In the past, many entrepreneurs chose to accumulate wealth in the private sector and become philanthropists later in life. However, now entrepreneurs can work to improve social issues through their businesses. Globally, a new business model has emerged that meshes businesses with governmental and social organizations. Nonprofits and businesses now team up to form a hybrid business model, led by a new generation of social entrepreneurs. These leaders successfully tackle social issues while generating profit for shareholders. Widespread usage of ethical practices such as impact investing, conscious consumerism and corporate social responsibility programs facilitated the success of the following 10 social entrepreneurs.
1. Bill Drayton
Bill Drayton is recognized as one of the pioneering social entrepreneurs of our time. Drayton founded “Ashoka: Innovators for the Public” in 1980, which takes a multifaceted approach to finding and supporting social entrepreneurs globally. Drayton also serves as chair of the board for Get America Working! and Youth Venture.
2. Rachel Brathen
Yoga Girl is the name of Rachel Brathen’s New York Times best-selling book and the handle for her Instagram account, which reaches 2.1 million followers. In addition to showing her audience fresh yoga poses and tips, Rachel hopes to connect teachers with those in the online community who need healing. “What if social media could become a social mission?” asks Brathen. Her online channel oneoeight.tv is an “online studio” that offers health, yoga and meditation services. She also runs “109 World,” a socially conscious website, aiming to solve eight urgent global issues including food security, water pollution and gender inequality.
3. Shiza Shahid
As co-founder and global ambassador of the Malala Fund, Shiza Shahid manages business operations for Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Like Malala, Shahid was born in Pakistan. She initially reached out to Malala in 2009 and worked to organize a camp for her and other Pakistani girls. In 2012, Shiza flew to Malala's bedside after she was targeted and shot by the Taliban for promoting education for girls. Inspired by Malala's desire to continue campaigning for gender equality and education, Shahid decided to help Malala strategize her campaign. Soon after, the Stanford University grad lead the creation the Malala Fund, which helps empower women and girls by advocating and spreading access to education.
4. Blake Mycoskie
After a trip to Argentina in 2006, Mycoskie became the chief shoe giver and founder of TOMS Shoes, investing $300,000 of his money in the company. TOMS pledged to donate one pair of shoes for every one sold, and now expands the “One For One” campaign to support water, sight, birth and anti-bullying initiatives. Through the TOMS brand, Mycoskie has raised awareness on issues like global poverty and health. As of September 10, 2018, the organization has provided those in developing countries 70 million pairs of shoes and more than 335,000 weeks of safe water. Additionally, the TOMS Eyewear program has helped to restore sight in more than 600,000 individuals by giving recipients prescriptive glasses or surgery.
5. Scott Harrison
Scott Harrison left a life of luxury in New York City and headed for the shores of West Africa to volunteer with a hospital ship charity named Mercy Ships. The trip was a watershed moment, and Harrison in 2006 founded charity: water, a nonprofit that provides safe and potable drinking water in 26 countries around the world. As of September 10, 2018, the organization has carried out 28,389 projects in developing countries. In 2014 alone, charity: water raised $43.4 million.
6. Muhammad Yunus
Professor Muhammad Yunus is renowned for the popularization of microfinance and microcredit, which serve as the cornerstones of the Grameen Bank, founded in 1983. In 2006, Yunus was awarded the Nobel Prize for creating the Grameen Bank, based on the principles of trust and solidarity to empower villagers with the funding to pull themselves out of poverty. According to the Grameen Bank as of December 2107, 97% of its 8.93 million borrowers are women, who pay their loans back at a rate of 97%. This is a recovery rate higher than any traditional banking system. The renowned professor has received international awards like the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.
7. Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender is well known as the former CEO and co-founder of Seventh Generation, a popular business for natural products. After being let go as the CEO of Seventh Generation, he told Inc. that he was "set free" to put his energy full time into other activist ventures for justice and equity. He is now a leading consultant, author speaker and activist for corporate social responsibility. He has written seven books including “How to Make the World a Better Place.” Hollender is co-founder & CEO of Hollender Sustainable Brands as well as co-founder of Sustain Condoms at Sustain, an arm of Hollender Sustainable Brands. He is also an adjunct professor at New York University and co-founder and board chair of the American Sustainable Business Council. He's also a board member of various other organizations, including Greenpeace USA, Health Care Without Harm and workers' rights organization Verité.
8. Xavier Helgesen, Christopher “Kreece” Fuchs and Jeff Kurtzman
The co-founders of Better World Books, a B-Corp online bookstore funding global literacy, all deserve recognition as successful social entrepreneurs. The founders met at Notre Dame University, where they tutored the football team and started collecting unwanted books to sell on the internet. Additionally, Xavier is CEO and co-founder of Off Grid Electric, which provides renewable energy to homes in the “off-grid world.” Jeff previously held the CEO position at Aid Through Trade, a company that distributes handmade accessories from Nepal around the U.S. According to CrunchBase, he was responsible for an 110% growth in sales. He also co-founded the nonprofit Operation Incubation, delivering low-cost, low-maintenance incubators to the developing world.
9. Mark Koska
Mark Koska re-designed medical tools, introducing a non-reusable, inexpensive syringe to be used in under-funded clinics. This innovation safeguards against the transmission of blood-borne diseases. Koska founded the SafePoint Trust in 2006, delivering 4 billion safe injections in 40 countries by Auto-Disable (AD) syringes. The Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2015 lists Koska for his pioneering solution to world health issues. The World Health Organization announced a global policy on safe injections in February of 2015. (For more, watch his TED Talk: “1.3 Million Reasons to Re-invent the Syringe.”)
10. Sanjit “Bunker” Roy
Sanjit “Bunker” Roy had a privileged upbringing in India, in contrast to many Indians who live off of less than US $1 a day. When Roy visited some of his country's rural villages, he had a life-altering experience and decided to find a way to improve the social-economic inequities in his country. He founded Barefoot College in 1972, a solar-powered college for the poor. Roy describes the Barefoot College as “the only college where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher."
The Bottom Line
These 10 inspiring social entrepreneurs use business to both generate profit and solve some of the world’s most daunting social problems. Innovation takes many forms, and it's wonderful when insightful ideas can work to alleviate global social issues. Social entrepreneurs take the road less traveled to build flourishing hybrid businesses with “triple-bottom lines.”