Social Innovation Solutions is an organization offering consultancy and support for NGOs and corporations on social impact, future trends and innovation. SIS manages educational programs and business competitions like Social Impact Award, Future Makers, Future Youth Summit, SportXelerator or Impact Innovation Accelerator. SIS is also develops conversation platforms like Future Summit, Future Talks, Future Magazine or Impact Summit, trends reports and executive education through its Future Lab program.


2021: Faster is required.
Slower is needed.

In our 2020 trends report from January last year we also talked about masks, but to help us with air pollution. Not really the year we were expecting, although many of the trends presented have had a significant impact on our lives: from the new AI tools in fake news to VR, the deployment of 5G or personalized digital education. What is 2021 bringing? Can we summarize everything in 21 trends? Probably not. Can we get inspired and find opportunities in these? Probably yes. Go through macro trends and examples of solutions to some challenges from climate crisis, health tech, the plant revolution or telemedicine. Find opportunities in microtrends like skinimalism, luxury houseware, DYI schools or insect food.

What can you do with this report? Look for opportunities in each of the trends, even if you are not an entrepreneur. Understand risks for social and economic stability and growth. Become more attentive to what happens on the other side of the world or other industries as 2020 showed us all that interconnectedness is the key driver of the future.

We talked in 2020 at our Future Summit about living in the ”luxury of people”. We missed meeting friends, hugging family members and feeling the energy of festivals and conferences. Is 2021 about the ”luxury of patience”? Are we heading into a future in which everyone is so anxious about recovering and meeting their KPIs from last year? A year in which speed is more important than anything else or can we take a step back and look around us and into the future and tackle those big challenges ahead: climate crisis, disinformation, poverty, inequality or the digital education gap?

Ciprian Stănescu
President & CEO
Social Innovation Solutions


1. Work From Anywhere

Employees of 21 major companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Uber or Mastercard can work remotely long-term as announced in December 2020. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, said it „seems likely” that the majority of their employees won’t be back in the office before June 2021. Google is also developing new work-from-home related policies, announcing a possible comeback around September 2021. Seems like if you have a computer, decent Internet connection and some self-discipline, you can work from anywhere these days. But can you, really?

WFA will most likely have an impact in 2021 on the distribution of the workforce geographically. In a recent survey, Upwork found that more than 6% of households in the US are already planning to move due to the availability of remote work. Organizations had to accelerate their digital ambitions to face the sanitary pressures.

As companies started to use more automation, cybersecurity, cloud and machine-learning, the demand for new tech skills increased significantly. This will accelerate in 2021.
Asynchronous working seems to be the word for 2021. For brainstorms and real-time meetings, companies will need to use technology that allows both in-office and WFA employees to participate equally or having only virtual meetings, even if some employees are in the office.

In the same time, travel working is enjoyed among Gen-Z employees, involving working while having an extended vacation. Some countries even offer digital nomad visas, which allow workers to move there for a determined period of time. Antigua and Barbuda is launching a Nomad Digital Residence scheme, only open to those making at least $50K per year. Big 7 Travel ranked Tallin as the best city for remote workers, considering its “booming” digital economy and low cost of living. Condensed work weeks are gaining ground, after several successful trials among some European countries. Seems that working four days a week in the comfort of one’s home makes you more productive.


2. Mental Health at Work

Employers were already taking steps to develop workplace mental health programs before COVID-19. But 2020 has spurred more conversations and created a sense of urgency around the topic. A SWNS research study, found that 6 in 10 said they were „Zoomed out” just 12 weeks into the pandemic. The average respondent spent an additional 2h 40 min/day looking at a screen. And 68% said Zoom fatigue has added to their current stressors.

In a context where 53% of workers feel mental health benefits are essential post Covid-19, we can safely assume that in 2021 employees will be expecting their employers to prepare proper and applicable plans and also make sure these are carried through.
If we also consider that stress and the higher occurrences of burnout are impacting companies on multiple levels(50% of European employees consider that stress at work causes loss of half of the working days and 1 in 5 full-time employees has left a job because their employer didn’t support their well-being), then organisations should seriously consider designing long-term mental health commitment plans.

A study conducted by Oracle on 12.000 professionals from 11 different countries showed that AI helped half of them to shorten their workweek and take longer vacations. 63% of the respondents say that AI technology increases employees’ productivity and 54% declare it improves work satisfaction.

We are looking towards a future where mental health and wellness is starting to become norm and, as always, technology can have a positive input. BTW, did you know Calm is now valued at 2 billiondollars? Besides the acclaimed MoodFit, here are some 2021 best mental health apps – Woebot for self-help, for coping skills, MoodMission, therapy Talkspace, for stress relief Sanvello, for depression CBT Self-Help Guide or Shine for daily mental self-care.


3. Digital Recruitment

All jobs change eventually, even the job of those taking care of our jobs. Human Resources, and in particular recruitment, have gone through significant transformations in 2020 and many of these will accelerate in 2021. The role of digital recruitment grows in complexity and the skills of recruiters as well – from using predictive hiring tools to AI. 90% of job seekers think that mobile devices play a critical role in finding a job, and online tools can help companies to hire up to 85% of candidates who have been selected to reach the interview phase.

The new tech wave in human resources has not been short of controversy – and the main concern is “AI bias”. Employment giants such as Amazon or Facebook have been found guilty of gender, race and cultural bias, throughout their digital recruitment processes. The bias can be very subtle and may extend beyond specific data provided by the CV, and a candidate can automatically be excluded from the process for various reasons. This is the challenge for 2021: in order to fully benefit from digital recruitment, as well as an inclusive diverse culture, employers need to eliminate bias in the system and improve the way AI learns and interprets the data.

Recruitment also needs to take into consideration in 2021 more flexibility in the need of candidates to work from anywhere, increased digital literacy even for jobs that didn’t require that in the past, increased soft skills of employees and a stronger role for automation tools in analysis and response.


4. Live-streaming shopping & S-commerce

Last year was a really good year for e-shopping and a good testing ground for new behaviour and delivery methods. Live-streaming shopping using influencers seems to attract more and more people and automated personalized shopping assistants welcome and guide you through virtual Harrods or Laffayetes.
As the biggest e-commerce market, China is pioneering through economies of scale live-shopping. For example, Viya, a streamer from China had a conversation with Kim Kardashian West just before Singles Day, which helped her sell over 150,000 bottles of perfume in seconds. Only looking at China, Social Commerce had an estimated 2020 sales increase to $242 billion dollars, reaching half a trillion dollars by 2023.
With Instagram’s Live Shopping entering Reels, it is clear that a large part of the future of shopping is not just video but also interactive. Brand loyalty in e-commerce used to suffer, live-streaming could bring parts of it back.


5. The New Space Race is on

It’s beginning to look a lot like the 60s, as a new space race is maturing. This one will boost even more tech advancements with more players at the table, public and private. The second phase of the National Security Space Launch sets for the US the main goal of maintaining their superiority in the space industry, seeing as the number one threat – China. EU officials have also confirmed that Europe is back in the game, seeing in this competition a new chance to regain a global role.

After February, this list will also include UAE with its first red planet project called the Hope Probe, followed by China’s Tianwen-1 dual orbiter-rover on February 10, while NASA’s Perseverance rover will land on Mars on February 18.
Future Mars Colonies (SpaceX) versus free floating colonies in the vicinity of the Moon (Blue Origin) will be a more valid debate topic than ever this year. The Juno probe gets a new shot at life as its descend into Jupiter last year was cancelled until September 2025, leaving it to also have closer looks at Europa & Io.

The launches of commercial landers working with NASA from Astrobotic Technology and Intuitive Machines are scheduled for 2021, while Russia resumes its Luna-Glob exploration program with the Luna 25 lander, and India will attempt (again) to moonland a robotic lander with Chandrayaan-3. Artemis 1 is planned to fly in November, the first flight of the Space Launch System and the first lunar mission for Orion. And finally, the long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope, the largest optical space telescope ever built, should launch, if all system work in October.


6. Telehealth is the new television. Everybody’s doing it

More than 35% of patient interactions will be digital in 2021 in the US, as Frost & Sullivan research shows with, forecasting a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025. Companies like Teladoc, Amwell or AccuRx are answering a growing need but it is still in the hands of doctors to deliver. Another challenge to be resolved from 2021 is the connected device ecosystem, still in its infancy. Opportunities lie in the IoB (Intenet of Bodies) sector in connecting telehealth with various devices, implanted or not around us.


7. Phygital Reality. From buying jeans to enjoying concerts

Blended realities are beginning to drive sales and, through a better data collection, to create a stronger basis of clients. Phygital starts to become habit. Loyalty in the virtual can be achieved through memorable and constant digital experiences.

Virtual events designed for marketing purposes could also have a spill over effect in the entertainment industry, especially in keeping the public connected in the online or AR worlds for concerts. For example, 2020 saw the biggest VR music and arts festival – Lost Horizon Festival. The team recorded and processed over 75 DJs (including Carl Cox & Fatboy Slim), bands and hundreds of artworks. Using CG, gaming and VFX techniques, the festival offered participants the experience of a large-scale immersive social event in VR, with thousands attending on PC and smartphones, and nearly 4.5 million streams across various platforms.


8. The BioTech Revolution of the 20s

From bioengineering, genetic sequencing, computing, data analytics, automation, machine learning, and AI –all have come together and will transform our lives. McKinsey & Nature Magazine, say that the social and economic impact of this BioRevolution is tremendous . The breakthroughs in these technologies enabled the potential of better manipulating the biological world to identify solutions for significant human challenges The development of COVID-19 vaccines is just the most compelling example. In a report published in 2020, MGI estimated that “45 percent of the global disease burden could be addressed with capabilities that are scientifically conceivable today.”
Gene editing could help eliminate malaria, new types of vaccines could be applied to noncommunicable diseases or support other non-health industries like agriculture (gene modification of weather resistant crops grows), energy (microbes to develop different types of biofuels) or new materials like regenerative textile, leather from mushroom roots and cement from bacteria. For example, Tandem Repeat is making a self-repairing, biodegradable, and recyclable fabric using proteins encoded by squid genes. Programable textiles, to put in in a nutshell.

Other industries are impacted more and more by the BioRevolution: cosmetics for one. Amyris is making squalene, an oil used in skin-care products by fermenting sugars using genetically engineered yeast instead of liver oil from sharks. And speaking on liver, cultured meat is aiming for another big year in 2021. Players like Finless Foods, Mosa Meat, Memphis Meats, and Meatable are using synthetic molecules and pluripotent stem cells to replace expensive growth factors. Cultured meat or sea-food could be cost-competitive with conventional animal production systems within 2028. In Israel, SuperMeat has even created a lab-grown meat restaurant where it offers for free a cultured meat chicken burger grown in a bioreactor in the restaurant.


9. Skinimalism

“Skinimalism” announced by Pinterest last year is an upcoming trend for 2021 and defines it as an “effortlessly chic” routine which is simple and sustainable. Mintel showed that in August, 3 in 10 women in the UK have reduced the number of products in their skincare routine, with going as high as 54%. For the cosmetic industry, skinimalism brings innovations in both business models and technologies. From the packaging to the source of the glitter in your lip gloss, you can expect your beauty products to have a much lighter footprint this year. Since last year skincare has overtaken makeup with a rise in consumers demanding cleaner products. We are looking towards a 2021 dominated by skinimalism and cleanical skincare.


10. Insect Food

With more than 2 billion people eating over 2300 edible types for insect on a regular basis, this trend is rising in Europe as well. Insects represent a great source of protein for the human body and crickets, beetles, worms or larva are the main dishes. Consuming and growing insects has a significant lower environmental impact, including reducing food waste, at a small price. In 2021 the European Union’s Food Safety institution authorized mealworms as a viable protein source for our regular diet. In this context, a recent study claims that the insect food market is expected to grow to 4.63$ bl by 2027. Once you get rid of the yuck factor, check these companies with a business opportunity mindset: Jimini’s, Eat Grub, Bugfoundation, Entis, Enorm, Protix , Enterra Feed , AgriProtein , Innovafeed , Hargol , Ynsect .


11. Make Ed-Tech Great Again

2020 caught us unprepared for online education, albeit strong companies offering a variety of MOOCs. Why? Probably because we needed to replicate the offline into the online, a challenge similar to the event industry – an almost impossible task.

2021 should be a new year for online education, even for the more challenging K-12 education. In the future, AI solutions can further support teachers to be more effective in grading and offering personalized information, blockchain to facilitate storage of data (diplomas or educational path) and technologies like XR will support better and more engaging education.

Curating information, is, on the other hand, the best skill to invest in for teachers. Since almost everyone can have access to a more dynamic MOOC course on Future Learn, Coursera and EdX or use an app like Sketchy to boost the learning of medical terms, teachers should see now technology as a chance to improve not just the accuracy of information, but the quality of their embodied presence. Zach Sims, the founder of Codeacademy, argues that the biggest challenge for the ed-tech industry right now is creating platforms that will offer an interactive educational experience which could beat the most charismatic educator.

Tutoring and personalized education seem to be some of the biggest trends in 2021. For example, the top 3 unicorns in ed-tech are all in tutoring: Yuanfudao, China 15.5 bl $, ByJu, India 12 bl $ and Zuoyeband, China valued at 10 bl $.

2020 was a difficult year for students but also for teachers, many unfamiliar to the digital world. Here are some resources teachers can look at for a better 2021: resources and lesson plans from Scholastic Teachables; hundreds of craft projects from Crayola For Educators; energizers and start of the day from Daily Starters; resources and apps for K-12 from ReadWriteThink; interactive posters from Glogster; video clips from TeacherTube and movie maker PowToon or Teaching Tolerance for really difficult topics.


12. Join the PlantRevolution

Plant based meats and food diets have a significant lower impact on the environment and a high impact on reducing obesity or heart diseases. By the end of 2020, a large percentage of American consumers were transitioning to a more flexitarian diet incorporating plant- based foods. Most companies are creating new recipes for plant meat like Tyson, Perdue, Hormel, and Nestle, including McDonald’s meatless burger called the McPlant. Food tech companies like Eat Just opened recently a pop-up culinary innovation centre in Shanghai, focusing on plant-based foods and invested 120 million $ for a plant-protein facility in Singapore. The PlantRevolution is everywhere: from fashion, tableware, packaging or cosmetics and 2021 looks like year 0 for many of these innovations. Goldwin, a Japanese apparel brand partnered with Japanese biotechnology venture Spiber to produce a sweater using Brewed Protein, the world’s first knitted garment made using a biopolymer, using a microbial fermentation process, having the same quality and looks of natural spider silk. In tableware, one of the biggest plastic polluters, Boston Northeastern University created cheap bamboo and sugar waste tableware which biodegrades in less than 60 days. And, in packaging, one company, W-cycle, is creating fully-compostable packing from sugarcane waste usable for greasy, wet or hot food.


13. Luxury Homeware

As people around the world will continue, at least in 2021, to live in sanitary restrictions, indoor fashion that offer comfort and style kick in. Be it for Tik Tok or Zoom, cocooning or simply as a new gift idea, luxury houseware is growing this year. Lounge Underwear recently launched a new collection of the popular popcorn knit textile, Fear of God came with more indoor sportswear and, in a recent Ipsos study, half of Britons say they are more likely use gym wear, joggers or leggings for everyday wear. Similarly, 2021 could see increases in other household items like wfh decors or various gadgets.


14. e-Sports nutrition

As life is spent more indoors than outdoors also in 2021, snack options are for gamers are boosting. These products offer various degrees of cognitive and physical boosts. eSports nutrition company Runtime recently got a seven-digit seed round with solutions for players and influencers containing isomaltulose, proteins and nootropics, without leading to a sugar rush. Do you want to maintain your focus, capacity to react and take care of your body while playing? The Razer Respawn by 5 Gum is a vitamin-enriched created with green tea extract along with B vitamin. Gels are also increasing in volume sales with Morinaga from Japan at the forefront: a blue-berry jelly filled with Vitamin A and amino acids.


15. Investment Trends for 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise. Just like a biblical storm, it wiped out the whole world, changing our perception of life, habits, patterns, the way we think, travel, shop, work -practically our entire way of living. Of course, the investment world wasn’t spared. But VCs, at least in the US stayed strong, despite the challenges. VC dealmaking in the US remained incredibly resilient in 2020, with companies raising nearly $148 billion as of Dec. 14. The total number of VC deals this year, however, dipped from a high achieved in 2019. Last year was not a bad year for VC in Europe on track to hit 41 billion $. VC fundraising went to 7.8 billion $ raised in the first half of the year(up from $7.5bn in 2019).

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman said that “2021 could be a very, very good year in markets“, pointing up easy access to capital, low interest rates, increase in stimulus and infrastructure spending.

1. Green is the new black in investment. Again. The pandemic seems to have reinforced the interest in sustainable and ethical investment, says Merill.
2. The shift to digital everything. The digital revolution, combined with the COVID-19 social distancing traumas, will speed up the demand for e-commerce, e-learning, telemedicine and mobile banking.
3. De-globalization is the key. Global supply chains are becoming more local and shifting away from China. High opportunities to invest in automation, robotics, 3-D printing and precision agricultural machinery.
4. Restaurant chains make a comeback. When Pfizer announced it vaccine tests, Ruth’s Chris Hospitality Group (RUTH), Cracker Barrel (CBRL), Cheesecake Factory(CAKE), Denny’s (DENN) or Dave & Buster’s(PLAY) all sawdouble-digit percent gains that day.
5. Tech stocks could drop. The long tail of growth for tech stocks is bound to be reduced at some point. 2021 might be that year, as antitrust litigations against Google(GOOG) and other tech giants could have an impact. Big tech regulation under Biden is foreseeable.
6. Ethereum vs Bitcoin investment. If you like risk and can spare some cash, invest in both, even if Ethereum doubled in January. On the other hand, owning one Ethereum is still do-able.


16. Robots &Automation in retail & fast-food

To limit the contact between employees and customers, but also to reduce costs and keep retail alive, 2021 sees an increase in various autonomous devices in retails spaces around the world. Automation & robotics, will continue their increase in retail presence through self paying cash machines or supply chain management. The Amazon Cart, using cameras, sensors and a scale automatically detects products, takes them out of the customer account and removes the need for cashiers. In fast food, KFC just opened a no-contact restaurant where customers order digitally and a robotic arm transports food to a pick-up point. Autonomous robots and drones are coming to your house to deliver retail products or restaurant food more and more. Just take Starship Technologies delivery robots in US cities for one.


17. 15 min cities

These cities, or better said micro-cities aim at satisfying all the needs of residents withing a 15 min radius by foot, bike or public transit. This idea put a strong emphasis on re-designing cities for comfort but also to traffic and sound pollution. This deconstruction of cities requires proximity, diversity, density and ubiquity, according to Paris re-elected mayor, Anne Hidalgo, also naming a commissioner for this 15 min city approach. US start-up REEF is at the forefront of deconstructing cities by transforming its 4500 parking lots and garages in hubs for neighbourhood partnering with other companies in micro-mobility, pop-up clinics & schools and urban farming. Other cities are following: Madrid, Milan, Ottawa and Seattle declared plans to copy the French approach. Melbourne has adopted a long-term strategic plan for 20 minutes neighbourhoods and the C40 Cities, a city-led coalition focused on fighting climate change, promoted the 15 minute city idea as a blueprint for post-Covid-19 recovery.


18. DIY Schools

Online education, especially for kindergarten and primary schools does not really work. With an unclear sanitary future ahead, more and more parents and looking in 2021 into creating their own schools. Small classes of 5-7 children and a tutor meet for several hours a day in a new way of home-schooling which offers personalized education, social interaction and relatively enough sanitary safety. It also gives back time to parents who work from home and children a social group to develop in a healthy way. Wonderschool helps parents or teachers start their own in-home preschools, microschools, and forest schools while Wildfire schools helps you create your micro-Montessori school.


19. Revenge shopping

As more shopping centres open and cash becomes more present, customers storm shops, offline and online, taking ”revenge” for the quarantine measures. One example comes from China, all the way in April 2020 when Hermes flagship store made $2.7 million in sales in one day, the biggest single day shopping ever by a luxury brand. Revenge shopping or indulgence consumption will also help many retailers come back to life after the 2020 challenges. With the increase in digital payment options and the extensive use of XR in e-commerce, 2021 might be a year in which shopping reaches new levels.


20. Summer of (outdoor) love

As vaccines become widespread, at least in developed countries, the sanitary restrictions could be lifted to outdoor festivals. 2021 promises to be a summer to remember for decades as the hunger of music, socializing and eating out will take spaces by storm. A good bet for cities to re-design large openspaces and a good summer for open field owners to rent for large, still socially distanced, music & arts festivals. These events will most likely be more expensive, as space will simply not allow for the crowded festivals pre-Covid and technology will be used more in assessing disease symptoms alongside with vaccine & testing centres.


21. Business Holidays & Relocation

As many employees and entrepreneurs managed to work acceptably well from home, business holidays are a strong trend for 2021. Tourist owners are already beginning to transform their picturesque locations with new co-working spaces, better internet and isolated spaces for the all too frequent ”calls”. Relocation, especially from younger employees or larger families, continues in 2021 offering opportunities for local real-estate developments in smaller cities and villages.