Countering COVID-19– Four ways young social entrepreneurs are shaping community resilience

25 June 2020

We are all living through an unprecedented global crisis. Overcoming COVID-19 is a challenge that requires everyone across the world to play their part. Many of the young social entrepreneurs in Youth Co:Lab’s network have responded to this challenge by repurposing their operations to help communities respond to the pandemic.

Across Asia-Pacific, youth-led social enterprises have taken up the fight against the socio-economic crisis induced by the coronavirus pandemic in unique ways. By boldly throwing out the normal way of doing things, these young entrepreneurs are writing a new script of community resilience punctuated by their creativity and innovation.

These are four ways through which Youth Co:Lab’s social entrepreneurs tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Addressing basic needs and supporting essential services

SEPAK is an online platform where Cambodian handicraft producers sell their products for an ethical price while guaranteeing good quality to customers. 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. Like SEPAK, many other social enterprises have repurposed their production facilities to produce personal protective equipment (PPE).

Others 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 safely get to work by bike.

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 in Pakistan. Before COVID-19, Deaf Tawk had already empowered over 9,000 deaf people through quality online sign language interpretation services.

2. Supporting authorities manage the crisis

Many social enterprises are using technology to help authorities better manage 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 about 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, they provide videos and remote mental health services or encourage 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 role of young social enterprises 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 saves 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.

At a time of economic crisis, when start-ups are more vulnerable than ever, it is beyond inspiring to see young social entrepreneurs go the extra mile to support their communities.

by Marte Hellema (UNDP)

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 and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact