People:  Placing people at the heart of social sustainability

From person to person

Social sustainability puts people right at the centre, as it’s the driver and focus of many developments that consciously or unconsciously make a lasting impact. Digital achievements such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data, blockchain and social media are no longer just specialist topics.

Society is increasingly functioning in digital terms and becoming more urbanised. People are living longer and have a new level of awareness about their health. They’re increasingly consuming sustain­able products or want to invest sustainably. Young generations in particular no longer talk about work-life balance, but life balance.

On behalf of the company

Against this backdrop, companies bear an important social responsibility in what they do. Not only must they improve their economic performance, they also have to contribute to the development and well-­being of society. Workplace safety, equal pay and opportunities, fair pay, diversity and inclusion requirements, along with upskilling programmes and workplace modernisation, are now standard in progressive companies. The purpose of this social responsibility is to empower employees so they can freely develop on the job (see ceo, Work in progress, November 2020).

“Young generations in particular no longer talk about work-life balance, but life balance.”

More social skills needed

It’s no surprise that Switzerland is considered a high-trust nation (see ceo, Trust in society, December 2017). Its education system and innovative strength play a key role in this. Ongoing digitalisation is placing new skilling and learning requirements on people. Digital skills and lifelong learning are becoming a must. The more virtual the cooperation and the flatter the hierarchies in companies become, the greater the need for teamwork and personal responsibility.

Innovative, digital, social

The aim of digital-social innovation is to shape change in both an innovative and people-friendly way. This creates an interaction between society and digital transformation. Digital innovations can act as a multiplier of social innovation, as shown by the rapid establishment of collaboration platforms and remote working, crowdfunding 1 or MakerSpaces. In these virtual laboratories, people with disabilities are given educationally guided access to digital technology.

New technology is also being used in humanitarian work. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) uses blockchain technology. Although this could be made more environmentally friendly, it still has enormous potential for social sustainability. The ICRC is using blockchain-based local currencies to fight poverty in Kenya and Ethiopia. These currencies can be distributed via mobile phone and are easy to use. Slum or village dwellers can use them to get paid for their work and spend the credit earned on local goods and services. They also reduce the influence of corrupt governments.

1 Women Unbound: Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential, PwC/The Crowdfunding Center, 2017

Investing with social impact

With social impact investments (SII), donors aim to create a social impact while also producing a financial return. For this to happen, social risks need to be reduced and clearly measurable impact goals put in place. For example, SIIs can be used to develop and perfect new therapies or forms of rehabilitation. Measurability differentiates SIIs from donations or responsible investments. Awareness of social investing has skyrocketed in recent years.

Many people, many opportunities

For us as economic actors, the human aspect offers huge opportunities for our sustainability behaviour as it’s still one of our most valuable resources. For example, we ought to strive for better networking, access to digital services and digital literacy for children and young people. This can be seen with the nonprofit organisation Labdoo, which refurbishes and installs learning software on donated laptops before transporting them in a CO2-neutral way to school projects worldwide. We also need companies to have complementary expertise in-house, for example by promoting co-creation or entering into partnerships with social institutions.

Interviews with people

In the institutional world, many people are committed to the human factor. We’ve summarised the conversations with three of these people for you below. You can read about how the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation works for peace through international understanding. Too Good to Go is working towards the goal of a planet with no food waste. The Swiss Economic Forum SEF is also making a valuable contribution to socially responsible entrepreneurship by promoting entrepreneurial thinking.