• Himani Aggarwal

Social Enterprises and Covid-19

COVID-19 has created both, a health and humanitarian crisis worldwide. The virus does not discriminate but during these challenging times, it is the lower sections of population that are most vulnerable and exposed to prevailing risks. Ironically, they are far from the reach of government and authorities and receive the least amount of remedy possible. The systemic inequality has been laid bare as low-income people, especially daily wage earners and contractual labourers are hit the hardest. They are even struggling to put one-time meal on their table in circumstances where a strong immune system is the key panacea to fight this whimsical virus. Moreover, this pandemic is relentlessly changing the realities of world. It has impacted business across the world and social enterprises are no exception.

Social enterprises play a more crucial role in these challenging times as these focus on solving social problems by reaching out to the at-risk sections of society. However, as COVID-19 began to escalate, new and complex problems are following the work sector activities every day such that decades of work in the social impact sector is at stake. Although, social enterprises are working at the cutting edge to fight this global epidemic, they are at high risks of falling through the cracks in the existing support schemes and rigid patterns followed by the systems. Due to lockdown and social distancing guidelines, physical operations of many social enterprises are temporarily closed. The supply chains are interrupted due to travel restrictions and there is limited access to public funding in the economy. Entrepreneurs are facing partial or full loss of revenues, workforce and community support. Additionally, there is a rapid and significant shift in the demand of services to provide essential supplies in the markets and fulfil urgent needs of the consumers.

These organisations are battling hard to combat new problems experienced on ground every day at the front-line. However, the future still holds uncertainty and there are high chances of the world still facing early crisis at the moment. This makes it imperative for all forces to come together as a community, utilize extensive resources and share knowledge to fuel innovation in the face of new challenges. Systems need to evolve and focus on maximising social impact more than ever. At this point, chances of recovering from the ramifications of COVID-19 on social enterprises’ revenue, value chain, and resources will depend largely on whether they have access to a system of strong and supportive community.

Social enterprises need to adapt their services to meet urgent needs of targeted clients and evolve their functions and processes quickly to simultaneously support and sustain families of workers working in their organisations. For the purpose, they need to build innovative and plausible solutions to complex social issues, under these unprecedented circumstances, while staying true to their core value. But first and foremost, the social enterprises need to revisit their vision for desired impact and business plan, as the contexts and needs are changing constantly. Clarifying underlying theory, assumptions, needs and vision for the desired social impact will help guide the decision-making process, build work capacities and locate ingenious solutions to the intended problem sector. Defining the functions while investing in diversified consumer needs would also enable long-term brand equity for the organisation and establish customer loyalty at the same time.

Drawing out a clear theory of change for their enterprise is also imperative to magnetize funding from stakeholders involved. Meanwhile, funders and investors need to work alongside these entrepreneurs to allow them access to Immediate and flexible funding with less oppressive financial systems to allow navigation of the complex arrangements and redistribution of the resources in these rapidly changing environments. Local authorities need to respond immediately to the needs of social enterprises and provide emergency support measures, while discarding the bureaucracy and complexities involved in the structures. Support packages and guidance available from the governments should be clear, authentic and appropriately catalogued to enable easy access.

While the unprecedented expectations during current times might have put social sector under immense pressure, strategic alliance among the social enterprises, philanthropists, business leaders, financial aid institutions and public sector will be instrumental in demonstrating leadership and innovate solutions to guide the pathway of economic recovery in a transformed way post COVID-19 crisis. It’s high time to realise that the pandemic is monsoon and not just a rainy day. If adequate support does not get materialized in social impact sector with immediate attention, the existing capabilities will be lost during the crisis, further escalating the complexities involved in recovery systems and decades will pass by in rebuilding it. It essentially calls for a leapfrog towards a new economy where individual well-being and planetary health are prioritised above anything else.

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