Ashoka and Zalando Successfully Support Social Entrepreneurs Working on Coronavirus Response Solutions

  • Through the Changemakers United initiative (CMU) by Ashoka and Zalando, 25 mentors, 15 companies and 121 experts have supported 30 social entrepreneurs working on solutions related to the pandemic since start of the crisis
  • As part of Zalando’s coronavirus response efforts, Ashoka received more than 1 million euros to support NGOs working on CMU solutions
  • Via funding, mentoring and pro bono expertise, participating social entrepreneurs made considerable progress on solutions in health care, child education and protection of vulnerable groups


BERLIN, SEPTEMBER 16, 2021 //  Zalando, Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle, aims to use its scale and expertise to help solve global societal problems. As part of a 5 million euro coronavirus response effort, Ashoka, the largest global network of social entrepreneurs, received over 1 million euros from Zalando. This made it possible to start the Changemakers United initiative (CMU) as a response to the pandemic, to scale solutions that help alleviate the immediate disruption caused by the coronavirus and to address the long term consequences of the crisis on society and economies. Apart from financial funding, Zalando’s workforce supported the program via mentoring and pro bono expertise. Over the last 18 months, the initiative helped scale solutions from  30 social innovators in the areas including: health care provision, protection of vulnerable groups, education models and tools, reliable and accessible information, and solutions for the economic and political effects. Examples are the collaboration platform MasQueMakers from Spain, the Dutch child education format Design-a-thon Works and the Norwegian mental health approach The Human Aspect.


“As the Starting Point For Fashion in Europe we want to be part of the solution to the current pandemic. Together with our partner Ashoka we were able to support  30 social entrepreneurs to fight the crisis. Over the past months, we invested into communities across Europe by volunteering our time, expertise and connections. I am proud to see the progress of these innovative solutions to many of the societal effects of the coronavirus. We will keep supporting Changemakers United as we believe we can achieve a lot when entrepreneurial spirit meets a societal mission,” Kate Heiny, Director Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship at Zalando. “It is always amazing to see what is possible when strong partners come together,“ Marie Ringler, Director Ashoka Europe.

Among the entrepreneurs, David Cuartielles and César García Sáez set up the Coronavirus Makers Forum in Spain. What started with volunteers 3D printing respirators in March 2020 has grown into a DIY movement of over 20,000 makers worldwide who provide protective equipment to medical personnel and other front line workers. So far, over 1 million face shields and 475,000 ear protection units that alleviate pressure from face masks have been produced. Today, their platform MasqueMakers develops solutions related to larger societal issues that leverage the power of communities and technology. “Zalando gave us valuable mentorship along the way. This pushed us to think beyond the immediate response and enabled us to shape the kind of organization we are building today”, says David Cuartielles, co-founder of MasQueMakers.

Portrait of David Cuartielles
David Cuartielles, co-founder of MasQueMakers
Jimmy Westerheim interacting with audience
Jimmy Westerheim, founder of The Human Aspect

Norwegian entrepreneur, Jimmy Westerheim, wants to break the stigma around mental health with his innovative The Human Aspect approach: “Together we can push positive changes that should help European countries face the post-coronavirus challenges related to mental health”, says Jimmy Westerheim, founder of The Human Aspect. Jimmy interviews people from all over the world to capture their real-life experiences, each person detailing their own struggles, how they overcame them, and the tools they learned along the way. His library contains over 600 in-depth video interviews reaching audiences in 180 countries on multiple online platforms. He partners with schools but also health care professionals and employers to teach the value of mental health and personal development.

Social entrepreneur Emer Beamer from the Netherlands and her team at Design-a-thon Works strive to give children between the ages of 6 and 12 a voice during the global school closures and lockdowns. Similar to hackathons, children joining a Design-a-thon come together in groups to think critically about the future they wish to live in. The reaction has been great with people signing up from India, Australia, the Netherlands and Peru. “Teaching more children how to design a better world is our ultimate goal, and we have just passed the 100,000 mark”, says Emer Beamer, founder of Design-a-thon Works. By running programs in over 40 countries, they gained valuable insights from children, especially disadvantaged ones. Equipping communities with new digital tools, the team builds new alliances and strives to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn and improve their own communities.

Emer Beamer interacting with children
Emer Beamer, founder of Design-a-thon Works

Thanks to Changemakers United (CMU), social entrepreneurs from across Europe are able to take their solutions and ideas forward. To date, 25 mentors, 15 companies and 121 experts stepped up to support their work and helped to scale the impact. Setting the stage to showcase innovations in the social sector and exchange on emerging shifts, the Changemakers United Online Summit in May 2020 hosted over 1,400 people from five continents. The initiative currently supports 75 social entrepreneurs from 34 countries. More information on the overall global progress can be found in Ashoka’s recently published Changemakers United Global Report.


Just as the pandemic evolves, CMU now shifts from individual support to strengthening collaborative efforts. Within groups of innovators focusing on mental health, the future of economic systems, education and health care, Changemakers United provides a place to share shortcomings and how to overcome them. “The pandemic exposed the weaknesses of many social systems,” says Marie Ringler, Director Ashoka Europe, and concludes: “Weaknesses where the causes lie deep. Quick fixes can alleviate symptoms but not eliminate the issue. What we need are solutions that get to the root of a problem in order to eradicate it in the long run”.

About Ashoka

Ashoka is the largest global network of social entrepreneurs – people who create and implement system-changing ideas to overcome pressing societal issues. The organizations’ network today spans about 3,800 Ashoka Fellows in more than 90 countries of the world. Ashoka identifies and supports the world's leading social entrepreneurs, and learns from the patterns in their innovations. Building on 40 years of experience, Ashoka unites to create a world where everyone can embrace their agency, live with dignity, has the skills to solve problems, and creates positive change for the good of all.

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About Zalando

Zalando is Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle. Founded in Berlin in 2008, we bring head-to-toe fashion to more than 46 million active customers in 23 markets, offering clothing, footwear, accessories, and beauty. The assortment of international brands ranges from world famous names to local labels. Our platform is a one-stop fashion destination for inspiration, innovation, and interaction. As Europe’s most fashionable tech company, we work hard to find digital solutions for every aspect of the fashion journey: for our customers, partners and every valuable player in the Zalando story. Our vision is to be the Starting Point for Fashion and a sustainable platform with a net-positive impact for people and the planet.

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