19th century  protectionist attitudes where each country guided by their parochial interest had  jealously guarded national sovereignty in order to safeguard their goals. The countries who were bound together through   the robust bond of globalization had reacted to the pandemic with a spirit that is antithetical to the underlying rationales of globalization .Especially, European nations  had maintained more sophisticated and intricate collective cooperation  and n in effect had spawned a federal European identity. However, during the outbreak of the pandemic they had resorted to measures which is unbecoming of their collective identity and was emblematic of a realpolitik reckoning of state interest.

As with Europe, pandemic had unraveled the prolonged vacuous rhetoric of the country apropos international cooperation and global governance. While United States deem itself as the lone custodian of the liberal world order and underscore the necessity of cooperation in order to safeguard the collective freedom of the country, however at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the turbulent pandemic period the preeminent country in the world had denigrated the global governance efforts in favor of its arm-twisting tactics and notoriously browbeaten India to secure crucial medical supplies. Besides, at the height of the pandemic far from concentrating collective efforts to halt the unceasing onslaught of the pandemic, United States had embroiled in bickering with the China over the origin of the Covid-19 virus and wielded mud-slinging and other measures to denigrate its prime geo-political adversary.

The victims of great powers’ unabashed skirmishes were however the less developed countries who hinge on global governance and collective cooperation in the pressing situation .However ,any consensus had been impeded due to the barrage of recriminations  by both the United States and China. This wrangling had deflected the elite attention from the containment of the pandemic and provided ground for further aggravation of the global pandemic. Moreover, the  reaction of the countries  to the Covid-19 was  haphazard and  had been lacking in any coherent collective will in facing the  pandemic.

The slipshod management of the global health crisis had been a characteristic of WHO despite the fundamental pillar underlying this paramount organization being the management and prevention of the world health crisis. Since its inception, however, WHO had fared miserably in its bid in containment of the numerous public health crisis .The earlier debacle of WHO was marked by dilatory response or unsolicited response. Moreover,  WHO failed to mobilize due response in the face of pressing threats to global health. This is a consequence of the organization’s lack of coordinated effort and deficiency of any coercive capabilities.  While WHO is entrusted with the paramount responsibility of managing international and collective response against public health crisis ,it is however devoid of any mechanism that and aren’t mandated to coerce its constituent states to abide by its regulations. Therefore, WHO and its efforts at countering the health crisis are often rendered futile due to the stubborn attitude of the countries and due to the unwieldy nature of global governance.

Therefore, the efficacy of the paramount institution that has been envisaged in order to shield the world from a disastrous public health crisis is increasingly hamstrung in want of a coordinated and refined mechanism. Against this backdrop, the surfacing of ominous novel variant Omicron has jolted the already fragile economic recovery in the  world and run the risk of wiping the hard-earned gains  in the wake of vaccination efforts. The current woe and resurfacing of the pandemic points towards the callous stance of the developed countries with regards to vaccination. While developed countries had inoculated their domestic population, they however is shilly shallying  about mounting a coordinated global effort in confronting the global pandemic. This has meant that a excruciatingly slow vaccination rate in the African region. The fact that this virus had originated in Africa is indicative of a ominous message and suggest that due to dilatory vaccination  efforts globally bulk of the developing and lower developed countries remain outside the vaccination and the virus are mutating incessantly through these unvaccinated population are growing more virulent .

Moreover, until a substantial percentage of people come under the ambit of vaccination, it will be remain herculean task of extirpating the Covid menace. However, there are paucity of sincere efforts from the has undermined WHO’s overtures aimed at a coordinated vaccination program had faltered due to the callous and apathetic attitude of the developing nations. Besides, the profit-guzzling pharmaceuticals companies had found a windfall of endless profiteering from the plight of pandemic and in effect weaponized pandemic as a means to monopolizing their vaccines and other medical goods and safeguarding this inordinate market dominance under the questionable TRIPs .

Against this backdrop, the world requires   a well-coordinated, hierarchical, top-down and systemic institution with the capacity of the managing the global health crisis with efficiency .Besides, the new governance mechanism need to be modeled on other organizations that wield capacity of sanction and can exert pressure on the government if any country doesn’t abide by its dictates. Besides, rather than inefficacious and toothless organization , an  efficient management of global health crisis is required in order to persuasively deal with the global health crisis. A treaty needs to be formulated with all of the countries entrusting their partial sovereign power to the organization and should abide by the injunction of the organization. Moreover, an overhaul of infrastructure of global health governance is presupposed in order to confront the pressing challenges of the  imminent health crisis.

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New Social Compact

Partnering with persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world

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As the world observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today, we honour the leadership of persons with disabilities and their tireless efforts to build a more inclusive, accessible and sustainable world. At the same time, we resolve to work harder to ensure a society that is open and accommodating of all.

An estimated 690 million persons with disabilities, around 15 per cent of the total population, live in the Asia-Pacific region. Many of them continue to be excluded from socio-economic and political participation. Available data suggests that persons with disabilities are almost half as likely to be employed as persons without disabilities. They are also half as likely to have voted in an election and are underrepresented in government decision-making bodies.  Just about 0.5 per cent of parliamentarians in the region are persons with disabilities. Women with disabilities are even less likely to be employed and hold only 0.1 per cent of national parliament positions.

One of the main reasons behind these exclusions is a lack of accessibility. Public transportation and the built environment in general — including public offices, polling stations, workplaces, markets and other essential structures — lack ramps, walkways and basic accessibility features. Accessibility, however, goes beyond the commonly thought of physical structures. Barriers to access to services and information and communication technology must also be removed, to allow for the participation of persons with diverse types of disabilities, including persons with intellectual disabilities and hearing and vision impairments.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns has exacerbated existing inequalities. Many persons with disabilities face increased health concerns due to comorbidities and were left without access to their personal assistants and essential goods and services. As much of society moved online during lockdowns, inaccessible digital infrastructure meant persons with disabilities could not access public health information or online employment opportunities.

Despite these challenges, persons with disabilities and their organizations were among the first to respond to the immediate needs of their communities for food and supplies during lockdowns in addition to continuing their long-term work to support vulnerable groups.

ESCAP partnered with several of these organizations to support their work during the pandemic. Samarthyam, a civil society organization in India led by a woman with disabilities, has trained many men and women with disabilities to conduct accessibility audits in their home districts. With these skills, they are becoming leaders and advocates in their communities, working towards improving the accessibility of essential buildings everywhere.

Another ESCAP partner, the National Council for the Blind of Malaysia (NCBM), is working to improve digital accessibility by training a group with diverse disabilities in web access auditing, accessible e-publishing and strategic advocacy. NCBM hopes to support participants in forming a social enterprise for web auditing and accessible publishing, creating employment opportunities and enabling persons with disabilities to lead efforts to improve online accessibility.

Women and men with disabilities have been leaders and champions to break barriers to make a difference in Asia and the Pacific. Today, ESCAP launches the report “Disability at a Glance 2021: The Shaping of Disability-inclusive Employment in Asia and the Pacific.” The report highlights some innovative approaches to making employment more inclusive, as well as recommendations on how to further reduce employment gaps. 

Adjusting to a post-COVID-19 world presents an opportunity for governments to reassess and implement policies to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities in employment, decision making bodies and all aspects of society. Accessibility issues impact not only persons with disabilities but also other people in need of assistance, including older persons, pregnant women or those with injuries. Implementing policies with universal design, which creates environments and services that are useable by all people, benefits the whole of society. Governments should mainstream universal design principles into national development plans, not only in disability-specific laws and policies.   

As a global leader in disability-inclusive development for over 30 years, the Asia-Pacific region has set an example by adopting the world’s first set of disability-specific development goals in the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real.” Meeting the Incheon Strategy goals will require governments to intensify their efforts to reduce barriers to education, employment and political participation.

At ESCAP, we know that achieving an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID-19 world will only be possible with increased leadership and participation of persons with disabilities. To build back better — and fairer — we will continue to strengthen partnerships with all stakeholders so together we can “Make the Right Real” for all persons with disabilities.

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New Social Compact

Remote Learning during the pandemic: Lessons from today, principles for tomorrow 

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Education systems around the world reacted to COVID-19 by closing schools and rolling out remote learning options for their students as an emergency response.  New World Bank analysis of early evidence reveals that while remote learning has not been equally effective everywhere, hybrid learning is here to stay.

Going forward, for remote learning to deliver on its potential, the analysis shows the need to ensure strong alignment between three complementary components: effective teaching, suitable technology, and engaged learners.

“Hybrid learning – which combines in-person and remote learning – is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all,” emphasized Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.  “Information technology is only a complement, not a substitute, for the conventional teaching process – particularly among preschool and elementary school students. The importance of teachers, and the recognition of education as essentially a human interaction endeavor, is now even clearer.”

The twin reports, Remote Learning During the Global School Lockdown: Multi-Country Lessons and Remote Learning During COVID-19: Lessons from Today, Principles for Tomorrow, stress that three components are critical for remote learning to be effective:

  • Prioritizing effective teachers: a teacher with high subject content knowledge, skills to use technology, and appropriate pedagogical tools and support is more likely to be effective at remote instruction.
  • Adopting suitable technology: availability of technology is a necessary but not sufficient condition for effective remote learning.
  • Ensuring learners are engaged: for students to be engaged, contextual factors such as the home environment, family support, and motivation for learning must be well aligned.

The reports found that many countries struggled to ensure take-up and some even found themselves in a remote learning paradox: choosing a distance learning approach unsuited to the access and capabilities of a majority of their teachers and students.

“Emerging evidence on the effectiveness of remote learning during COVID-19 is mixed at best,” said Cristóbal Cobo, World Bank Senior Education and Technology Specialist, and co-author of the two reports. “Some countries provided online digital learning solutions, although a majority of students lacked digital devices or connectivity, thus resulting in uneven participation, which further exacerbated existing inequalities. Other factors leading to low student take-up are unconducive home environments; challenges in maintaining children’s engagement, especially that of younger children; and low digital literacy of students, teachers, and/or parents.”

“While pre-pandemic access to technology and capabilities to use it differed widely within and across countries, limited parental engagement and support for children from poor families has generally hindered their ability to benefit from remote learning,” stressed Saavedra.

Despite these challenges with remote learning, this can be an unprecedented opportunity to leverage its potential to reimagine learning and to build back more effective and equitable education systems. Hybrid learning is part of the solution for the future to make the education process more effective and resilient. 

The reports offer the following five principles to guide country efforts going forward:

Ensure remote learning is fit-for-purpose. Countries should choose modes of remote learning that are suitable to the access and utilization of technology among both teachers and students, including digital skills, and that teachers have opportunities to develop the technical and pedagogical competencies needed for effective remote teaching. 

Use technology to enhance the effectiveness of teachers. Teacher professional development should develop the skills and support needed to be an effective teacher in a remote setting.

Establish meaningful two-way interactions. Using the most appropriate technology for the local context, it is imperative to enable opportunities for students and teachers to interact with each other with suitable adaptations to the delivery of the curriculum.

Engage and support parents as partners in the teaching and learning process. It is imperative that parents (families) are engaged and supported to help students access remote learning and to ensure both continuity of learning and protect children’s socioemotional well-being.

Rally all actors to cooperate around learning. Cooperation across all levels of government; as well as partnerships between the public and private sector, and between groups of teachers and school principals; is vital to the effectiveness of remote learning and to ensure that the system continues to adapt, learn, and improve in an ever-changing remote learning landscape.

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