Edited by Dr KK Tse
One of the social entrepreneurs I met at the World Forum was Samuel Azout. He happened to be the CEO of the largest supermarket chain in Colombia. He sold his business two years ago and joined a program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Government where he obtained an MPA (Masters in Public Administration). Upon returning to Columbia, he founded Soccer With A Heart, an organization targeted at young people to transform them into peace-loving citizens. I asked him what prompted him to do this.
“My business was profitable and growing”, he said, “but it was a tough job running a big business. Sometimes when I woke up in the morning I could not find the motivation to go to work. It didn’t feel right. There must be more meaningful things to do. I decided to sell my business and start afresh. It took me two years to find a buyer and complete the deal. But once it was done, I felt liberated. I went to Harvard to have a long break. Then I became fascinated by the work of social entrepreneurs in different parts of the world. When I went home, I asked myself what I could do to make Colombia a better place to live. Our society is plagued by a violent culture. More people are killed or hurt by violence in a non-war environment than any other country in Latin America. We have fighting between the guerrilla and the government troops, we have gang fights, we have armed crimes, we have drug-related fights, we have street fights…. you name it, we have it. It depressed me to live in such an environment and to live with the thought that our next generation has to grow up in this environment and be socialized to perpetuate this violent culture.”
“I have a simple vision,” Samuel continued, “I want to be able to half the crime rate in five years in my native city of Barranquilla. Come to Colombia in five years’ time and I will show you many neighborhoods transformed from ‘fear to hope’. You will be able to walk around without risking your life.”
Samuel is going to change his part of the world. Whatever I will be doing in the other end of world, I will feel connected to him, to his effort, to his dreams, to his passion for humanity, and, when his work is done, I will feel the impact that he is producing in his society.
People Like You and Me
Social entrepreneurs are self-motivated and self-made. They are like you and me, just ordinary citizens. But have done extraordinary things in their lives. Consider the following social entrepreneurs who were also at this year’s World Forum:
Bunker is the Founder Director of Barefoot College in the village of Tilonia in India. Started 36 years ago it is the only College based in a remote rural area built by the poor for the poor and managed by the poor who earned less than US$1 per day. The College follows the work style and lifestyle of Mahatma Gandhi where living conditions are simple and austere. Since 1972 more than 20 Barefoot Colleges have started in over 13 states of India. The Barefoot approach of training rural semi-illiterate middle aged women to solar electrifying their own villages has been replicated in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Cameron, and Mali.
Liam has led and/or created a dozen social businesses in markets as diverse as waste management, recycling, logistics, retail, top-end catering, and events management. Through the Cat’s Pyjamas, he created networks of social entrepreneurs throughout the world. Most recently, he grew Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen into a global brand, opening restaurants in UK, Holland and Australia. He is the author of There’s No Business Like Social Business, and a regular speaker to private and not-for-profit audiences.
Tralance is President and CEO of WaterHealth International whose unique and creative combination of break-through technology and innovative business models enables the delivery of highly affordable, clean water to even the most remote, low-income rural communities, Prior to joining WaterHealth, he was an International Vice President of health-care leader Johnson & Johnson. During his over 20-year tenure at J & J, he held a number of senior executive positions including Director of Technology Ventures, Vice President of R & D, and Worldwide President of Advanced Sterilization Products.
Simon Zhao Lv
Simon is the Founder and CEO of Non-Profit Incubator (NPI) in China. As a prominent NGO supporting organization, the NPI has branches in Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu with widespread impact across China. He also started a leading CSR consulting organization in China – Corporate Citizenship in Action, and a venture philanthropy fund called ‘Social Silicon Valley’. Simon previously worked as a reporter at Xinhua News Agency, as Editor-in-Chief of China Securities and Futures, and also Chief Editor of China Philanthropy Times. In 1998, he set up and chaired his own marketing communications consulting firm, providing consulting services for numerous local and multinational companies. In 2002, he served as Secretary General of the China Committee on Corporate Citizenship.
Marc is the Founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a think tank and catalyst mobilizing aging baby boomers to solve the biggest social problems facing America today. He also spearheaded the creation of Experience Corps, the US’s largest nonprofit national service program engaging Americans over 55, and The Purpose Prize, the nation’s first prize for, and biggest investment in, social innovators in the second half of life. Marc is the author of Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life.
Jeroo has conceived and set up three highly successful social ventures. The first, Childline India, now operates in 74 of India’s largest cities and has responded to over 10 million calls from vulnerable children. The second, Child Helpline International, expanded her Indian model and became a global network of telephone help lines for children. It is operational in over 150 countries. Jeroo is now undertaking her third social venture, Aflatoun: Child Savings International that provides children with financial education while teaching them about their responsibilities and rights as citizens. Currently approximately 83,000 Indian children are participating in Aflatoun programs. The Aflatoun program has been implemented in 11other countries serving a total of approximately 35,000 children.
Jody Williams served as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines until 1998. Beginning in early 1992 with two non-governmental organizations and a staff of one — Jody Williams – she oversaw its growth to over 1,300 organizations in 95 countries working to eliminate antipersonnel landmines. The organization was instrumental in bringing about an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines during a diplomatic conference held in Oslo in 1997. Three weeks later, Jody Williams and the ICBL were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2006, Jody Williams established the ‘Nobel Women’s Initiative’, which uses the prestige and access afforded by the Nobel Prize to promote the efforts of women’s rights activists, researchers and organizations working to advance peace and justice.
Rodrigo has gained international recognition for his unique approach in combining digital and civic education. In 1995, Rodrigo, a technology consultant from Rio de Janeiro, had a dream about poor children using computers to discuss their realities and solve their problems. Deeply moved by the dream, he set out to make it a reality. He founded the Committee for Democracy in Information Technology (CDI) and opened CDI’s first technology school, Technology & Civic Engagement School, in Dona Marta, then one of Rio’s most violent slums. The innovative model garnered broad support and rapidly spread throughout Brazil and then internationally. Today, CDI is a network of 840 schools in eight countries – Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, and South Africa. Empowered by technology, CDI students have gone on to find better jobs, open small businesses and transform their communities.
Sophi is Managing Director of Divine Chocolate Ltd, the pioneering fair trade company co-owned by farmers. Over the last eight years she has built the company and the brand from an idea to a highly profitable business while realizing at the same time the mission of improving the lives of smallholder cocoa farmers in West Africa. 2007 saw the first dividend paid to farmers as shareholders. In the same year, Sophi won the Real Business/CBI First Woman Award for Retail and Property and Devine was the overall winner of the Enterprising Solutions Award. Sophi is also chairing the steering committee to make London A Fairtrade City.
Mindy is the President of Ceres, the leading U.S. coalition of investors and environmental leaders working to improve corporate environment, social and governance practices. Mindy is the recipient of the Skoll Social Entrepreneur Award and under her leadership Ceres was awarded the Social Capitalist Award for both 2006 and 2007. Because of Ceres’ increasing influence in the corporate field, Mindy was recently voted one of ‘The 100 Most Influential People in Corporate Governance’ by Directorship Magazine. Mindy has previously held the post of Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and in the financial services sector as Founder, President and CEO of Green Century Capital Management.
A former public defender in the U.S., Karen first developed her interest in the cross section of criminal law and human rights after observing refugees detained in prison without trial. She went to Cambodia to train the country’s first core group of public defenders. After witnessing extraordinary violations of accused persons, Karen founded International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) in 2000 to promote systemic global change in the administration of criminal justice. She has since negotiated groundbreaking measures in judicial reform with the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian governments. IBJ has recently expanded to Rwanda, Burundi and India, and is now working to bring assistance to public defenders worldwide.
“Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” – Robert Kennedy