SDGs | September 7, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic Presents an Opportunity for Systems Change. Here’s What It’s Going To Take


catalyst 2030

Going ‘back to normal’ isn’t an option

2020 has been a chaotic year to say the least. Unsurprisingly, across the globe, there’s an impatient desire for things to simply ‘go back to normal.’ 

It’s easy to forget that before all of this –  before the world was struck by the worst crisis most of us have had to live through – things weren’t necessarily perfect. Not by a long stretch. 

This is particularly obvious when you consider that the world is far from being on track to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Here’s what it’s going to take.

These Goals are arguably the most important indicator the world has for tracking our collective progress towards a better and more sustainable future for all. And, as we’ve all experienced, COVID-19 has reinforced the case for why no country can afford to leave anyone behind.  

Sadly, COVID-19 has also heightened existing inequalities. Take education for example. At the height of the crisis, over 1.4 billion students were out of school. Those in vulnerable communities, with limited resources and a lack of support, were hit the hardest. A recent UNESCO report estimates that 40% of the poorest countries failed to support learners at risk during the crisis. 

With this in mind, it’s clear that the old normal wasn’t working. Instead, this crisis has presented  an opportunity to tackle deep systemic failures and end historic injustices and inequalities.

Building back better

So the question then becomes: rather than going back to our old ways, how can we build back better? 

We need to acknowledge that existing systems are not up to the task. They are simply not delivering the type of progress we need to achieve the SDGs. 

We need to get to the root of the problems. We need collaboration and co-creation. We need systems change. 

That’s the reason why Catalyst 2030 was formed. It was launched at Davos in January 2020 and Worldreader was one of the founding organisations.

Catalyst 2030 aims to change systems

Catalyst 2030 is a collaborative movement of social entrepreneurs seeking to  achieve the SDGs by 2030. How? By catalysing collaboration across sectors to unleash collective potential for global systems change.

What do we mean by systems change? Here’s how Bill Drayton, the CEO of Ashoka describes it: “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” 

In other words, in order to achieve impact at scale, there needs to be a drastic change to the way these problems are being tackled in the first place. When we think about education this is particularly obvious. We know that eliminating learning poverty for all children will require stronger solutions at an unprecedented rate and scale. 

east africa reading kids worldreader

Getting from crisis to systems change

In a recent report, Getting from crisis to systems change. Advice for leaders in the time of COVID, Catalyst 2030 describes how leaders can seize this moment as an opportunity for transformational systems change. 

And they’ve already started the work. In the past three months, they’ve brought together more than 250 organisations in the discussions and working groups that have produced the ideas described in the report .

Worldreader’s Keep Children Reading (KCR) initiative is an example of how innovative solutions can solve problems at a faster and more scalable rate. In response to the pandemic, KCR aimed to help children continue reading and learning from the safety of their homes, by delivering digital books via mobile phones.

By collaborating across sectors, and working closely with the communities we serve, so far we’ve been able to reach over 100,000 readers via our BookSmart app since the start of the crisis. This impact is in part due to our partnership with Opera, who puts our digital library in front of millions of its users.

The SDGs matter more than ever

Every disaster presents an opportunity to grow. We can either come out of this crisis stronger or weaker. 

So, while it might seem that there are more pressing issues that need our attention, it would be a big mistake to overlook the SDGs during this pivotal moment in our history. If anything, leaders should double down on the SDGs, while developing solutions to the crisis. 

Read the report