The positivity of Social Entrepreneurs with Mel Young and Alexandra Matthews

By Guest Contributors Mel Young and Alexandra Matthews

Authors of Social Entrepreneurship explain the positivity of Social Entrepreneurs and their impact on the world around us.


How many times a day, a week, do we hear those words? People are always expressing their dissatisfaction with their current circumstances, and the state of the world, but how often do we actually do anything?

We are writing this book as the COVID-19 pandemic proliferates around the world, causing lock- downs and economic paralysis. A pandemic has always been high on the global risk register. They have caused widespread death in the past, and it was only a matter of time before another pandemic struck. The 2020 crisis is different to any that has gone before because the world has never been so hyper-connected, both physically and virtually. The virus was able to spread so quickly because of our ability as a species to travel around the world in a matter of hours. And we were able to learn how to protect ourselves by connecting with one another through the internet.

There are two phrases that are used constantly during lockdown: ‘when we return to normal’ and ‘things will be different in the future.’



Many see social protection as the central role of any government at any time and believe it was right for governments to intervene in the way they have done, even if it meant creating a massive overdraft. But many of those same governments are putting out a very clear message: once the pandemic is tamed, then things will return to normal. In other words, they will return to the way they were before. They argue that this is merely a pothole in the road – a large one – but that once it is filled in, we will continue on the same road as before.

There is a contrasting view. Others argue that what has happened has created a profound shift in mindset across society. People’s values have shifted: they have become much more respectful of each other. Bonds have been formed between people who have been supporting one another in their own neighbourhoods – many are hopeful that those bonds will remain in- tact after the virus has left town. People working on the so-called front line – supermarket workers, nurses, waste collectors, care collectors and many more – have been the recipients of profound respect and gratitude. There is a growing feeling that they should be seen as essential workers and paid properly, not as unskilled fodder at the base of the economy food chain. Strong communities are going to emerge based on a different set of values.



It is difficult to predict what will happen. A lot will depend on those who shape the global economy and its underlying principles for the future. But fundamental change does need to happen. We set up The New Ism in 2018 because we believed – and we still do – that there should be a fundamental shift in how the world operates. Many economists over the years have said that problems in the global economy are leading to huge inequality and that the planet is being destroyed in the relentless pursuit of growth. While many of these economists have put forward suggestions about how to change the direction of the global economy, none have come up with a completely new system. Their suggestions are somehow always tagged to the current economic system.

What we wanted to look at was how to create a completely new system that was based on new thinking. No, we don’t have the answers, but we believe that people know intuitively that the current system isn’t sustainable. They’re just not sure how to change it. That’s why so many people have been talking about how this pandemic has given us time to reflect on how we can – and should – come out the other side with a renewed vision for the future. Many say that this vision should be based on the strength of local communities. While that may be true, it is also likely that most people will have to return to the old ways of working and living, as the governments of the world and the global economic architects reboot the economy of the ‘normal.’ All the goodwill that has built up over the course of the pandemic could evaporate quickly as we go back to focusing on surviving in the old model.



This is the first in a series of books that will examine what a New Ism will look like in the future. As we said, we don’t have the answers right now, but there are many talented people who have ideas about what the world might look like. There are lots of practical initiatives underway that are impactful and full of hope. In this first book, we are concentrating on social entrepreneurship. This is a field we have both worked in:

Mel as a social entrepreneur and Alexandra in a variety of roles in the social entrepreneurship space. We believe the practical action that social entrepreneurs across the world are taking could form the basis of an entirely new global system that is both sustainable and fair.

One of the key cornerstones of The New Ism is about being positive. We don’t want to continually refer back to the current system. In a sense, we are starting with a blank piece of paper; continual negativity about the current system simply clutters up thinking. In re-imagining how the world might work more effectively, we need not only change the whole picture, but also to remove the picture frame entirely. Social entrepreneurs are wired up in a very constructive way, which is why we are starting with them.

Having said that, it is important to get the negatives out of the way first. We need to examine the main is- sues that people are unhappy about, the main issues that need to be changed.



It is fair to say that there is a basic contradiction in the modern world. Statistics show that, over the past 70 years, materially, we have become much better off. Global poverty has declined, with China and India showing particularly significant drops. Health- care throughout the world is much more advanced and effective – even given the challenges posed by COVID-19 – with child mortality rates decreasing. People are living longer, healthier lives. There are fewer wars. Technological advances have allowed us to communicate around the world with ease, and travel to anywhere in the world is now quite straightforward.

Of course, everything is not perfect. Although the number of wars has decreased considerably, there are still wars in which thousands of innocent people are killed, maimed and made homeless. Despite the de- creasing level of poverty, caused mainly by the declines in Asia, there is still a significant number of people simply surviving on next to nothing; homelessness persists in every country in the world. The gap between the richest and poorest in society continues to grow. And we still haven’t learned how to protect ourselves against pandemics.

But overall, these trends over the last 70 years are all good news, aren’t they? However, when you ask people if they are happy, they tend to answer negatively. They talk about declining mental health due to the stresses and strains of our modern way of living. Mental wellbeing, which was never on the agenda for most countries, has quite suddenly become an issue. There is something that people are finding instinctively wrong about the world in which they live.

A lot of that has to do with climate change and what is happening to the environment. Our entire system is based on growth, but the world is finite. We cannot keep growing forever. It is illogical, and people either consciously or subconsciously know that. Something has to change, and that needs to be articulated.

So, in terms of negativity, what are the issues that people want to raise? There are many, but here are the top five: leadership, inequality, governance, community, and climate change and the environment. We explore each of these issues in more detail in the book to provide context as to how we can move on from them, but always in the spirit of being constructive and positive.


ALEXANDRA MATTHEWS has a background is in writing and marketing; she also worked at Ashoka UK, a network of leading social innovators, where Mel is a Fellow. Together, they have created The New Ism, a discussion forum with a huge ambition: to create a new, more inclusive and sustainable global system that brings together the efforts of social innovators across the world.



MEL YOUNG is a social entrepreneur and founder of several successful social enterprises including the Homeless World Cup, which uses football to inspire people who are homeless to transform their own lives; more than a million people have been positively impacted. He has won several awards and is the author of two books.



Suggested Reading

There’s a lot going wrong in the world: climate change, war, inequality, divisive politics. It can be hard to see a way out of the issues we face. But social entrepreneurs across the world are addressing these big problems in innovative ways: The New Ism seeks to build their innovations into the fabric of modern society, creating a new, more sustainable and inclusive global system.

Social Entrepreneurship, the first book of a series on how society can learn from social innovators, authors Mel Young and Alexandra Matthews demystify what it means to be a social entrepreneur and explore how their work could help us all to create a sustainable, inclusive world where humans live within the means of the planet and all life can thrive. Through their podcast interviewing social innovators and disruptors, and Mel’s experience as a leading social entrepreneur himself, they have a unique vantage point on what could be the key to a brighter future.


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