Impact Entrepreneurs: Building solutions for a post-COVID-19 world

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Co-authored by Gabriela Gandel, Chief Executive Director, Impact Hub network.

How are these times – in spite of the pain and difficulty we all face – an impetus to our socio-economic transformation towards a more just and sustainable society?

On our planet, we’ve created an economic system based on continually producing and pushing surpluses, one that is fueled by relentless consumption and extraction. But enter a different world: the world of social enterprise, motivated by entrepreneurs and SMEs seeking to create value from solutions that address real social and environmental needs, with healthy food, clean energy, social cohesion, inclusive education and more. These solutions cover all SDGs and apply circular economy practices, driving inclusion of vulnerable groups, encouraging sustainable consumption and using new governance or financial models that put impact first. The Impact Hub network provides an enabling infrastructure for over 16,000 entrepreneurs and innovators in more than 55 countries who are tackling societal issues through such initiatives. These entrepreneurs – and our many allies from foundations to banks, from activists to corporates, from civil servants to artists and “techies” – are important contributors to sustainable and inclusive economic development and job creation.

Due to the restrictions on the gathering of people, the physical operations of many Impact Hubs are temporarily closed, yet our entrepreneurial communities and our support activities have moved online to keep these communities connected and supported with knowledge, tools and expertise. Our members' activities are also affected –some, like African Clean Energy, can’t access their supply chains or support their customers due to the heavy travel restrictions; others, like Powwercoders, have managed to take their curriculum online and keep migrants supported. All fear for their future, given that SMEs – accounting for 50% of global jobs and 23-61% of national GDPs – are particularly vulnerable in times of economic distress. At the same time, we are all convinced that our entrepreneurs and partners are well positioned to help shape a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. We see a clear window of opportunity in this global momentum. 

We are starting to understand that this is the monsoon, and not just a rainy day. The post COVID-19 recovery period will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leapfrog towards a new economy – one in which our individual and planetary health takes a front seat. While current times have put most Impact Hubs and entrepreneurs under immense pressure, we believe that our experience over the past 15 years in building impact-first entrepreneurial solutions and inclusive jobs through cross-border collaboration, business model innovation and resilient community-building represents an essential contribution to a post-COVID-19 world.

If  support for social innovators and impact entrepreneurs does not materialise, the social and intellectual capital of existing support infrastructure will be lost during the crisis. It will take years to rebuild it, making the economic recovery even more difficult. Small and medium businesses are a critical source of key innovative solutions to the major social and environmental issues we face. 

Read the OECD's COVID-19 Policy Responses on Labour and Employment and a brief on SMEs

Our sector and the jobs it creates are already severely affected. The most at risk are those that serve vulnerable communities or that are led by entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds. Entrepreneurs and innovators need to be supported in adjusting their business models to a very unpredictable context, preserving as many jobs as possible and getting access to key financial and technological support infrastructure. 

We call on philanthropists, business leaders and the public sector to demonstrate leadership and approach the post-COVID-19 economic recovery in a transformed way. Direct forms of support may include joint programmes, through COVID-19 support systems, direct emergency financing to enable policy development and supporting business by purchasing from local impact enterprises. As champions of the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool developed by the OECD and the European Union, Impact Hub can work with you in our geographies. Let’s ensure that the eventual economic recovery promotes a more inclusive, sustainable and just economy for all instead of reiterating unhealthy patterns of the past.

Gabriela Gandel is Executive Director of the Impact Hub network. Tatiana Glad is co-founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, and chair emeritus of the Impact Hub network board. Both were contributors to the OECD Forum 2019 sessions “Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Matching Ends & Means”, “Building a Societal Contract for the World” and “Entrepreneurship With A Cause”.

Impact Hub is one of the world’s largest networks focused on building entrepreneurial communities for impact at scale — home to the innovators, the dreamers and the entrepreneurs who are creating tangible solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

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Tackling COVID-19 Entrepreneurship Sustainable Development Goals CEO Activism

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Go to the profile of Tatiana Glad

Tatiana Glad

Co-Founder and Director, Impact Hub Amsterdam

Tatiana Glad is an entrepreneur, sustainability practitioner and change strategist working across sectors and cultures with a focus on impact entrepreneurship, innovation & sustainability, and the next generation. Tatiana is co-founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, chair emeritus of the global Impact Hub Association Board, and co-founder of social enterprise Waterlution. Tatiana is Canadian, based in Amsterdam.

2 Comments

Go to the profile of Markus Besch
Markus Besch about 1 month ago

Thank you Tatiana and Gabriela for that post and your thoughts. I can share this and either hope that we see a different economical ecosystem as a result out of this pandemie. At least the chance is well. But there are so many forces out there with still a lot of money, that might have another interest. We will see, and do our best to develop it in a much more meaningful direction.
Markus

Go to the profile of Tatiana Glad
Tatiana Glad about 1 month ago

Thanks Markus for your solidarity and commitment to living into that new economy!