September 24, 2020

Building The COVID-19 Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs


COVID Alliance

By Saskia Bruysten, EVPA Board member and Co-Founder & CEO of the Yunus Social Business

Back in March, when we were first reacting to the lockdowns of the early pandemic, it became clear very quickly that the economic and social effects were going to hit the poorest people the hardest.

At Yunus Social Business, our funds finance and support social businesses in India, East Africa and Latin America. As an organisation, we had to mobilise fast. We weren’t surprised to see our entrepreneurs in our portfolio quickly assuming ‘first responder’ roles but also quickly becoming cash starved. Social businesses serve and employ those who are already excluded, overlooked by traditional financial services and not adequately served by governments. But with a truly global problem acting with such speed and force, whatever we could do alone as an organisation would be a drop in the ocean.

Through conversations with the World Economic Forum’s Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, we decided to join hands and co-initiate an alliance of organisations that work with and support social entrepreneurs. An alliance that would be stronger than any single organisation could be alone. Such a neutral and inclusive platform as the World Economic Forum provided the perfect host to unite as many (normally competing) organisations as possible. Within the first weeks, we already had 20 organisations and the number has now reached over 60. The social sector came together within weeks to pool their efforts, their resources and speak with a single, stronger voice.

Bringing together this many players is incredibly powerful, but it can also be unwieldy. It became apparent that rather than starting anything from scratch, the existing organisations in the alliance were much better placed to respond to the crisis. They already had deeply ingrained links to local communities and the processes in place to make quick assessments and deliver results.

Rather than building a singular global emergency fund, the alliance was most useful as a facilitator for information and orientation on what others were doing and where gaps existed. An alliance member Duke university e.g. created https://www.covidcap.com/ a searchable database with over 1 trillion USD in Covid cash resources available to small business and nonprofit entrepreneurs around the world. It acts as a place of exchange for how the organisations can support the 50,000 social entrepreneurs in their networks. Using this collaborative approach, the organisations in the alliance were able to already deploy $90 million dollars in funding.


But also all of these collective efforts are still not enough compared to the massive need we are facing. Through the action agenda, Leaders on the Front Line: COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda the alliance members are calling on their peer supporting intermediaries, investors, corporations, funders, and government institutions to do more to come to the rescue of social entrepreneurs.

In the run-up to the EVPA Annual Conference, Building Alliances for Impact, it’s important to reflect on the importance of collaboration in times of crisis.

Kindly supported by

European Commission

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