This post was originally produced for Forbes.
A lesson all successful entrepreneurs seem to learn quickly is that they must solve a problem. For social entrepreneurs, this is even more important. If people are literally dying as they wait for a solution, the ones who show up to help have a greater obligation to do so something that will solve the problem—at least for some of those experiencing it.
Classy, which operates a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, has created an award the company calls the Classy Award to recognize social enterprises that “are tackling some of the world’s most complex problems,” according to a company press release. The awards were presented on June 16, 2017, in Boston.
For this article, the ten winners and Classy co-founder Pat Walsh, the company’s chief impact officer, came together to record a discussion about the problems they solve and the work they are doing to solve them. You can watch the entire discussion with the winners in the video player at the top of this article.
In no particular order, this article will identify each of the winners, the problems they seek to solve and the work they are doing to solve them.
Rebecca Firth, the community partnerships manager for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, said, “In many places in the developing world, good quality digital maps do not exist, leaving millions of people uncounted. Without free, up-to-date maps it is hard to deliver health care and services, making places more vulnerable to disasters and epidemics.”
Imagine trying to find the source of an Ebola outbreak in a rural area where no reliable maps exist. How do you find a village that is at risk if it isn’t even on the map?
“What we do is we help anyone anywhere in the world create those maps,” says Firth. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team uses a crowdsourcing model to create maps using the company’s simple online tool.
“This week we passed 30000 volunteers. We’ve mapped 45 million people who haven’t been on the map before.” Firth explains that these folks can now receive services that were difficult or even impossible to deliver before the map was created.
“One example of this is last year when there was a yellow fever outbreak in Kinshasa, the Missing Maps community activated to map the area using OpenStreetMap tools activated to map the area,” Firth says. “And then what followed was the largest and fastest vaccination campaign ever by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) who used the map to vaccinate 720,000 people in 10 days.”
Jose Quiñonez, 45, CEO of Mission Asset Fund, explains the person and societal problems that come from excluding some people from the traditional financial system. “People would be left in the shadows of our economy.” He notes that we all lose when certain individuals are not allowed to access basic financial instruments and therefore can’t buy a home, can’t start a business and can’t even invest in their own education. Those without a credit score are “economically invisible,” he says. About 45 million people in the United States fall into this group, he says. Globally, about 2 billion people fall into this category.
Mission Asset Fund is helping to formalize and legitimize an informal practice that is common around the world. The practice of lending circles, which go by a variety of names with varying protocols, all revolve around small communities creating tiny savings banks where members contribute periodically and occasionally get a turn at borrowing from the fund. By formalizing lending circles, Mission Asset Fund provides a connection to the formal economy and reveals the invisible people.
Celeste Mergens, 55, founder and CEO for Days for Girls notes that there are 300 million women and girls of reproductive age counted among those who are living on less than $1.95 per day, the World Bank standard for extreme poverty. “Meeting basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and hygiene is a constant challenge for many of these women and girls,” she says. One of the challenges women face is the shame and stigma associated with menstruation.
Days for Girls has engaged 60,000 “Health Ambassadors” in the developing world to teach men and women about menstruation to remove the stigma. She notes, “Without periods there would be no people.” These ambassadors sell reusable feminine hygiene kits, increasing their own incomes at the same time they share their passion for the dignity of women.
Elizabeth Scharpf, founder and CEO of SHE, identified and tackled much the same problem with a different strategy. She notes that women without access to proper feminine hygiene use rags or even leaves to manage their menstruation. She confirms that some young women are victims of sexual predation or are forced into prostitution to fund feminine hygiene products so they can stay in school.
Scharpf says, “Eighteen percent of women and girls in Rwanda missed out on work or school because they could not afford to buy menstrual pads. Quite apart from the personal injustice, and the larger issues of health and dignity, we’re also talking about a potential GDP loss of $215 per woman per year – a total of $115,000,000 in Rwanda. It’s bad business.”
She invented a feminine hygiene pad that can be produced locally in Rwanda, made from the fiber of a banana tree. SHE helps women launch businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable pads.
Kenton Lee, 32, founder of Because International, identified the problem that many children who are growing up in poverty lack good shoes. One of the contributing factors is that kids outgrow their shows quickly and the parents and caregivers can’t afford to buy new shoes every time the kids outgrow a pair.
Lee says, “Shoes are a big deal.” There are three problems he highlights from a lack of shoes: 1) health is at risk, especially in communities without adequate sanitation, 2) shoes are often a required part of a school uniform so a lack of shoes keeps kids out of school, and 3) the dignity and self confidence that are missing without shoes.
Because International markets the “Shoe That Grows” primarily to faith-based organizations and other NGOs, that donate the shoes to children who need them. The durable shoes come in only two sizes but are both adjustable for five full shoe sizes so kids can wear them for years. He acknowledges that, “It doesn’t solve every problem for the kids.” The program really took off two years ago and they have been able to provide 100,000 shoes to kids in 89 countries and are now beginning to manufacture the shoes in some of the places where they are being most used.
“About one in five people or one 1.6 billion people across the globe lack adequate housing,” says Jyoti Patel, director of capital markets for Habitat for Humanity. One of the key reasons for this is a lack of access to affordable mortgage financing for low-income families. As a result, many low-income families live in makeshift shelters even though they have income and could afford to support a small mortgage. Instead, they slowly build and upgrade their homes slowly over time.
Much of the microfinance industry that some think of as a solution to poverty focuses on short-term loans to support entrepreneurship. This creates a cash-flow mismatch when someone uses short-term microfinance loans to make permanent housing upgrades—think roof or a water tank–that will last for years or decades.
Habitat has created a $100 million “MicroBuild Fund” to finance longer-term loans to people without access to traditional credit sources so they can afford to upgrade their housing. The fund “is comprised of $10 million in equity and $90 million as a line of credit received from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,” Patel says. Habitat is the largest equity holder. Omidyar Network and MetLife have also invested. Triple Jump, based in the Netherlands, is also an investor and also manages the fund. The money is invested with an eye toward capital preservation and a focus on both social and environmental impact.
There is a new form of sex trafficking of children in the Philippines that sends shivers down the spine of every parent. Victims are taken from the street and presented via the internet to customers who direct the sexual abuse of the child in real time.
Blair Burns, 43, the senior vice president of Justice Operations for International Justice Mission, says that this is part of a broader problem, the general failure of the rule of law.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat modern day slavery, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against the poor in 17 communities across the developing world. IJM does this by partnering with local authorities and partners to rescue victims, restore survivors, convict perpetrators, and transform broken public justice systems. To date, IJM has helped to rescue over 34,000 people from slavery and other forms of violent oppression.
As global health improves, one group is being left behind, according to Molly McHugh, 44, communications director for Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit that has created an innovative way to reach young people. “In the last decade HIV related deaths have decreased for every age group except adolescents,” she says. There is a gap in the delivery of healthcare for this cohort.
The gap exists for a variety of reasons, from the focus on infant mortality to the lack of a trusted, competent person to talk to about sex and reproductive health. No teenager wants to talk to their parents about sex.
To empower young people to be the delivery system for accurate information about sexual and reproductive health, Grassroots Soccer uses the sport of soccer to engage them. The organization focuses on HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and malaria. “Our solution is to reach adolescents through a combination of 3 C’s: Curriculum using soccer-based activities and lively discussions; Coaches who are young community leaders, trained to be health educators, who connect personally with participants and become trusted mentors; and a Culture of safe spaces for youth to ask questions, share opinions, and support each other,” Molly says.
Poverty is primarily a lack of money result from deficient economic opportunities, according to Samasource’s Wendy Gonzalez, its senior vice president and managing director. “Poverty is at the root of all social ills. We’re really trying to solve poverty.”
Samasource begins by providing training to “marginalized women and youth” to teach them to complete “dignified” internet-based work. Gonzalez says, “We work in the slums of Nairobi. We work in extremely poor, rural Uganda. We also work in India.” After providing digital skills training, Samasource either places them into full-time work or hires them directly.
“Our goal is really to be the bridge employer.” The idea is that once a person is employable and can work for a company without a subsidy, they are likely to be successful.
So far, Samasource has moved 36,000 people out of poverty and has paid out $10 million in wages. Gonzalez reports that 80 percent of them stay employed or go on to get university education.
To say that OpenBiome fits a unique niche in the social good space is a gross understatement. The nonprofit stool bank is all about helping people get healthy poop. Yes, that kind of stool.
About 500,000 people get and 30,000 people die each year in the U.S. from a bowel infection called Clostridium Difficile or C-diff. It is a hospital acquired disease that results from antibiotic use that kills that healthy fecal microbiota. James Burgess, 30, executive director, said that he and his colleagues started OpenBiome after a friend suffered through a long-lasting C-diff infection.
“Today, we provide carefully-screened, clinical-grade stool to 900 hospitals across the country, enabling thousands of treatments and supporting dozens of ground-breaking clinical trials in the microbiome,” he says. The treatment is a fecal transplant. The material is traditionally administered via a colonoscopy. A new pill—a “poop pill”—is being developed, he says.
OpenBiome is now testing the use of fecal transplants to treat a wide variety of gut treatments.
The Classy Award selection process is rigorous, according to co-founder Pat Walsh. There is a four-phase process that begins with a lengthy nomination form. Each year, Classy works to improve the process. A selection committee determines who all the winners are.
The nomination process begins this fall for next year’s awards. If you know someone who is solving a problem worth solving, consider nominating them.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!