Some of the most impressive and influential social innovations we know had their origin in particularly challenging conditions: for example, the Aravind Eye Care System was born to tackle the preventable and rampant number of cases of blindness that marked India in the 1970s; the Grameen Bank, an anti-poverty bank created by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, which emerged from the need to combat the growing extreme poverty generated by the Bangladesh war of independence.

Despite presenting different characteristics, this pandemic has proven that the worsening of societal problems does open the door to social entrepreneurs. During the first wave of this crisis, we witnessed the emergence of powerful and innovative solutions in some of the most affected areas: from digital inclusion in education to the fight against social isolation or small businesses’ support. 

For instance, in educational digital inclusion, StudentKeep was able to equip around 1,600 students with computers through a digital system for raising and donating this type of equipment. Tools4edu helped many teachers, students, and guardians in the digital transition through the more than one hundred simple videos on the use of the digital tools and platforms needed by the education community.

In the social isolation area, the SOS Vizinho project was quickly set up and helped signal and support groups at risk to distribute essential goods so that they do not need to leave the house frequently., promoted by Casa do Impacto, provided more than 1,200 free online psychological support video consultations to alleviate the impact of confinement and social isolation. 

In support of small businesses, the menos hub created the #compraaospequenos movement that has already mapped more than 600 firms with offers adapted to the situation of isolation. The preserve project sold more than 4,000 vouchers (worth over € 77,000) used when the corresponding establishments opened again after the first wave of the pandemic. TeamLoan is an innovative solution that allowed the temporary sharing of workers and teams between companies.

With the progressive easing of restrictions, some problems will cease to exist, and, consequently, certain solutions may not make sense anymore. However, it is essential to continue to join efforts for the major structural problems that gained (and will continue to gain) prominence with the pandemic (for example, youth mental health issues, unemployment, or elderly social isolation). 

This will be an excellent opportunity to create new solutions and strengthen, modernize and adapt the existing ones that have worked well in the past.

In this process, initiatives such as the impressive Tech4covid movement (where most of the solutions described above were born) or platforms for sharing and co-creating innovative solutions, such as Patient Innovation are essential. 

However, to guarantee effectiveness and scale, the active participation of companies in this process is crucial. A quick visit to the partnerships established by ventures like SOS Vizinhos, Team loan, or Student Keep clearly illustrates how vital companies are to turn these ideas into concrete and real solutions to societal problems.

If companies do not believe that this active involvement is so critical for society, maybe they still should get involved for the sake of their financial performance! Substantial evidence shows that being socially responsible does positively influence the company’s profitability.

Have a great and impactful week!

This article is adapted from a recent article published in Observador.

João Cotter Salvado
Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics

This article refers to edition #73 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
Subscribe here to receive the weekly newsletter