We seem to have forgotten that social security – meaning the access to services including adequate nutrition, water, sanitation, health, education and housing to enable us to deal with life’s risks - is a human right (see Article 22 of the Declaration of Human Rights). Unfortunately, 4 billion people around the world do not have access to any form of protection at all, which includes 60% of the people living in Asia Pacific.
This is where the need for Social Protection comes in, not only to ensure that no one gets left behind, but also to contribute to economic growth by raising labor productivity and enhancing social stability.The alarming rate at which social needs are growing has also caught the attention of many socially conscious customers and shareholders, who are aware of the fact that not meeting these needs in the near future will pose greater threats to sustainable business operations. The time to act is NOW.
An Overview of Social Protection
The OECD defines social protection as “policies and actions which enhance the capacity of poor and vulnerable people to escape from poverty and enable them to better manage risks and shocks”. While it remains a persistent problem in developed countries, escaping from poverty is a high priority goal for developing countries. The “management of risks and shocks” refers to how well people in all nations can cope with the loss of wealth or other forms of protection that had previously been granted. In any case, effective social protection schemes ensure that nobody is left behind.
Social Protection is quite a broad term that also includes many categories of social inequality (think gender, race, age, etc.). Support for new mothers, opportunities for the disabled to find meaningful work, and robust healthcare systems can all fall under social protection. It can encompass other types of protection beyond that, ranging from physical protection (from dangerous groups of people or natural disasters) to even cyber protection (being hacked or having private data stolen).
In addition to efforts from leading multinational corporations, startups around the world are attempting innovative solutions to answer the social protection needs of their local communities and environments. By tapping into new markets with potentially huge economic benefits, your business can also be a force for good when you place the concept of improving the well-being of others at the core of your startup’s mission.
Just one of many social impact startups in Asia is Bayani Brew based in The Philippines. The company sources indigenous crops from local farms to create unique and tasty ready-made beverages. By sourcing the ingredients at higher than average market price, they create an eco-luxury product that helps alleviate the poverty endured by local farmers. Grab a bottle of sweet potato leaf concentrate the next time you’re in the Philippines for a once in a lifetime taste that delivers a social impact. A list of Asia-based startups with social protection in mind can be found here for reference.
The Specter of Poverty in South Korea
All members of society are entitled to live a dignified life, free from poverty with access to modern amenities such as healthcare, adequate shelter, safe transportation systems, and strong institutions. Unequal economic or social power can transition into unequal political power over time, meaning disadvantaged members of society are in danger of being shut out completely from meaningful participation in society.
This isn’t just an issue for countries with a large majority of its people in poverty. Although it is ranked by the UN as having the 11th largest economy by GDP, Korea, host country of Citypreneurs, struggles to provide adequate social protection to its citizens. A report by the OECD mentions how public spending in Korea is still relatively low, (half of the OECD average) and recommends that policy should address the lack of support given to temporary employees or those out of work due to injury or chronic illness.
Korea lacks both income support and rehabilitation measures for workers who are out of work for reasons beyond their control, resulting in prolonged unemployment and wasted economic potential. Although the current administration aims to increase the minimum wage to approximately 80,000 Korean won earned per day by 2020, that will only help those who are working. Social protection startups in Korea could jump in to offer employment or rehabilitation support to people who are down on their luck.
Social Disparity Case Study: Aging Populations
Despite remarkable economic growth since 1990 within the region, Inequality is on the rise in the Asia Pacific. Among other things, a particularly huge problem is the rapidly aging society. Asia’s elderly population will reach 923 million by 2050. Before that time, dependable support systems need to be developed because the ratio of caregivers to those needing care will be heavily unbalanced. Vietnam will be the first country in the region to reach the stage of “aged society” by 2039. For startups who want to solve problems related to aging in the Asa Pacific, check out this UNESCAP report.
Golden, a San Francisco based startup, won a startup challenge dealing with this very issue. Its creative approach to aging-related issues involves a platform that empowers adult children who are taking care of their elderly parents by offering case-based financial advice.
Seoul, Citypreneurs host city, also has a number of startups dealing with Korea’s aging population. One that stands out is Everyoung,which has a hiring policy in favor of people 55 years of age or older gives seniors, who might otherwise scrape by on insufficient pensions, another shot at employment. Besides growing into a successful company of 420 employees in 3 years, Everyoung more importantly gives its senior employees a livelihood and a reason to feel fulfilled in life. As a business, it found success by capitalizing on the advantages its older workforce has over other companies.
A rising concern in the realm of social protection relates to cyber security. The Information Age (or 4th Industrial Revolution) is defined by frontier technologies but also fraught with new threats. Data breaches, hacks, and leaked information are common news headlines these days with high profile social networks such as Facebook coming under scrutiny for the way they share users’ data with third parties. Tech startups can capitalize on these uncertainties by offering services to reassure internet users. As food for thought, here is a list of rising cyber security startups doing just that.
As you can see, Social Protection startups address a wide array of issues, from offering support to the homeless, to neighborhood activism, to securing personal information, among other things. The most important takeaway from this post is that there is a way for any entrepreneur to use their individual talents to keep our societies inclusive and sustainable for the future.
Applications to the competition open on June 1 and last until August 29. Your business model should ideally take into consideration the interlinked nature of the UN SDGs. Solutions for the future will come from social protection initiatives spearheaded by young people like you who will inherit our cities with scores of at-risk populations. For more information, visit our website.