The 4Ps - A framework for thinking about social entrepreneur responses to Covid-19

Alice Oldfield

Senior Researcher

1st June 2020



Explaining the 4Ps - A framework for thinking about social entrepreneurs’ responses to Covid-19 

Since the emergence of Covid-19 and lockdown measures to limit its spread, social entrepreneurs have faced many new challenges to their work.

We have been listening to our award winners and alumni, understanding more about how they have been responding to the current crisis, and adapting our support offer to better meet evolving needs.

In this blog, we want to share some of what we have learnt so far, introducing you to our 4Ps framework which summarises and categorises the different avenues we’ve seen social entrepreneurs take in their response to the pandemic.

We hope this insight will help you reflect on your own response to Covid-19 and how you might manage different aspects of your social venture as government restrictions ease over the next few months.

Where did the 4Ps come from and what do they describe? 

When we collated examples of social entrepreneurs who had responded effectively to the challenges of Covid-19, we found that there were 4 broad types of response - Proceed, Pivot, Pilot and Pause
While the specifics varied greatly, for instance on the character of existing businesses and the issues ventures were tackling, all of the responses we saw fell into one of our four categories.
This categorization became known as ‘the 4Ps’.

Image of 4 U shapes which say Proceed; Pivot; Pilot; Pause.

Given the diversity within the social entrepreneur community, some of these options were more accessible to some than others. Equally, some social ventures pursued several types at once, particularly where they usually offered multiple products or services which lent themselves more readily to different ‘Ps’.

What do the 4Ps really mean? 

Proceed - Perhaps the most intuitive of the four, in this response, a business continued to operate almost ‘as normal’.

  • Where a social venture’s model of delivery was not overly hindered by lockdown, they continued to operate, in some cases facing increased demand where they were meeting needs which were intensified by Covid-19. 
  • The ability to choose this response was dependent on ventures already operating online or at-distance from their customers/beneficiaries. 
  • Those who could respond in this way appeared to have focused on thinking ahead about the impacts of lockdown on their business, finding a way to ensure access to necessary supplies and customers/beneficiaries despite lockdown.

Pivot – this response involves changing the way that you deliver an existing product or service to meet the needs of your current beneficiary group.

  • Where social ventures met challenges in delivering their existing products or services, some adapted their delivery model, for instance, moving services online or switching from shop-based sales to home delivery.
  • This appeared to be particularly beneficial where a business provided a practical solution to a social need made worse by Covid-19. For instance, where food providers were able to provide for those shielding at home.
  • In pivoting, some social entrepreneurs needed to develop new skills quickly, and also explore how their new business model would work so that they could continue to profit.

Pilot - this response involves trialing a new product or service to meet the needs of a new beneficiary group.

  • Recognising needs created or exacerbated by Covid-19, some social entrepreneurs began offering products or services for new beneficiary groups. For example, stepping in to supply personal protective equipment, such as masks in response to the crisis.
  • As with pivoting, piloting meant some social entrepreneurs had to build their skills quickly and consider how their new activity could be profitable. However, entrepreneurs responding in this way also had to be comfortable flexing their perception of the impact their social venture was there to create.

Pause – this response involves stopping delivery until an activity is able to resume

  • Where delivery of existing products or services was difficult in the context of lockdown, some social entrepreneurs made the decision to stop an activity, product or service.
  • For some, this gave them space to better understand what was happening and to meet other competing demands, such as childcare commitments.
  • For others, this freed up time to work from home on atasks which would stand them in good stead when they restarted. For example, business planning, marketing planning or website upgrades.
  • This was not an accessible option for all with social entrepreneurs more able to consider this where they did not rely on their social venture for their income.

How can I use the 4Ps?  

The 4Ps framework demonstrates that there is no ‘correct’ way to respond to the challenges that Covid-19 has presented. All of these options are valid, as is using multiple strategies at the same time for different parts of the business.

We hope this 4Ps framework can be used as a tool to reflect on what you have been doing to date. 

It may help you consider how you have adapted during lockdown and any changes you might make moving forward.

The framework may also help you talk to others about the steps you’ve taken so far, and explain any adaptations you’ve been making.

In the coming months, we’ll be conducting research to explore the effectiveness of different response strategies, if you are interested in contributing to this please contact

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