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Build Back Better: Why we all need to become Changemakers and join the Social Economy

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” Socrates

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed susceptibilities within businesses, systems, supply chains, communities, our economy and our environment. In this week’s blog as part of my series, Build Back Better: Why We all Need to Become Changemakers, I’m looking at how, by building a social economy, putting people and planet centre stage we can create a resilient, sustainable system to withstand any shocks the future may bring.

Covid-19 has demonstrated the interconnectedness of our natural, social and economic systems, and has given us a wake-up call showing unequivocally what results from short-term thinking and not creating for people and planet. Reality has bitten back hard and for businesses, it’s clear that building back better is about much more than corporate social responsibility or tokenistic promises. It is about aligning our economy, our businesses, our activities and our values with the natural and social systems on which they depend.

Previously I have written and talked about my decade long research on changemakers, with 200 featured in my book Generation Share. As I have revealed in earlier blogs, changemakers have 6 key attributes. The first attribute is the ability to share and collaborate. So how can we as businesses, citizens and communities use these traits and insights to ensure we build back better?

Build Back Better Through Sharing and Collaboration

In the last six months, we’ve seen organisations such as the World Economic Forum launched campaigns such as The Great Reset.

In the UK, a network of organisations, teachers, healthcare workers and young people led by Green New Deal UK have come together to create a Coronavirus recovery plan that Builds Back Better.

The We Mean Business initiative is a global non-profit coalition working with some of the world’s most influential businesses to take action on climate change. Working to catalyse business leadership they aim to drive policy and accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

The changemaker trend of sharing and collaboration pre-dates the pandemic of course and the need to work collectively to solve our pressing global problems has been on the rise over the last decade. In August 2019, members of The Business Roundtable an American association of CEOs announced a redefinition of corporate purpose to benefit all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. The statement, signed by 181 CEOs states:

"Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country." The idea of mission driven businesses – or enterprises that share responsibility, resources and opportunities has been an important growing trend. Previously I have written about how businesses can no longer focus solely on profit and how those who do will simply not survive.

B Corps or ‘benefit corporations’ are businesses that balance purpose and profit. They have a legal obligation to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the planet.

With B Corps now in more than 50 countries worldwide, they represent a community of leaders driving a global movement of people who use business as a force for good. These businesses understand that society’s biggest challenges cannot be solved by governments and charities alone.

The COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs is a new collaboration between over 50 global organizations to support social entrepreneurs in sharing knowledge, experience and responses to alleviate suffering and advance new models of change for a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable world.

Alliance members currently support more than 15,000 social entrepreneurs and help 1.5 billion people in over 190 countries who are working to serve the needs of excluded, marginalized and vulnerable groups – many of whom have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

We know that the COVID-19 crisis is testing companies’ commitment to social purpose. A six-country consumer survey published by Fleishman-Hillard showed that 89% of consumers said they expect employers to be generous and creative in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on their workers and understand the need for shared responsibility.

Social economy organisations and social enterprises – or as I often refer to them - ‘sharing businesses’ have always put social and environmental concerns at the heart of their business models, prioritising social impact over profit.

Driven by a mission of serving the common good, protecting society and the environment, they exist to increase individual, community and natural welfare by organising their activities differently, sharing resources, responsibility and opportunity.

In the wake of the pandemic, we can all learn something from the sector.

Increasingly, these ‘sharing businesses' are making a significant contribution to the economy. In Europe there are 2.8 million social economy entities, accounting for, over 6.3% of employment. The social economy has also been shown to be resilient in economic downturns. Following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, in countries such as Italy and Belgium, employment in the private sectors decreased sharply during the period 2008-2010, whilst employment in social enterprises grew by 11.5% in Belgium and 20.1% in Italy. In France, between 2000 and 2014, employment in the social economy registered significant and continuous growth of 25%, whilst employment growth in the private sector was much lower at just 6%.

According to Social Enterprise UK, for every £100,000 of turnover, social enterprises create three jobs, compared with two-thirds of a job in the private sector. Social enterprise employment is concentrated in more deprived communities, creating disproportionately more jobs there. 30% of the total jobs created, help to keep money circulating in low income communities.

Social enterprises usually target job creation for those who are furthest from the labour market, with 40% actively seeking to employ people with disabilities, care leavers, ex-offenders, the homeless and veterans. Social enterprises are also good employers, with more than 75% paying the living wage to all staff, and they are more likely to provide training than traditional businesses.

So what can we learn from these changemakers who are not only building back better, but who have a history of putting people and planet first by creating resilient, sustainable, purposeful organisations that know the benefit of sharing and collaboration?

Changemakers Building Back Better

Masques-Coronavirus Brussels is a partnership between two Brussels based social enterprises EcoRes and Travie, who joined forces to meet the urgent demand for masks for frontline health care personnel. EcoRes is a sustainable innovation lab who specialise in the circular economy, while Travie is a work integration social enterprise that employs people with disabilities. With the support of the Brussels-Capital Region, a collaborative and decentralised production line of masks was established.

Students from a professional fashion design school designed the mask pattern and conducted a tutorial on the design; mask kits were pre-cut and prepared by Travie and the kits were delivered by the social enterprise Urbike to a network of volunteering citizens who sewed the masks to quality standards. More than 2,000 people were involved and produced 240,000 reusable masks for frontline caregivers in just six weeks.

PichaEats is a Malaysian based catering company that pivoted its business model not only for its own financial survival but to continue its mission of empowering and providing a sustainable living for refugees and asylum seekers. The organization trains refugees as professional chefs and supports them with menus, packaging, marketing and delivery logistics. When lockdowns in Malaysia caused catering orders to disappear, PichaEats launched a sponsorship program supported by impact investors, social entrepreneurs and corporate donor to enable refugees to cook from home and deliver meals to front-line workers and people who have lost their jobs. To date, close to 15,000 meals in nearly 20 communities have been distributed.

In Spain, La Bolsa Social (Social Stock Exchange), an equity crowdfunding platform, used its platform to create a collective and participatory investment vehicle, in partnership with the other investors, to support start-ups working on solutions to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, a personal favourite -- Who Gives a Crap

a social enterprise started by Simon Griffiths, Jehan Ratnagtunga and Danny Alexander in 2012 when they discovered that 2.3 billion people across the world didn't have access to a toilet -- the equivalent to 40% of the global population. For these social entrepreneurs, that meant that around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation or almost 800 children per day, or one child every two minutes.

They thought that was pretty crap, so decided to set up a toilet paper company which shares half its profits to build toilets for those who need them. If you haven’t seen their hilarious crowdfunding campaign video – it’s worth a watch.

During the pandemic, they’ve seen demand for toilet paper in the UK jump to 20 times higher than usual and given their sharing changemaker model, that’s helping to reduce those childhood deaths due to lack of sanitation.

Time to Reboot

The scale of the challenge to rethink and reboot our society and economy cannot be underestimated. The United Nations has made a global call for everyone to build back better and it will take a shared effort for us to succeed. Climate change is a present threat to human lives, health and the economy at large. The emergence of the new threat of Covid-19, does not reduce or eliminate the human and economic risks of the ongoing climate crisis, and many of the same most vulnerable populations will be hardest hit by both.

But examples of innovation and positive action are everywhere if we look for them. I’ve long believed and written about the idea that to change the world we need to change the narrative. As business owners, leaders, workers, individuals and communities, if we can rise to the challenge, take on the enormous but necessary task of stepping up to be changemakers, then we have a chance to build back better and create a world that not only has a chance of survival but that will be worth living in.

For more inspiration and transformational stories of changemakers worldwide, check out my book Generation Share, recently voted Top Isolation Read for a Positive Future by Forbes.

If you are a company who needs help to become a changemaker business or you are looking for an inspiring keynote for your event, email me or join the conversation on Twitter #changemakers @benitamatofska

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