Survey of social enterprise responses to Covid-19

Social enterprises have shown resilience and agility in response to the severe challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A new survey conducted across 38 countries finds that two-thirds of social enterprises are running different businesses now compared to before the Covid-19 crisis, with new products and services, new trading models, and new beneficiaries and partners.

‘Innovation and resilience: a global snapshot of social enterprise responses to Covid-19’ was conducted by the British Council in partnership with Social Enterprise UK and United Nations ESCAP and launched on 9 Dec 2020.

‘Our research shows that innovation and agility are more important now than ever,’ said Paula Woodman, Global Head of Impact Economy at the British Council, in opening comments to the report. Indeed, innovation in the form of new products and services are the two factors most associated with growth.

While the survey finds that only one per cent of social enterprises have shut down as a result of the pandemic, seven per cent have had to close their services or provisions temporarily.

Those uncertain about whether their business models will revert back to pre-crisis ways of operating are least optimistic about stability or growth. By contrast, those with completely new permanent business models as a result of Covid-19 are by far the most optimistic group – four-fifths anticipate stability or growth in the next few months.

But continued support to the sector is crucial: almost half of social enterprises are uncertain about their future growth and survival prospects.

Social enterprises working with the public sector, with other businesses and with non-profit organisations are all more positive about growth compared to those engaging with vulnerable/disadvantaged groups and particularly compared to those targeting women.

This indicates that concerns the crisis is exacerbating existing inequalities may be accurate. Indeed, both women- and youth-led social enterprises have been hit harder than average.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, Director Ashoka East Africa, said, ‘Reading the study, you can see that the biggest impact is, and will continue to be, on the most fragile demographics – youth and women – and it is not coming to me as a surprise.”

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