Social entrepreneurs play a key role in shaping post-pandemic world; technology a key driver in accelerating the pace of systemic change
Singapore, 17 March 2021 – Ashoka, the world’s largest network of changemakers and social
entrepreneurs, today published its annual Emerging Insights Report 2021, uncovering the roles, urgent
challenges and opportunities that social entrepreneurs face in driving systemic change and creating largescale impact in today’s context. Titled Technology & Humanity, the report was developed alongside The
Changemaker Journey, a $600,000USD capacity-building pilot program led by Ashoka and funded by
Google.org, benefitting 28 non-profit organizations from India, Indonesia and Singapore. Key report findings
were discussed this afternoon at the Asian Development Bank Symposium 2021, in a session exploring
holistic ecosystems for economic recovery in Southeast Asia.
In the face of Covid-19, the need for social entrepreneurs to act as first responders to tackle the emergency
in underserved communities has grown increasingly apparent. As governments concentrate on mitigating
the highest-level health and economic crises, social entrepreneurs – leaders who are passionate about
addressing social problems at its root – have mobilised in droves to develop ground-up solutions, with the
goal of flattening the disproportionate impact on the economically and socially disadvantaged.
Set against this backdrop, the report identifies a set of key barriers preventing the widespread impact of
social entrepreneurship today that, if removed, can set in motion true systems and framework change.
● Collaboration and equal representation
At present, only 28% of social entrepreneurs from the report study enjoy active partnerships, with
50% anticipating a need for collaborations with international foundations, policy makers and
technology corporations within the next five years, for a chance to exponentially increase the impact
of their work. This is echoed by the glaring lack of access to decision makers, as authoritative
bodies fail to recognize social entrepreneurs as essential partners to champion innovative
breakthroughs based on citizen science rather than tried-and-tested solutions.
● Access to funding and infrastructure
In order to drive systemic change, the majority of social entrepreneurs’ operating models are nonprofit based, and financial viability is key to social entrepreneurs embarking and expanding on
missions. While about half of the social organizations spend between $5,999USD and
$499,999USD in operating costs, 42% require at least half a million or more dollars to stay afloat.
The pursuit of funding also comes with significant pressure to perform, with the weight of delivering
visibly high returns eclipsing the pursuit of efforts that can effect true social change.
● Transparency and talent
Increasingly, social entrepreneurs are prioritising technologies that use data ethically when
deciding which ones to use. In today’s context where new technologies are outpacing regulatory
development, more transparency and accountability from providers is needed. At the same time,
with more and more social enterprises relying on digital tools and skills, many are impacted by the
tendency for talent to gravitate toward big technology companies. Attracting creators, engineers
and designers is an uphill challenge for smaller not-for-profit players with the flow of resources and
capital staying largely outside the ecosystem of social entrepreneurs.
The Way Forward
To close the gaps and enable social entrepreneurs to help their communities build better, the report calls
for the mobilization of greater support from influential players around the world, including governing bodies,
funders, investors, corporations and supporting intermediaries. With the establishment of new pathways for
success, social entrepreneurs can innovate solutions to address the cascading impacts of global and
national emergencies across communities at a far quicker pace.
The first step to eliciting change is putting a seat at the table for social entrepreneurs. To drive systems
change – change that addresses the root causes of social problems that are often intractable and embedded
in networks of cause and effect – those who understand the system have to lead the mandate. This demands
that a more representative population be consulted, if not put in charge. New actors, like the youth, must
be recognized as powerful and resourceful, and diverse voices in society must be listened to and be
encouraged to participate actively where decisions are made, funds are allocated, and policies are shaped.
The Changemaker Journey, aimed at enabling social entrepreneurs in the region to connect, co-learn and
co-create new frameworks and system-change, is a step towards accelerating solutions for positive social
change. To build an ecosystem of senior advisors invested in supporting the skills development of social
entrepreneurs to inspire more effective ways of creating systems-level change, beneficiaries also gained
access to mentors consisting of Googlers and consultants from Kearney and Accenture between April to
November in 2020.
Sumitra Pasupathy, Global Partnerships Leader for Ashoka and the Program lead for The Changemaker
Journey, said, “The cataclysmic impact of the pandemic on civil society laid bare the reality that the world’s
systems are fragile. Social entrepreneurs working in their home countries and in the furthest regions of
earth experienced firsthand the upending of existing economic and social structures, and it was clear that
intervening for underserved communities in a time of chaos was not just about helping them tide through
the tragedy, but finding solutions to create real systemic change. The Changemaker Journey was an
incredible initiative that gave social entrepreneurs the opportunity to assess the current situation and rethink
ways of working to serve immediate needs with greater effectiveness. With the support of Google.org, the
program sparked invaluable learnings to leveraging enabling technologies for strengthening online and
offline community engagement efforts, and embracing collaboration for long-term financial sustainability
and operational viability.”
Marija Ralic, Asia Pacific Lead of Google.org said, “In this post-pandemic world, economic challenges,
rising unemployment and demand for new skills will continue to increase. Just as we help businesses and
individuals to rebuild in this post-COVID era, it’s important that social entrepreneurs and non-profit
organizations are equipped with the right resources, people, and knowledge, so they can continue creating
new and unexpected solutions to address inequities. Through Google.org, we’re proud to support Ashoka’s
The Changemaker journey capacity-building program and we are hopeful that through this initiative, social
entrepreneurs will be able to build scalable solutions and business models that can lead to more tangible
and lasting benefits for the vulnerable communities in the region and beyond.”
Click here to read the full Technology & Humanity report.