How we tackle systemic challenges

At the heart of Reach for Change’s vision, is the desire to achieve long-term, sustainable change. This target led us to seek social entrepreneurs who were looking beyond the symptoms of the problems in front of them, and aiming to target and make changes to the root causes. This normally means identifying problems or inefficiencies that lie within existing systems and investigating opportunities to fix or improve them. Or in other words, bringing about system change. 

Since we launched, we’ve been asking the social entrepreneurs that apply to our incubator to explain the systemic problems they currently see, and talk about how they might address these. This is of course easier said than done, and doesn’t happen overnight. Only a small percentage of those we’ve invested in have been able to succeed so far, but our intention remains the same. 

Increasingly, it has become clear to us that to maximize the impact of our investments, we also need to employ this system change approach for our own work, and that this looks very different in different contexts.

Systemic challenges and opportunities 

For us, the systemic challenges that we face are about identifying and overcoming barriers that hinder the development of social innovations, whether it’s about knowledge, attitudes, legislation, or infrastructure. Having gained experience from working with local teams on the ground in vastly different markets across the world we have learned that there is no catch-all answer to what this means, or which strategies are most efficient. What might make sense in Chad, probably won’t make sense in Norway, and vice versa.

Whilst the circumstances in each market are unique, we can identify some patterns in the challenges and opportunities addressed in different markets and how we have approached them. Roughly, these could be divided into three market categories: 

1 Markets where the concept of social entrepreneurship is quite well established, and where support systems have begun to emerge, but where different sectors are still, to some extent, working in their own areas. 

2 Markets where there is a big civil soci-ety and non-profit sector but where the awareness of social innovation and social entrepreneurship are still quite low. In these markets, the dominating models to address social issues within the civil society are those of traditional charities. 

3 Markets with a very limited tradition of active citizenship and a comparatively small civil society. These are typically markets where the state has been very strong. For us, this often means that the access to social ventures and innovations that are ready to scale widely, are limited.


How Reach for Change works with these challenges and opportunities

In category one markets, we are seeing opportunities beyond delivering our core program. For many of the social ventures we work with in Sweden, for example, the end goal is for their solution to be integrated into, or purchased by, the public sector. An important challenge then becomes facilitating collaboration between social ventures and public institutions and in doing so, supporting different sectors to speak the same language. 

To enable this, we are currently working with different approaches to engage more directly with the public systems, early in the innovation process, and look for opportunities for collaboration and collective impact. This has especially been a focus for our Innovation for Integration initiative in Sweden. 

In cluster two markets, we are seeing opportunities to increase the knowledge about social entrepreneurship and to help create more supportive ecosystems for social ventures to operate in. For example, Latvia is in the process of defining and establishing a Social Venture sector, a process in which our Latvia team is now closely involved. 

In Ghana, members of the Reach for Change team have been working with the government and playing a key role in bringing together other stakeholders, to put together legislation that might establish a formal social venture sector there. In fact, many of our Africa markets fit into cluster two - there is strong interest in entrepreneurship and social development, so social entrepreneurship is a natural fit, and a great way to bring these two sectors together. 

In category three markets, our role is less about sector formalization, and more about addressing attitudes and behaviour among the public, inspiring individuals to take action and creating movements around social issues. A key vehicle for this has been our public activation campaigns, where we call for new solutions and showcase successful social ventures. Through these campaigns we have not only activated thousands of aspiring social entrepreneurs, we have also contributed to raising the general awareness about social entrepreneurship in many of our markets. In exploring different avenues of collaboration, we’ve also seen markets move between categories. In Sweden, for example, which we define as a category one market today, the concept of social entrepreneurship was virtually unknown when we began working here. Since then we have run a number of public campaigns, primarily through our partners’ media channels. During this period, we have continuously tracked the knowledge about the concept social entrepreneurship among the general public and seen that it increased from 13 percent to 47 percent (share of general public that was familiar with the concept in Q4 2009 compared to Q4 2017). Although many other factors have likely contributed to this, Reach for Change has been one of, if not the, most vocal advocate for social entrepreneurship in the country during this period. 

To further complicate the picture, our experience is that even within specific markets, the systemic challenges in relation to promoting social innovations differs greatly between urban and rural areas. In most of our markets there is a heavy concentration of social ventures, networks and infrastructures around bigger cities. 

As we move forward, we’ll be looking at these systemic challenges in each market and at how we may be able to contribute to addressing them, and how we can play a role in moving markets between categories. We look forward to reporting back on this over the coming years. 


Richard Gorvett
Program Director

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gained more revenues supported more children on an average more than tripling their results.


Children and youth were protected from physical and mental abuse and threats, through interventions carried out by Change Leaders in Ghana, Chad and Tanzania.

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30 percent of Norwegian students do not complete secondary education after five years, which heavily reduces their changes of entering the labor market and weakens their belief in their own future. This problem is especially pressing among boys with a multicultural background. Norwegian Change Leaders Yvan Bayisabe and Fredrik Mosis run VIBRO, which enables immigrant youth to come in contact with role models that help them see their potential and motivate them to finish school.

During 2015, VIBRO explored ways to become less dependent on grants, and identified an interesting opportunity: to partner with companies keen in improving their workplace diversity, who are in search for inters, and help them find the perfect candidate. VIBRO charges for the search and screening, and is awarded an additional fee if the recommended candidate is recruited. Already four Norwegian companies have shown interest in the model.


"For us, the systemic challenges that we face are about identifying and overcoming barriers that hinder the development of social innovations, whether it’s about knowledge, attitudes, legislation, or infrastructure."

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My name is Mohammed Ndjaye and I am 4 year old. I'm not like other children my age. I was born with a serious illness: the SS type of sickle cell disease. This means I need to receive regular blood transfusions; otherwise my disease could be fatal. During the month of Ramadan, the number of blood donors goes down, as fasting donors are very rare. This meant I could not receive my usual blood transfusions because there was a shortage of blood. I fell seriously ill and I had to be transferred to Albert Royer Children's Hospital where I stayed for a few days.

On the International Day of Blood Donation, the National Blood Transfusion Centre and HOPE organized a large blood drive and a lot of blood was donated. Due to this I could get my transfusion and I felt a lot better, which made my mom very happy!

Before HOPE came along, my parents and I were very afraid that there would not be any blood for me at the hospital for my transfusions. Now, thanks to HOPE, I believe there will always be blood for me at the hospital when I need it. When I grow up, I want to be a hero just like them!

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