It seems unnecessary to mention that the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted many facets of life and society. Social entrepreneurs and the social enterprise ecosystem as a whole have also been affected in a significant way. This crisis, like the others that have become before it, is undoubtedly going to play a pivotal role in the social sector and our actions moving forward.

Pandemics like the H1N1 influenza of 2009 have not only set the stage for novel approaches to public health concerns, but have joined the global financial crisis in welcoming new entrepreneurial activities that address both economic and societal concerns. The outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting our lives as social enterprise founders, managers, funders, and volunteers—and it will continue to do so in several ways.    

Structural Changes

COVID’s changes to business are many—but one of the most instantaneous and significant changes over the past couple of months was the shift to remote work. What is anticipated to become a long-term digital disruption, remote work has become increasingly necessary in Australia and across the globe. While many are looking to the light at the end of the tunnel when they anticipate “everything going back to normal,” chances are, remote work will increasingly become the norm. 

It typically takes six to 12 weeks to fully settle into remote work, but experts predict that this is a reality we should expect to face indefinitely. As social entrepreneurs, we’re not only faced with a new climate and the difficulties it brings to our social impact, but we’re also faced with changes to our daily operations. Inadequate software, problematic connectivity issues, cybersecurity threats, and productivity changes are just a few of the new remote work challenges we’ll face. 

Don’t worry—this isn’t all bad news. On average, remote work can save a company up to USD$11,000 a year for each employee that doesn’t come into the office. It can also save workers about 2-3 weeks of time that would have been spent commuting. In addition, it can reduce worker stress and lead to greater job satisfaction. It can also open up new opportunities for solidarity and collaboration. Lastly, there are some reports that indicate that remote work is better for the environment, too. 

Psychological Changes

The changes COVID-19 is forcing on to business aren’t all as apparent as the changes to the day-to-day operations. When an individual or organisation is faced with constant news regarding the stock market and the global financial situation, it’s easy to become overwhelmed psychologically. Uncertainty has stepped in for many entrepreneurs, and investors and founders alike are unsure as to how to prepare for the future. 

In addition, individual workers are faced with competing demands like childcare and are increasingly exposed to the negative psychological impacts of isolation. This is all compounded by the fact that many social enterprises have been forced to lay off employees. While some of us may have acclimated to the changes in our daily life, we’re not in the clear yet—experts predict burnouts and stress-related absenteeism later on in 2020.  

Economic Changes

Entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses have been acutely impacted by the pandemic and have been recognised as some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19’s economic disruptions. However, we’re joined by the likes of Apple and many other Fortune 1000 companies who have experienced supply chain disruptions over recent months.   

In many cases, governments have stepped in to help local businesses and nonprofits stay afloat during these unprecedented times. Coronavirus business support like the Australian JobKeeper scheme have made it possible for some social enterprises to continue running, even when profits have dwindled. Tech giant Facebook has also stepped up to help out, providing $100 million in grants in more than 30 different countries. 

Community Level Changes

At the community level, social impact organisations are more crucial than ever in mitigating the impacts of this pandemic. Whether it’s scaling up operations or shifting priorities and changing deliverables, innovation from the social sector has never been more important. 

These changes can already be seen in Victoria, as many food-based social enterprises have come together to join forces in this time of need. Providing food to the most vulnerable communities has meant that 18 social enterprises joined together to form Moving Feast—a pandemic food response focused on providing food relief whilst also ensuring resilience, sustainability, and justice.

How COVID changes business will continue to evolve as time goes on, but one thing remains certain—as social entrepreneurs, leaning on one another to maintain a strong Australian social enterprise ecosystem is essential. Finding funding and collaboration opportunities has never been more important, and the process is made much easier with a Social Change Central Membership

The Impact of Coronavirus on Social Entrepreneurs and Changemakers

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