When global change is the answer, what are the better questions?

By Carmine Di Sibio

EY Global Chairman and CEO

Passionate about clients and the power of the global EY organization. Driver of growth and innovation. Relationship builder. Sports fan.

10 minute read 20 Dec 2023

Five years ago, EY Ripples reinvented corporate social responsibility to impact one billion lives.

In brief

  • How can we rapidly and strategically deploy the capital, skills and knowledge to solve the world’s biggest problems and build a better working world?
  • Which other organizations have similar goals and complementary technologies, capabilities and connections so, together, we can achieve the SDGs?
  • What is the role of AI in exponentially ramping up social impact, and how can we deploy it collectively and responsibly? 

As a participant in the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the global EY organization has long been committed to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Five years ago, recognizing the extreme urgency of addressing inequity, EY teams established a global program, called EY Ripples, to create positive waves of change. With the bold ambition of impacting one billion lives by 2030, EY Ripples began mobilizing our people, alumni, clients, ecosystem alliance members, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into a global ecosystem of organizations working together at scale to move the needle on the UN SDGs.

Since then, the EY Ripples program has focused its ecosystem efforts across three areas:

  1. Supporting the next-generation workforce – We help young people and underserved groups to build the mindsets and skills needed to succeed in an era of unprecedented change. Through the convening power of EY Ripples, new learning opportunities are designed to develop critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers, ready to collaborate on solving society’s toughest challenges.
  2. Working with impact entrepreneurs – The world needs business model innovation that prioritizes social justice, economic inclusion and environmental regeneration. This is where impact enterprises already live. EY people, clients and ecosystem alliance members work together to help these enterprises achieve true scale and significance.
  3. Accelerating environmental sustainability – The world needs urgent action to address the climate emergency. As a leading provider of climate change and sustainability services, the EY organization extends the value of its knowledge and experience to help accelerate adoption of new models, technologies and behaviors that protect and regenerate the environment.

Five years since launch, EY Ripples has already impacted 127 million lives and is on an exponential impact trajectory to reach our 2030 ambition. To be clear, EY has not achieved this alone. EY Ripples has evolved the art of hyper-collaboration and impact at scale, helping usher in a new era of corporate responsibility. 

Group of young modern people in smart casual wear communicating
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Chapter 1

Create change for your people

Everyone can contribute to, and share in, the benefits of sustainable inclusive growth.

EY Ripples expands on philanthropy, giving skills and knowledge where they can do the most good. In the EY organization alone, more than 300,000 EY people have participated since launch, contributing more than 900,000 hours.

This high level of participation is partly due to EY Ripples matching volunteering opportunities with people’s time commitments. Contributions can range from spending weeks working with NGOs, to hours mentoring high school students, to micro-volunteering for 10 minutes at a time in community science projects.

Often, EY professionals work with impact entrepreneurs, offering support to help improve their businesses’ resilience, productivity and capacity to scale sustainably. In the last five years, we have completed 500 projects with impact enterprises in 60 countries, focused on scaling and promoting off-grid renewable energy, clean water and sanitation, sustainable products, gender equality and other SDG-aligned missions.

Our external impact is reciprocated internally. In addition to the personal satisfaction gained from being involved in these projects, EY people learn, grow and discover new passions and interests. In EY Belgium, Data & AI Consultant Naim Sassine is a regular EY Ripples participant. He says, “Growing up in Lebanon, I was taught the importance of values, humanity, peace, sustainability and education – all of which have shaped my passion for giving back to society. It has been an honor to share my time and experience to improve the lives of others.”

Growing up in Lebanon, I was taught the importance of values, humanity, peace, sustainability and education – all of which have shaped my passion for giving back to society. It has been an honor to share my time and experience to improve the lives of others.
Naim Sassine
Data & AI Consultant, EY Belgium
Busy day in the office
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Chapter 2

Work with organizations that share your same purpose

Together with like-minded organizations, we build new impact collaborations that help accelerate change.

We believe that SDG #17, “Partnerships for the Goals,” is the key to unlocking all the Sustainable Development Goals. EY teams collaborate with leading organizations, such as Acumen, Unreasonable, Impact Hub and Ashoka, as well as with EY clients, including Unilever, Microsoft and SAP, to scale progress to the SDGs. Together, we are achieving the type of impact that no one could achieve alone.

By the end of FY23, EY Ripples had established more than 70 client collaborations, including an EY and Microsoft social impact alliance to impact five million lives. One initiative under this alliance is the Green Skills Passport – a free, online learning program for individuals aged 16 and older who are not engaged in education, employment or training. The Passport aims to tackle rising youth unemployment and address the skills gap in sustainability, by equipping these young individuals with the knowledge and job skills needed to thrive in the green economy.

Delivered through the Microsoft Community Training platform, participants receive 10-12 hours of on-demand, EY-curated micro-learnings to better understand sustainability, green jobs, and skills for employment, while also being connected to job search resources.

The Green Skills Passport was launched in 2023 in the US, India and Bangladesh. In FY24, the program will expand to UK, Italy, Jordan, multiple African countries, Greater China, Philippines, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Argentina.

Another big impact accelerator is our use of social innovation models, like TRANSFORM, which unites corporates, donors, investors and academics to support visionary impact enterprises. Led by Unilever, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and EY, TRANSFORM works with social impact entrepreneurs across Africa, South Asia and Latin America. It offers a combination of grant funding, technical assistance and market connections to help turn sustainable development solutions into thriving businesses. There is no one-size-fits-all formula; each entrepreneur receives tailored support that suits their needs.

Lessons and outputs from every new project are fed back into the TRANSFORM ecosystem. This is important. Too often partnerships are built using a donor-recipient model in which unbalanced power stifles innovation. TRANSFORM is based on a desire to address urgent issues by learning from each other. Enterprises are not only creating business models for the future, but they are also directly solving challenges that are relevant to global organizations. 

For example, the non-profit organization Hasiru Dala works with waste workers in India to collect and process waste and has created the first Fair Trade certified recycled plastic. With TRANSFORM's support, the organization was able to increase the capacity of its recycling facilities tenfold and, in turn, provide Unilever's SunSilk brand with recycled plastic for its shampoo bottles.

Since 2015, TRANSFORM has supported more than 100 projects, impacting the lives of more than 10 million people.

Volunteers preparing a Box of Food at the food bank
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Chapter 3

Adapt and respond to urgent needs

As the world changes every day, impact efforts must be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice.

EY Ripples has had to learn to disrupt itself in response to crises and rapid changes.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, EY Ripples had to rapidly transition from in-person delivery to virtual support programs for youth and impact entrepreneurs. Together with EY ecosystem alliance members, we moved online. The virtual pivot included mobile text-based learning, virtual curricula for Teach For All network organizations and JA Worldwide and the rapid rollout of Microsoft’s Community Learning Platform with EY learning content. We also set up virtual “Impact Hives” with a cohort of impact entrepreneurs and designed new virtual instances of our business clinics.

Over time, our strategic thinking has also evolved around a number of related areas, including disaster response. EY teams have historically donated millions of dollars when disasters strike. But the EY Ripples approach has added another layer of practical support on top of financial contributions.

Our starting point was the idea that clear governance, consistency and global coordination to large-scale disasters are critical. We provide our people with access to the Benevity platform, which allows all EY people to contribute to disaster response efforts. 

For example, in India, COVID-19 caused more than half a million deaths. EY team’s rapid response, led by the EY India Foundation, focused on immediate relief for the poor and disadvantaged. Lockdown started on 23 March 2020. Five days later, the first EY-funded food package arrived. During the pandemic, we funded more than five million meals for 65,000 people in 11 cities, with EY people cooking 400 meals a day.

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Chapter 4

Use open innovation and crowd sourcing

Harnessing people power from every corner of the globe to solve problems that affect us all.

When issues are beyond the reach of even large corporate social impact alliances, EY Ripples turns to open innovation, from ideathons to community science.

For example, food security is a global emergency caused by systemic problems. We need multiple, scalable solutions. And we know that, often, the ideas that spark these solutions come from highly diverse places. This thinking led to the EY Farm to Fork Ideathon, which laid down a challenge to companies, scientists, impact entrepreneurs and the world. Through the Ideathon, we asked interested parties to suggest interventions to feed the world.

More than 1,500 people registered on the Farm to Fork Cognistreamer platform from 35 countries – including individuals and high school students.

One of the five winners was a food production idea from Kenya’s EcoRich Solutions. This startup, which produces fertilizer at just 30% of the normal cost, is transforming Africa’s smallholder farming. Until recently, 85% of Africa’s small-scale farms couldn’t afford fertilizer, preventing them from meeting their production potential. EcoRich Solutions is solving this problem by using technology to manufacture and sell high-yielding organic fertilizer made from Nairobi’s household waste. EcoRich and the other Farm to Fork winners are now part of the EY Boost Program, which offers product development in an innovation hub, mentoring and insight sessions.

When it comes to crowdsourcing, each year tens of thousands of EY people participate in community science initiatives with Zooniverse, an online citizen science platform. These collaborations, between professionals in the scientific community and passionate individuals, enable EY people to get involved in environmental research, usually by collecting, analyzing or interpreting data.

Community science is helping to close the resourcing gap on hundreds of critical research projects, amplifying the scale and speed of data collection and analysis. But the benefit stretches beyond scientific advancement. In addition to the value provided to research teams, community science projects create deeper connections between participants and environmental science, sparking new interests and opportunities to drive positive impact well after the community science project ends.

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Chapter 5

Pivot to harness emerging technologies

Technology innovation is key to solving big human challenges and impacting people’s lives.

EY Ripples is constantly collaborating to further impact. One current area of focus is the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help accelerate and scale social impact efforts. The global EY organization is already using the unifying EY.ai platform to create exponential value and augment potential for clients. Now, we intend to harness AI to exponentially ramp up social impact in our three EY Ripples focus areas.

Our first step will be a collaboration with Microsoft for a six-month program of pro-bono services to support positive impact startups on their growth journey, as part of the Entrepreneurship for Positive Impact Initiative, accelerating and scaling their progress toward the UN SDGs. Our first pilot cohort will focus on education, where AI can accelerate accessibility to quality education for all. By harnessing AI responsibly, education can transcend its traditional barriers, empowering and expanding the reach of educators everywhere.

To help drive the rapid uptake of AI in education, we are joining the TeachAI initiative – the world’s leading AI education effort. We will be a founding sponsor together with Microsoft, the Infosys Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

We are already working with Teach For All to bring access to GenAI training resources to 15,000 teachers worldwide – providing an AI-centered curriculum of student activities, further enhancing the educational landscape within the Teach For All network.

Future programs will focus on empowering impact entrepreneurs to scale their ground-breaking solutions to deliver other SDGs. AI will be a game changer for these smaller organizations, leveling the playing field by providing insights and driving innovation. Startups and innovators can leverage AI to scale rapidly – reaching a wider audience as they work to provide communities with clean water, food and sustainable energy or improve health outcomes.

EY Ripples also intends to use AI as a powerful ally in the fight against climate change. Climate use cases for AI include analyzing vast amounts of data to model and predict climate patterns, help optimizing energy consumption and driving sustainable practices.

Thank you to our ecosystem alliance members

In the first five years, EY Ripples has expanded to 126 participating countries, developed a base of 22,000 impact entrepreneurs and continues to diligently strive to reach our goal of impacting one billion lives by 2030. None of this would have been possible without the collaboration of our vast and diverse global ecosystem. From giant multi-nationals to lone impact entrepreneurs, these purpose-led organizations share our desire to create waves of change for good. We thank them for their vision, passion and willingness to collaborate with us on groundbreaking initiatives as we embark on the next era of EY Ripples. 

Woman standing alone in a cenote in Mexico

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Investors, customers and communities expect companies to deploy their capital, skills and knowledge to solving the world’s biggest problems. But doing so in isolation risks duplication and lacks the critical mass required to deliver truly world-changing impact. By collaborating globally in innovative alliance models, organizations can make meaningful progress toward achieving the SDGs.

About this article

By Carmine Di Sibio

EY Global Chairman and CEO

Passionate about clients and the power of the global EY organization. Driver of growth and innovation. Relationship builder. Sports fan.