2021: The year to support and scale social enterprises through partnerships
Published on: 03/02/2021
Authored by Clive Allison, Global Sustainability Director at Unilever
This year marks a renewed focus on progress and problem solving – whether you’re setting personal resolutions or business targets and strategies. And from the disruption of the past year, we can collectively agree on one thing: sustainability should be front of mind for all.
Working together, through mutually beneficial partnerships between business and society, is the best way to generate positive, sustainable change. This isn’t a short-term outlook: doing business in a different way – a way that is better for all involved – is a long-term, future facing movement that’s here to stay.
When social enterprises and multinational corporations come together, real change happens at scale. Social enterprises have always been one of the most effective ways to deliver impact and create jobs, yet the economic and social disruption of COVID-19 has put these businesses at risk.
For the hundreds of millions of people around the world who live in low-income communities, social enterprises provide crucial services such as healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene provision, and access to the products they need. These businesses also provide critical livelihoods to support families in areas where other opportunities are few and far between. Social enterprises are well known for creating jobs for vulnerable populations, including those from socially and economically disadvantaged communities, as well as providing enhanced opportunities for women.
The unrivalled innovation, local know-how and presence, and a focus on addressing real low-income household needs means that social enterprises are key to successfully recovering from the COVID-19 crisis and building back better. At the same time, halting the spread of the pandemic in low-and middle-income countries is a challenge in itself, with many on-the-ground social enterprises and organisations best placed to respond to the crisis having been significantly disrupted themselves.
In reality, we face the possibility of losing an entire generation of social enterprises, and the crucial impact they can deliver now and in the future.
Blending together business, government and civil society, with each player leveraging their respective strengths, is crucial in supporting social enterprises to ensure that some of the world’s most vulnerable communities are protected. This is why we created the multi-stakeholder TRANSFORM Survive & Thrive initiative to help support the social enterprises that need it most.
We’ve supported several enterprises so far including Maya: a business that provides digital access to doctors and healthcare experts in Bangladesh. By providing Maya with the ability to increase their digital marketing and create affordable subscriptions the enterprise was able to reach those in urgent need of health information, who were unable to access it via usual routes due to the pandemic. Maya increased its capability to meet the rapidly rising demand, reduced subscription prices, and increased marketing activity.The importance of designing with and for the community. Technology is key but needs to be integrated with sensitivity to effectively meet local needs and capabilities.
Reaping the rewards of partnerships and enterprises
Bridging gaps – whether in resource or reach – can only reap rewards for enterprises with constrained resources and operating in challenging environments. In practice, this may involve helping businesses to strengthen their digital capabilities, or focusing on hygiene products and services to serve COVID-19 specific consumer needs. Partnerships can provide tools and resources from world-leading organisations, enable collaboration on projects and encourage social businesses to learn from each other.
Social enterprises are key to solving some of the world’s most persistent social and environmental development challenges. In supporting them with networks, expertise and funding, we can harness the power of markets to deliver exceptional growth and the impact the world needs to see.
We’re now on the lookout for public, private, and non-profit organisations to join the TRANSFORM Survive & Thrive platform to help social enterprises re-build a brighter future for all. Please Get in touch if this sounds of interest to you.
Related impact stories
- Providing rural communities with access to disinfectant and hand sanitizerActiveThrough introducing new products, Spring Health was able to strengthen their customer base, diversify their income stream, and increase awareness.
Providing safe water to urban slum communitiesActiveSJP provides affordable sanitation and water facilities to underserved and low-income communities in Dhaka’s slums.
Ensuring access to clean drinking water during the pandemicActiveAs the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, TRANSFORM Survive & Thrive is helping Folia and BRAC to increase access to clean drinking water for low-income consumers in rural Bangladesh.