How social innovation is tackling climate change in 2021

Humanity is running out of time to effectively combat the threat of climate change that is already being felt across the world. But innovative social entrepreneurs are using their ingenuity, drive, and compassion to tackle some of the world’s greatest threats.

How Social Innovation is Tackling Climate Change

A critical step towards finding solutions to such global challenges is to draw insights from those who have already successfully addressed similar problems. The Schwab Foundation’s network of social entrepreneurs is an asset that allows us to do just that.

These social innovators are not only addressing some of the most pressing issues but also finding innovative and sustainable solutions for them. For example, they are developing alternative energy sources, creating biodegradable products out of seaweed, and empowering local communities. Whenever possible, they deploy scalable solutions that can produce tangible impact.

In 2019, the Schwab Foundation’s global community of social entrepreneurs improved the lives of more than 620 million people in 190 countries and mitigated 192 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. The impact of these solutions cannot be overstated: not only do they help us avoid further devastation to our planet, but they also create a healthier and more equitable future for society.

But how do we prepare the next generation of social innovators and entrepreneurs? How can we inspire their creativity to solve big problems?

The form these solutions will take is slowly revealing itself. They are disruptive technologies, radical policies, grassroots movements, and dynamic collaborations. But the one thing they have in common is that they are all examples of social innovation – a multi-disciplinary approach to creating social change through innovative solutions for people, businesses, and society.

Social Innovation and Forest Protection

Dharsono Hartono is leveraging what he learned on Wall Street as a banker with experience throughout Southeast Asia: land use modeling aimed at reducing deforestation while promoting conservation; and protections from logging corporations intent on maximizing profits by cutting down any trees they can find (often regardless if those forests are designated protected).

Hartono is changing the way that Indonesia perceives sustainable development by promoting rural communities and their economic opportunities. By implementing a model based on forest protection, conservationism of natural resources while also providing opportunities for locals; he has truly made positive impacts both globally as well locally in Central Kalimantan.

Social Innovation and Single-use Plastics

The impacts of plastic production on the world’s climate are unparalleled. As of 2018, annual plastics production has grown from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to 343 million tonnes. This is a staggering increase in a relatively small space of time. Plastic production is only continuing to grow, with projections suggesting that—if unchecked—by 2050 annual global plastics output will double.

Tom Szaky, the CEO of TerraCycle came up with an idea to address this problem. He pitched it in 2017 and by 2019 had found partners for his “milkman model“. The Loop Alliance was born; they agreed on many big brands like Procter & Gamble (P&G), Coca-Cola, or Unilever among others. Loop’s goal is to get rid of disposable containers for products like shampoo and laundry detergent, making them reusable.

The company takes pride in its recycling program, which aims to eliminate environmentally unsound practices like plastic bags and boxes while providing convenient reusable totes for all your goods – so you can feel good about what comes out of them too.

Global Electrification

The global electrification rate reached 89%, meaning 153 million people gained access to electricity in 2019. This is an impressive figure that nonetheless leaves over a tenth of the planet without reliable sources of power, including many remote areas where hundreds of millions still live without access to electricity.

To provide energy access for those who are not on the grid, Easy Solar founders Nthabiseng Mosia and Alexandre Tourre established their company in West Africa. They have installed 50 thousand solar home systems that have provided 350,000 people with electricity!

Access to Climate and Social Innovation Education

At the core of social innovation is a simple idea: that ideas have the power to change the world. This is especially true in times of exponential change, such as our own – where we are going from a world of big data to a world of big ideas.

The rate at which we are innovating is accelerating and the social innovators of tomorrow will discover innovative solutions to many of our big problems, such as climate change. And while individuals can make a huge difference alone, it is when they come together to form communities that truly transformational change happens.

But what type of education will be the most effective in producing innovative solutions that scale? Do we need to look at new models of learning altogether?

At the heart of this question is how social innovators learn, think and act. To properly address this issue, we need to look at new models of education – those that better prepare students for a rapidly changing world. A world where the rate of innovation is accelerating, where the problems are getting bigger, more complex, and urgent.

There is no one formula for education, but there are some innovative approaches that have been successful in producing creative problem solvers. These methods include exposing students to real-world problems, making them think outside the box by using case studies and seminars that highlight examples of social innovation. Another way to achieve this is by using peer-to-peer education, where younger students teach older ones. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is a more effective method of learning if students connect with peers to who they can relate and seek guidance.

A Narrative Shift on Climate Change

In Climate—A New Story, Charles Eisenstein offers a narrative shift for the climate movement. The forests, rivers, and creatures of the natural world are sacred to us in their own right; they represent something that can’t be reduced to carbon credits. Eisenstein unpacks the dilemma in a way that advocates for expanding our exclusive focus on carbon emissions to see beyond any reductive attempts to quantify and commodify the natural world. He argues we must continue to draw on our deep emotional connection with nature and explore how we can best support, protect, and recognize the immense value of nature’s gifts.

Eisenstein points us in the right direction with this call for a wholesale reimagining of how climate change is framed and fought against as well as our goals on this journey to sustainability.

Beyond the school classroom, we need to make education relevant in an interconnected world where there is digital knowledge at our fingertips. This means making learning a more social experience with communities that can support and encourage each other in a collaborative fashion.

Computational thinking has broken out of the programming domain, jumpstarting a paradigm shift in how we think about solving problems. It has reached across disciplines to find new applications, allowing us to solve problems that are very different from the ones we originally set out to solve. It is this type of interdisciplinary approach that will be necessary in generating solutions for the world’s biggest problems. By the same token, these solutions will need to understand and account for the fallacy of reducing complex systems to a single variable.