How supporting social innovators can help drive racial equity

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Cheryl L. Dorsey, President, Echoing Green, Amy Goldman, Chief Executive Officer and Chair, GHR Foundation & François Bonnici, Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship; Head, Social Innovation, World Economic Forum


  • Systemic and structural barriers have long denied access and opportunity for leaders of colour.
  • A roadmap by the COVID Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship aims to dismantle barriers and support innovators addressing racial inequities.
  • By resourcing and amplifying social entrepreneurs of colour, leaders can accelerate innovation, support marginalized communities and take action against racism.

Across economic, social and political measures, COVID-19 has both revealed and amplified the world’s long-standing inequities. By walking alongside Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities worst affected by COVID-19, and as the Movement for Black Lives sparked a global reckoning, we came to recognize how racism is persistent and prevalent in every community, country and continent.

So, as we aim to dismantle racism, and reimagine an equitable post-COVID world, social entrepreneurs of colour deserve our close attention. Social entrepreneurs, by their very definition, are continually finding innovative solutions to societal issues – those not adequately addressed or, perhaps, fully understood by the public or private sector. Their work and trusted vision is vital in tackling the systemic issues that marginalized communities face and offer new models for progress.

Challenges faced by social entrepreneurs

For these leaders of colour, systemic and structural barriers have long denied access and opportunity based on perceived risk, implicit and explicit bias, and unequal power dynamics. When it comes to funding, for instance, persistent barriers to capital slow their growth and put success in jeopardy – from getting connected in the first place to sustaining relationships for ongoing support.

Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Colour Leave Impact on the Table. Source: The Bridgespan Group 2020.
Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Colour Leave Impact on the Table. Source: The Bridgespan Group 2020.

Of course, those closest to the problem have the power of proximity. Already immersed in BIPOC communities and the issues that they face, social entrepreneurs of colour are going to have the best, most thoughtful and relevant solutions to offer. They deeply understand our world’s increasingly multi-cultural, multi-racial contexts and can help shift and renegotiate power in ways that make for more equitable, just and sustainable outcomes for us all. And by amplifying voices from marginalized communities, they are uniquely empowered to own their own narrative.

For example, Afro-Brazilian Adriana Barbosa is a Schwab Foundation Awardee and the founder of Pretahub in Brazil, an event series and platform aiming to boost Black entrepreneurship. The country has roughly 14 million Black business owners, but 82% are not registered in the formal economy. Pretahub acts as an accelerator and incubator of Black initiatives by offering training courses and bringing these entrepreneurs together to exchange experiences and ideas. Through this growing network, Pretahub has opened commercial channels for leaders across the whole of Latin America.

Many of these early-stage leaders recognize that they must harness the power of markets to achieve scale for transformational change. Deanna Van Buren is an Echoing Green Fellow and the co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), an Oakland based nonprofit working to end mass incarceration by harnessing the power of design and development. DJDS works alongside individuals and communities most impacted by the criminal justice system and mass incarceration to co-create spaces of restorative justice and community building. By building infrastructure that promotes economic growth, encourages healing, and transforms systems of oppression, Van Buren is helping tackle the root causes of mass incarceration.

Despite their successes, social entrepreneurs of colour – like Barbosa and Van Buren – face predictable challenges. Even though more than $20 billion was awarded to nonprofits globally in response to the pandemic, 46% of Black-led nonprofits actually saw a decline in their grant funding as a consequence of it. These are prevalent issues worldwide, thus requiring global action.

Dismantling barriers and promoting racial equity

As we aim to work together and restore trust, a roadmap is emerging to dismantle barriers and build a global ecosystem that supports innovators addressing racial inequities. Founded in April 2020, the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship is anunprecedented collaboration between 91 global leaders in social entrepreneurship, representing 100,000 social entrepreneurs and impacting the lives of over 2 billion people. With our network of values-driven business, government and civil society leaders, we are striving to get everyone around the table.

What is the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

The COVID Response Alliance to Social Entrepreneurs – soon to continue its work as the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship – was launched in April 2020 in response to the devastating effects of the pandemic. Co-founded by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship together with Ashoka, Echoing Green, GHR Foundation, Skoll Foundation, and Yunus Social Business.

The Alliance provides a trusted community for the world’s leading corporations, investors, governments, intermediaries, academics, and media who share a commitment to social entrepreneurship and innovation.

Since its inception, it has since grown to become the largest multi-stakeholder coalition in the social enterprise sector: its 90+ members collectively support over 100,000 social entrepreneurs across the world. These entrepreneurs, in turn, have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of an estimated 2 billion people.


Together, they work to (i) mobilize support for social entrepreneurs and their agendas; (ii) take action on urgent global agendas using the power of social entrepreneurship, and (iii) share insights from the sector so that social entrepreneurs can flourish and lead the way in shaping an inclusive, just and sustainable world.

The Alliance works closely together with member organizations Echoing Green and GHR Foundation, as well as the Centre for the New Economy and Society on the roll out of its 2022 roadmap (soon to be announced).

Led by Saadia Zahidi, the Centre for the New Economy and Society has developed the most comprehensive and progressive agenda on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice that the Forum has ever seen. Through strong partnerships with organisations including GHR Foundation, the Centre for the New Economy and Society drives impact on a comprehensive and progressive agenda to embed diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice in the new economy.

Just as this pandemic has shown how interconnected we all are, it has also demonstrated the urgency in deploying those best situated to deliver solutions. By resourcing and amplifying social entrepreneurs of colour, business, government, and civil society leaders stand to accelerate innovation and progress, support communities in new and meaningful ways, and take tangible action against racism. This is the moment to commit to transformative change – we invite you to join us in supporting those already working toward it.

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