6 ways social innovators are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

wheel chairs

(Kelvin Ang, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: François Bonnici, Head of Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum & Pavitra Raja, Community Specialist, Social Entrepreneurs – Europe and the Americas, World Economic Forum


  • The COVID-19 pandemic increases the need for social innovations to help those most vulnerable.
  • Here are six examples of social innovators creating solutions, from communicating facts, offering telehealth services and creating microfinance loans.

Social innovators, disruptors in the service of others in situations where traditional actors or the market have failed, are needed more than ever in the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true as the health and economic impacts hit the excluded, vulnerable and those in the informal economy the hardest.

From creating biometric identification systems to developing innovative ways to deliver microfinance loans, here are six innovative ways Schwab Foundation social innovators are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

Innovative social entrepreneurs are addressing the world’s most serious challenges ranging from illiteracy to girls’ education and disaster relief. To achieve maximum impact and start to address root causes, they need greater visibility, credibility, access to finance, favourable policy decisions, and in some cases a better understanding of global affairs.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is supporting more than 350 late-stage social entrepreneurs. By providing an unparalleled global platform, the Foundation’s goal is to highlight and expand innovative models of social innovation. It helps strengthen and grow the field of social enterprise by showcasing best-in-class examples, models for replication and cutting-edge research on social innovation.

Our global network of experts, partner institutions, and World Economic Forum constituents and business members are invited to nominate outstanding social entrepreneurs. Get in touch to become a member or partner of the World Economic Forum.

1. Making facts easily accessible

Fundación Capital in Colombia is a social enterprise that works to improve the financial lives of people living in poverty around the world. It designs and delivers solutions that make families more economically resilient, working with governments and financial institutions to co-create economic and productive opportunities. Leveraging digital technologies, research, and a growing network of stakeholders, it works to improve systems and change lives.

Fundación Capital has realigned its chatbots and virtual assistants to provide assistance and information to the most vulnerable population on official government information; crisis management; practical advice and preventive measures in physical and psychological health: and financial resilience – managing finances in times of crisis.

Image: World Health Organization

2. Developing telehealth services

AlTibbi is a digital-health platform in the Middle East and North Africa region, that aims to present reliable, up-to-date and simplified medical information to users in the region in Arabic. The website features thousands of medical articles, a medical glossary, a section that is dedicated to questions and answers, the latest news in medicine, telehealth services and consultations with certified doctors.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and sponsored by Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Altibi has launched a Corona dedicated hotline that is accessible to all Jordanians. By dialing 111, users can get connected to certified doctors. If a person is experiencing flu-like symptoms or has general concerns, they can obtain a medical assessment from the comfort of their own home without putting themselves or others at risk.

 

3. Scaling community-based screening

As frontline workers play an important role in the COVID-19 response, there is a growing demand for digital platforms to support community-based efforts. To help meet this need, Dimagi, based in the US, is giving pro bono subscriptions to its an open-source mobile data platform, CommCare, to all COVID-19 response applications through May 2021. Dimagi has also provided a comprehensive description of how CommCare can help with COVID-19 response, including helping with surveillance, case management, contact tracking and laboratory data management.

A key challenge in the pandemic response in low-resource areas is the inability to identify patients, track cases, or maintain disease surveillance. In such areas, biometric digital identities can be a game-changer for pandemic control. Simprints has successfully deployed its biometric patient ID system with health workers in 12 countries and is adding a contactless mode that has demonstrated high levels of accuracy in field tests across sub-Saharan Africa. Accelerated development could see it ready for partners to use in the response to COVID-19 in the coming months.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

4. Focusing on the most vulnerable

Senior Citizen Home Safety Association (SCHSA) is a self-financing social enterprise and charitable organization in Hong Kong that offers 24-hour personal care and emergency assistance services to the elderly, a high-risk group during this pandemic, and others in need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SCHSA is donating and delivering masks and related cleansing material to underprivileged aged people.

5. Prioritising mental health and well-being

Crisis Text Line is a global not-for-profit organization that provides free confidential crisis intervention via SMS message. In moments, one could be connected and receive support from a trained counsellor online. The organization’s services are available 24 hours a day, every day, throughout the US, UK and Canada.

Being quarantined at home with an abuser is a terrible reality some people will face. In response, Crisis Text Line is particularly bracing itself for an increased volume of support for those in situations of child abuse and domestic violence conversation. (Find resources to seek help here.)

6. Protecting livelihoods

Fundación Paraguaya (FP), the first microfinance institution in Paraguay, started in 1995, pioneering financial literacy and entrepreneurial education in Paraguay and adapting junior achievement methodologies to underprivileged youths. During the COVID-19 pandemic, FP is developing new ways to deliver microfinance loans to those who are extremely poor and vulnerable and has been able to reach more than 3,500 village banks and 70,000 microenterprises.

FP has modified its loan conditions and simplified the conditions for its village banks to borrow money and its savings requirements, allowing borrowers to defer their payments without any penalties, implementing phone banking options, and offering borrowers refinancing options. It has also replaced its financial literacy training programs for distance-learning Dengue Fever with COVID-19 awareness classes, as well as classes on understanding fake news.

In times like these, we need social innovators even more – as they are already embedded and empower communities and are responsive with solutions – and they are adapting to the immediate needs of the people they serve.

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