Societies worldwide are facing changes on a monumental scale. We are already experiencing the consequences of aging populations, digitization and climate change. The emergence of artificial intelligence and advanced automation technologies, as well as the ability to manipulate the human genome will have a comparable impact. Will we be able to rise to the challenges these changes pose and convert them into opportunities for the benefit of humanity? The answer to this question depends largely on how adaptable our societal systems are.

Social entrepreneurs can and do contribute to this transformation in important ways. Take breast cancer – a disease that kills more than 40,000 women each year in the United States alone – as an example: Discovering Hands, a social enterprise in Germany, has found that specially trained, blind women are able to discover tiny tumors in breast tissue using only the touch of their hands. This allows for earlier detection of breast cancer, thereby increasing the chances of survival for patients and reducing the cost of treatment. More than 20 health insurance companies in Germany already cover this screening service. Thus, the social enterprise does not only add value through a new health service but has also created a new, meaningful occupation for blind women.

The faster societies adopt such innovations and make prevention the focus of their health care systems, the better they will be able to address the needs of an aging population without uncontrollable cost increases. This principle applies to other spheres, too: the faster we manage to transition to a circular economy, the better we will be able to handle climate change. And the faster we create an education system that enables young people to become active shapers of society, the better we will be able to respond to digitization.

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