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Let’s be clear. The world is falling behind on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, the 2022 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers Report shows us that nearly every one of the 17 goals is off track, and the figures tell a difficult story.
23% of children under five have stunted growth, a direct result of malnutrition; the proportion of children who cannot read and understand a simple text by the age of 10 is now 70% in low and middle-income countries; and climate change remains the biggest existential threat to us all.
The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report warned that more than three billion people already live in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to climate breakdown with half the global population now experiencing severe water scarcity for at least part of the year. In many areas, severe changes and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement of people in Africa, Asia, North, Central and South America, and the South Pacific.
Also on the Forum Network: Rural Routers: How digital technology can improve equity in health care by Marilyn Serafini, Julia Harris & Sabah Bhatnagar
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has emerged as an important way to improve the distribution of the health care workforce. BPC research finds that three programmes leveraging digital technology can make a meaningful difference where workforce shortages are significant, particularly in rural areas.
I know the scale of these challenges can seem overwhelming and it is beyond doubt that we need new ideas and fresh perspectives. But the reason I remain an optimist is that I know that we have them.
Take green finance. In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act is accelerating climate tech startups with a massive $369 billion in funding for everything from solar power and electric buses, to help to retrofit homes. In the European Union, one-third of the €1.8 trillion investment from the NextGenerationEU Recovery Plan and the EU’s seven-year budget will finance the European Green Deal. And China has allocated $607m for its 2022 renewable power subsidy and plans to have renewable energy account for 35% of its electricity consumption by 2030.
By supporting social innovators, multinational corporations can learn about new business models, become more purposeful, and start to build bridges to new groups of customers around the world.
We can expect more supportive green finance regulations in the near future, and more monetary and fiscal spending to meet the climate goals. Impact startups alone raised $66B in investments last year and there are now 193 impact-related unicorns globally. But there is much more work to do to increase the diversity of founders who are funded.
Empowering technology-enabled social entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurs and impact tech start-ups matter now more than ever. Purpose-driven social enterprises, which measure success by the good they do rather than the profits they make, have been on the front line in addressing the SDGs whether that is reducing inequality, responding to a health pandemic, or mitigating the impact of climate change.
To fully leverage their unique expertise – and mobilise their trusted relationships with disadvantaged communities around the world – we can supercharge their impact through technology.
By equipping them with the best digital tools and strategic planning on digital transformation, we have an opportunity to help transform their operations, empower their clients and take the impact of the social economy to new heights.
This is why Microsoft launched the Entrepreneurship for Positive Impact initiative at the ChangeNOW Summit in Paris last year. It was born out of our recognition that we can help Positive Impact Entrepreneurs change the world faster by empowering them through our tech intensity, our employees and our global ecosystem of customers and partners.
Entrepreneurship for Positive Impact is focused on unleashing the potential of two types of changemakers: social entrepreneurs and impact tech startups and we have already welcomed over 900 changemakers into our program who work across an incredible 64 countries. Their solutions cover crucial aspects of the UNSDGs and the business environmental, social, and governance (ESG) framework. By using our cloud and AI technologies, they are already vastly scaling their capabilities.
For instance, we’ve been able to partner with diverse stakeholders to scale impactful grassroots change such as Nigerian start-up ICE Commercial Power. On a good day, half of the Nigerian population will receive no more than 3 to 4 hours of electricity. This impacts so many small businesses, the engine of all our national economies. Emmanuel Ekwueme co-founded ICE to find a solution to this problem and connect the unconnected through clean, affordable micro-utilities, powered by the Microsoft Azure Cloud. This incredible operation takes a unique approach by training young people to bring green energy to their own communities with a target of upskilling 10,000 youth and connecting over 100,00 businesses to clean energy by 2025. And we are working with hundreds of organizations like ICE, to help scale and accelerate positive innovation, with Microsoft resources and technology.
For large companies, linking up and helping social enterprises with their needs is not only the right thing to do – it is also the smart thing to do. By supporting social innovators, multinational corporations can learn about new business models, become more purposeful, and start to build bridges to new groups of customers around the world. More than that, they can bring the most powerful new and emerging technologies like AI.
While social enterprises may have energy and talent in abundance, solving economic, societal and environmental challenges requires synergy between the right technology, partners and people.
By partnering with Fundación Capital, a Colombian-based international organization dedicated to eradicating poverty and promoting financial inclusion, Microsoft is helping them to leverage our cutting-edge technology whilst increasing the economic prospects of more than six million people – mainly women and youths living in poverty. Through collaboration with policymakers, banks and other stakeholders in 18 countries, their digital tools are improving the productivity and financial health of individuals, micro small businesses as well as children and students. We have been able to leverage our eco-system of partners and customers through the dedicated support from Microsoft’s senior employees to help increase the social impact of not only Fundación Capital, but of Microsoft as well.
While social enterprises may have energy and talent in abundance, solving economic, societal and environmental challenges requires synergy between the right technology, partners and people. Only by empowering them with the right tools and partnerships can they build and develop their operations to deliver social value globally.
Business cannot - and does not - exist in a vacuum and we should all live by the principle that we only do well when the world does well.
Learn more about OECD's work on Social entrepreneurship & Social enterprises
Social entrepreneurship is the process through which specific types of actors – the “social entrepreneurs” – create and develop organisations that may be either social enterprises or other types of organisations. It also designates a field including a broad set of initiatives with a social impact dimension in a spectrum ranging from for-profit to non-profits.