Select Page

New Allies: How governments can unlock the potential of social entrepreneurs for the common good


Downloadable/printable .pdf document


19 January 2021


Facilitation partner: McKinsey & Company

Partners: Ashoka, Catalyst 2030, Echoing Green, Schwab Foundation and the Skoll Foundation


As keen collaborators with strong networks and community support, systems social entrepreneurs are powerful guides and allies for governments in their fight against the urgent systemic issues of our time – in particular when it comes to addressing the social inequalities that have been amplified by the COVID 19 pandemic. This important report unpacks ways that governments can accelerate change and achieve the SDGs by collaborating with systems social entrepreneurs on institutionalizing successful social innovations.

Executive Summary

With multiple compounding crises to navigate simultaneously, governments across the world are facing the pressure to become faster and better at achieving societal goals. Delivering on goals such as access to quality healthcare and education, environmental sustainability or a balanced recovery from the pandemic will require changes to existing societal systems. This is because the underlying challenges are systemic in nature – and the required changes can be beneficial, not just from a societal but also an economic perspective.

Systems social entrepreneurs can be key allies for governments in bringing about these structural changes. Many social entrepreneurs take a systemic approach to solving societal issues – we call them ‘systems social entrepreneurs’ throughout this report. As society’s R&D lab, they work to change policies, practices, power dynamics, social norms or mindsets that currently hinder progress. They apply participative, people-centric ways of developing solutions to deliver innovative approaches, which can be a great complement to governments’ macro-level perspectives and can offer financial benefits for societies. For example, the financial benefit that systems social entrepreneurs could generate under the Ashoka umbrella in Germany alone has been estimated to be over EUR 18 billion (USD 21 billion) per year.1 Moreover, their presence in and trust-based relationships with vulnerable communities make them important partners in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governments are also in a unique position to enable change. They hold the key to changing many societal systems by institutionalising successful innovations developed by systems social entrepreneurs to reach all their con-stituents, for example, by translating them into policies or adopting them in government programmes. By evolving existing administrative practices, governments can create the supportive ecosystems that systems social entrepreneurs need to develop more of these innovative solutions. As transformation guides who can mobilise diverse coalitions around a shared vision, systems social entrepreneurs could even improve the legitimacy and accountability of policy processes.

Governments can act in five areas to create supportive ecosystems that unlock the potential of systems social entrepreneurs:

  1. Leverage the power of information by sharing and co-creating data.
  2. Build capabilities among civil servants and systems social entrepreneurs to enable mutual understanding and collaboration.
  3. Develop funding models that recognise the characteristics of systems social entrepreneurs.
  4. Promote collaboration between public sector organisations and between the public, private and social sectors.
  5. Foster institutionalisation by co-creating or adopting successful innovations.

For each of these areas, this report outlines concrete recommendations and provides real-life examples of changes that governments around the world have implemented. It builds on discussions with more than 50 government representatives and systems social entrepreneurs around the world. While our examples focus on national governments, they can also be applied to local and international levels. Coordinated efforts across all levels of government could further boost the impact of the actions proposed here.

Nicolas Schmit | European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights

In the media

World Economic Forum Website | 19 January 2021

Written by Victor van Vuuren, François Bonnici, Diana Wells and Koen Vermeltfoort

These new allies for governments can help attain equitable, lasting change

Skoll Website | 19 January 2021

Written by Shivani Garg Patel – Skoll Foundation

New Allies: How Governments Can Unlock the Potential of Social Entrepreneurs for the Common Good

Pin It on Pinterest