Catalysts changing the world

4 February 2021 | Catalyst News

“If you have an idea and you truly want to change the world, you start with small achievable things – small steps towards a grand idea. Everyone is a changemaker.”

These are the words of Jeroo Billimoria, a social entrepreneur who built her first social entrepreneurship organisation as a teen and has gone on to impact the lives of millions of people and to build huge global coalitions. She is the driving force behind Catalyst 2030 (C2030), a global movement of social entrepreneurs and social innovators from all sectors who share the common goal of creating innovative, people-centric approaches to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

C2030 started small, with a conversation in July 2019 between a few like-minded social entrepreneurs whose work all focused on one or more of the SDGs. They were further linked by their association with the four major social entrepreneurship fellowship organisations: Ashoka, Echoing Green, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and Skoll Foundation, as well as with other global networks of social innovators.

That Zoom conversation and others that followed, led to the official launch of the emergent organisation – with just a few dozen members – at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January 2020. A month later, more than 80 co-founders held the inaugural strategy meeting of C2030 at the Althorp Estate in Northampton (UK) and crafted a collective roadmap for the years ahead.

Now, a year later, C2030 membership has grown to over 500 members, bound by a passionate, shared determination to reverse the predicted delays in reaching the SDGs by 2030. And all connected via Zoom.

The Social Progress Index was predicting delays of up to 50 years even before the Covid pandemic,” Billimoria says. “That is a negative impact on the lives of billions of people. We are not prepared to accept that.”

So what makes the C2030 membership so convinced that they can bring about the systemic changes that are needed to meet the SDGs?

“In the year since the launch of Catalyst 2030 at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020, we’ve been astounded by the appetite towards catalytic collaboration amongst social entrepreneurs across the world. The ambition to change systems is grounded in real work and belief that the work of social entrepreneurs is relevant for the world, now more than ever,” commented Dr François Bonnici Director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, sister organization of the World Economic Forum.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” says Fredrik Galtung CEO of True Footprint, member of the Incubation Board and co-facilitator of the C2030 Working Group which focuses on analysing the impact of members’ work. “Our members are on the ground, building trust relationships with communities in 194 countries, and providing innovative, people-centred solutions for each of the 17 SDGs.”

The impact is clear from the mapping tool at www.catalyst2030.net, but C2030 members know that merely working on the Goals is not enough.

“We measure our success in terms of concrete undertakings and collaborations around advocacy, and also around getting things done in the real world,” Galtung says. “These are the strong partnerships that are needed to radically change the systems upon which societies are built.”

The fact that in less than a year C2030 has become a platform of collaboration which is breaking through silos is “an incredibly positive achievement. People are able to find like-minded partners in a truly remarkable way already, and that’s what we are aiming to support and systematise further,” he says.

C2030 should not, however, be seen as just a networking organisation. What sets it apart is also the in-depth and timely analysis and reports that have been produced. Embracing complexity: towards a shared understanding of funding systems change; and Getting from crisis to systems change: advice for leaders in the time of COVID provide game changing suggestions and ideas as well as in-depth analysis and recommendations for catalysing the systems transformations needed to bring about the just, inclusive and sustainable world envisaged in the SDGs. A third report, New Allies: how governments can unlock the potential of social entrepreneurs for the common good, will be launched at the virtual World Economic Forum in January 2021 in collaboration with Ashoka and McKinsey & Company.

Galtung attributes at least part of the organisation’s rapid growth to the worldwide lockdowns due to Covid-19. “The fact that we have not been able to travel has actually made members more accessible,” he says. “I don’t think the rapid growth of a distributed network of this kind would have been possible in any other year.”

“This energy is being replicated in regions and major countries – you could not ask for more. There is a spirit of volunteerism and spirit of contributing to something which is very, very big.”

It is that spirit of co-creation that C2030 member Neelam Chhiber, co-founder and managing trustee of the Industree Foundation, cites as the greatest achievement of the organisation’s first year.

“It is a true practitioner led, collaborative movement, focusing on as much diversity as was possible. The result is great governance and the productive tapping of the collective intelligence of all the members,” she says.

Billimoria agrees. “C2030 is built on friendship bonds and trust among all the entrepreneurs. Every day I see us moving from ‘I’ to the collective ‘we’ and that is that what is allowing us to make an impact. Even with more than 500 members there are not really any conflicting interests. Everyone wants to achieve the SDG’s.”

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