By Marte Hellema
We are living through an unprecedented global crisis. COVID-19 challenges everyone across the world to play their part. Across Asia-Pacific, young social entrepreneurs have joined the fight against the pandemic, and in doing so are proving just how innovative and resilient young people are.
Many of the young social entrepreneurs in Youth Co:Lab’s network are repurposing their operations, skills, and creativity to help their communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have thrown out their normal way of doing things and created a new script.
1. Addressing basic needs and supporting essential services
Many young entrepreneurs are supporting their communities by addressing basic needs and supporting essential services.
Some are doing so by repurposing their production facilities to produce personal protective equipment (PPE). SEPAK, for example, is an online platform where Cambodian handicraft producers can sell their products easily for an ethical price, while customers receive a guarantee of good quality. In response to COVID-19, SEPAK has started producing handmade masks that are sold through their e-commerce platform. When a customer buys ten masks, SEPAK gives one to a local charity.
Other youth social enterprises are helping with the distribution of PPEs or other basic supplies. Bundle is an innovative delivery system in Bhutan. A bundler can be anyone who happens to be travelling in the direction that a sender wants to send an item. Senders pay a fixed rate, of which the bundler gets 20 percent. This way, senders get their parcels delivered instantly and bundlers earn a commission. During the pandemic, the service is being used to distribute PPEs and deliver groceries.
Quite a few social enterprises are solving transportation challenges of essential workers. Life Cycles from the Philippines has paired up with hospitals, grocery stores, drugstores, and local government units to help frontline staff get to work by bike.
While others are addressing the particular needs of vulnerable communities. Deaf Tawk is providing essential online interpretation services for deaf people to navigate hospitals and embassies. Before COVID-19, Deaf Tawk had already empowered over 9,000 deaf people in Pakistan through quality online sign language interpretation services.
2. Supporting authorities to manage the crisis
Another area of work that many social enterprises are involved in, is supporting authorities to manage the crisis response. This includes creating online systems to predict or track cases and assisting with surveying the needs of affected communities.
AI4GOV from the Philippines works on improving access to information to government basic services through artificial intelligence (AI) to enable participatory governance. They have developed a COVID-19 digital triage bot for medical professionals to confirm cases and create predictive modelling of number of people infected based on reported cases and locations tracing.
3. Supporting mental well-being
Various young social entrepreneurs are supporting the mental well-being of people in their communities. Among others, by providing videos and remote mental health services or encouraging people to exercise.
Mindo is an on demand and affordable mental health service platform from Bangladesh. In times of COVID-19, they are providing free mental health sessions to people in need and donating food to people from low income communities.
4. Raise awareness and distribute critical information
By far the most common service that young social enterprises are providing, is raising awareness and disseminating accurate and critical information about COVID-19 to their communities. At a time when misinformation and disinformation is rampant, this vital role can save lives.
MyMizu is a Japanese enterprise which aims to reduce the use of plastic bottles by increasing access to water refill stations. They have adapted their community building efforts to the COVID-19 crisis. They are holding online events and have shifted their messaging to "stay at home" activities, such as a series of "home workout" videos using reusable bottles.
Youth Co:Lab, an initiative co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, serves a social entrepreneurship movement in Asia-Pacific. To date, Youth Co:Lab has benefited over 7,000 young entrepreneurs, who have developed or improved over 600 start-ups that are each accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their own way.
At a time of economic crisis, when start-ups are more vulnerable than ever, it is beyond inspiring to see the young social entrepreneurs go the extra mile to support their communities.
To learn about more examples of young social entrepreneurs who are assisting their communities to counter the COVID-19 crisis, check out Youth Co:Lab’s overview from across the region here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab establishes a common agenda for countries in Asia-Pacific to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.