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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Social Entrepreneurship

This category includes articles about social entrepreneurs, typically about businesses with a for-profit model with a social mission embedded into the fabric of the business.

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SoLo Funds Will Disintermediate Payday Lending With Its New App

Travis Holoway and Rodney Williams hit upon a brilliant strategy to disrupt the payday lending business with a tool that would be much more borrower-friendly. That tool is the SoLo Funds app, available from both the App Store and Google Play.

The app lets borrowers set the terms. Remarkably, lenders are generous. That may have something to do with the fact that in the company’s short operating history they’ve seen the same people become both borrowers and lenders. The community they are building can completely change the short-term lending business.

One key to their success is a new credit scoring model the company developed to measure a borrower’s ability to repay a short-term loan according to the terms they propose.

Interview with Travis Holoway & Rodney Williams, the Travis CEO & Co-Founder, Rodney Co-Founder of Solo Funds Inc..

The following is the pre-interview with Travis Holoway & Rodney Williams. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.

What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?


Today 78% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck and 47% of Americans cannot solve a $400 emergency cash need without borrowing from someone else or selling a personal asset. Access to loans under $1k are extremely scarce. Borrowing from friends and family puts strain on personal relationships and are embarrassing to ask for. Since banks do not lend in small-dollar increments people are forced to take high-interest loans or go without basic necessities due to financial hardship. Payday and title lending institutions are creating debt-traps daily by charging 400% average interest rates for small-dollar loans. These predatory lenders report loan history to credit bureaus to negatively impact a borrower’s credit, but never to positively impact their credit. In the U.S. wage stagnation and fluctuation has created the need for lower income workers to use payday loans more frequently. Annually, 12 million people turn to payday lenders with average borrowers taking 8 loans per year at $375 each. As a result, $9B dollars in fees alone are generated annually. It’s well documented that payday loans are predatory and many have advocated for a complete ban, but no viable alternative solution has been presented. SoLo is here to change that.


SoLo is a completely mobile lending exchange which is the first of its kind. We’re peer-to-peer lending in the purest form ever. We’ve eliminated the institution barrier between people and allow individuals to create their own terms. Ultimately, what we have created is a one-time per transaction credit score. The FICO score has been used to determine an individual’s ability to make multiple payments over a long duration of the time. We’ve created a credit rating system that determines an individual’s ability to make one-payment on one specific date. We analyze data such as cash-flow, alternative credit history, social data, and behavioral data to create a score which lenders use to determine how credit- worthy a borrower is. We believe people’s financial stories are more robust than the narrative presented by the traditional FICO score. Our technology provides mobile convenience, affordable access, and through our free financial literacy curriculum, we provide a direct path to a more financially stable life for those who have been forgotten and exploited.

More about Solo Funds Inc.:

Twitter: @solofunds




SoLo was created to disrupt the predatory payday lending industry. SoLo’s mobile marketplace directly connects individual lenders and borrowers with pre-set terms created by the borrower. Lenders determine a borrower’s creditworthiness using SoLo’s proprietary social credit score. Loans are interest-free, range between $50-$1000, and have a 30- day maximum duration. Lenders can earn returns on lent dollar amounts. Borrowers solve their short-term cash needs conveniently and more affordable than ever. SoLo prevents the strain on personal relationships that borrowing from friends and family creates and eliminates the debt-traps that payday and title loans create. SoLo is poised to solve the needs of the 78% of American workers that live paycheck to paycheck and the 47% of Americans that cannot solve a $400 emergency cash need without borrowing or selling a personal asset.

For-profit/Nonprofit: For-profit

Revenue model: SoLo makes money from donations paid by users on the platform.

Scale: Raised $1.2M dollars (Seed Round), 9 Full-Time Employees, Since April 2018 Total users – 3.5k

Travis Holoway
Photo Credit: Solo Funds Inc.

Travis Holoway’s bio:

Twitter: @travisholoway

Travis Holoway is the CEO and co-founder of SoLo Funds Inc. a mobile-based lending exchange created to provide more affordable access to small-dollar loans under $1,000. Travis is passionate about providing resources and improving the overall financial wellness of the world’s unbanked and underbanked populations. Originally from the greater Cleveland, OH area Travis is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. Prior to founding SoLo, Travis built his career in the financial services industry first as a financial advisor and later as Director of Training and Development at Northwestern Mutual.

Rodney Williams
Photo Credit: Solo Funds Inc.

Rodney Williams’ bio:

Twitter: @rodneybwilliams

Rodney Williams, Co-Founder of SoLo Funds Inc. and Founder/CEO of LISNR, leads one of the most disruptive companies in the IoT space and the world of mobile connectivity with a new communication protocol that is the most efficient way to connect any device with a speaker or microphone.  Fresh off of their $10M Series B raise lead by Intel Capital, LISNR took the stage in 2015 racking some the world’s most coveted awards such as a Gold Lion @ Cannes for Most Innovative Mobile Technology and a three-time member of CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list to just name a few. Prior to LISNR, Williams spent over 4 years at Procter & Gamble as a brand manager and is most noted for being the first marketer there to co-write digital patents. Williams, originally from Baltimore, MD holds 4 degrees but most notably two masters, one of which is an M.B.A. from Howard University.

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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!

How This Fund Leverages Its Nonprofit Structure To Make Profitable Impact Investments

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

Eva Yazhari, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Capital, a nonprofit organization that makes profitable, seed-stage investments in India and East Africa, says the nonprofit status “is vitally important for us.”

Operating as a nonprofit has allowed the organization to attract pro bono resources that made the fund operationally possible.

“If you think about a fund of our size, the economics don’t work when you’re taking a two and twenty,” she says referring to the standard venture fund model of charging investors a 2% management fee plus a carried interest of 20% of the profits.

The Beyond Capital fund is just $1.8 million, meaning that a 2% management fee would pay only $36,000, not enough to run a fund.

Eva Yazhari, Beyond Capital

Beyond Capital was born as a family philanthropy. “About two years in, we realized that there was a tremendous appetite from our networks to focus their own philanthropy on what we were doing,” Yazhari says. You can watch our entire interview in the player at the top of the article.

The firm had its first exit near the end of 2017, yielding the fund a 26% IRR. The fund invested in ERC Eye Care, a low-cost eye care operation in Northern India that provides eyeglasses and cataract surgeries to people living below the poverty line.

Using a hub and spoke model, the company operates two “hub” hospitals where surgeries are performed. Clinics in small villages where residents could go for screening provided the spokes. Yazhari says the $20 cataract surgeries are the most profitable line of business.

Osman Khan, a member of the Beyond Capital board, highlights the fund’s structure. “It has developed a rigorous and systematic framework to identifying and evaluating enterprises and readily quantifying and assessing those that are currently making, or are expected to make, the greatest impact at the ‘bottom of the pyramid.’”

Yazhari outlined four aspects of the framework:

  1. “We’re investing in people.” She says this is a lesson she learned while working on Wall Street.
  2. “We’re really looking for simpler solutions to complex problems.” As an example, she points to their investment in Kasha, a mobile retail platform that sells women’s health products, including sanitary pads and contraceptives in Rwanda.
  3. “We also are very strict on having an impact first lens.” Before investing, Beyond Capital ensures that the management team of the company has inculcated their mission into the business model to avoid mission creep in the future, especially if and when investors without an impact first approach bring funding to the table.
  4. Prove the unit economics and scalability. She highlighted the need to ensure that the unit economics work so that the business can scale up, generating cash flow to help fund the growth.

The fund’s average deal size is just $75,000. Investing such small amounts in faraway places could put a burden on financial returns. This is where the nonprofit comes to the rescue. By donating her own time for several years and getting due diligence services donated, the firm has been able to keep diligence costs to near zero. One key is the volunteer services of a board member based in Bangalore.

Another tool that helps maintain low cost and high effectiveness, she boasts, is her phone. A quick “what’s up” on Whatsapp yields, “the best update and really more information than we would get in the monthly or quarterly reporting,” she says.

Yazhari says the fund is now in the process of raising a $2 million round of grant funding, she hopes to close in October, noting that $800,000 is already committed. That should allow the fund to make another 18 investments.

So far, the first fund has a paper return of 30% IRR, based on the valuations of the companies that have gone on to raise additional funding. The goal, she says, is to be able to reinvest the profits from the fund in more companies, ultimately allowing the nonprofit to become “financially sustainable” by 2024.

Yazhari’s heart is in this work. She says she has been inspired by her grandfather who started a hospital in Tanzania in the late 1950s. She’s found a way to honor his legacy by leveraging her Wall Street experience to build a nonprofit that is now reaching more than 2.3 million people.

Click here to get my free webinar showing the three myths that hamper and the two keys for nonprofit crowdfunding success.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

Inspired By Brother’s Death, Stanford Grad Uses Human-Centered Design To Change World

Durell Coleman wanted to be an inventor since he was a young child. His brother, five years his senior, died from cancer after graduating from high school. Before he did, he challenged his younger brother to make cancer treatments better. That request was seared into Durell’s memory and changed the direction of his life.

Today, the two-time Stanford grad combines his passion for invention with the spirit of his brother’s challenge. He employs human-centered design skills to develop processes, system and technology that improve people’s lives. Watch the full interview in the player at the top of this article.

Interview with Durell Coleman, the Founder and CEO of DC Design.

The following is the pre-interview with Durell Coleman. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.

What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?

We design services, systems, products, processes, and experiences that better improve outcomes for those who have not been well designed for. In Design the Future, we are solving a few different problems.

  1. We’re teaching young adults the “How” behind changing the world by teaching them how to make a direct impact on the life of one person.
  2. We’re showing young adults that there are issues they can direct their energies toward that go beyond the innovations of Instagram, Facebook, snapchat and laundry apps that help those who are well-off do their laundry without interacting with those who aren’t. In other words, that there are big issues all around them that really affect people’s quality of life that they can get involved with.
  3. We’re breaking down barriers across difference, in particular between those with disabilities and those without them. We’re teaching young adults to engage with things that are uncomfortable and how to navigate difficult conversations.
  4. Groups of high school students are creating real products that directly improve the quality of life of their project partners in a lasting and meaningful way. Many of the projects the students have worked on have gone on to be directly implementable and used over the longterm by those they were designed for.
  5. We’re bringing this education to students who normally wouldn’t be able to experience it by offering scholarships and actively recruiting students from different backgrounds. That means we recruit students from underrepresented racial backgrounds, students of different ability levels with both sighted students and those with visual impairment, mix socioeconomic levels, skill sets, and have a greater number of girls in this STEM program than boys.

Design the Future:

More about DC Design:

Twitter: @dcdesignltd



DC Design is a social impact design firm. We use human centered design to help solve the world’s biggest problems. Our work includes redesigning aspects of the foster care system in Silicon Valley, partnering with governments to develop and implement strategies for reducing jail recidivism, consulting architects, physicians and nurses on designing optimal emergency departments, and developing award winning educational programs to address challenges around physical disability. Our specialty is in multi-stakeholder design, which involves understanding the needs of diverse groups of people, finding key points of agreement, and identifying opportunities to create novel solutions to the challenges those stakeholders face. Our consulting services, educational design workshops, and products are aimed at creating a lasting positive impact on society and helping others do the same.

For-profit/Nonprofit: For-profit

Revenue model: Design Consulting Services – Strategy, Service Design, App Design, Product Design.

Design the Future – Charge students

Scale: Our core team consists of 5 people. Our work has focused on impacts for populations of various size ranging from 1 person when designing for an individual with a disability to 1.9 million when designing for the criminal justice system of a government. For Design the Future, our team scales up to 25 paid contractors and employees. This year 85 high school students will produce 17 different products that impact the lives of 17 different individuals with physical disabilities.

Durell Coleman

Durell Coleman’s bio:


Durell Coleman is the founder of DC Design, a social impact design firm that uses the design thinking process to address the world’s biggest problems. In his journey as a designer, Durell has collaborated with international non-profits, large tech companies, and small businesses to create products and services that solve the problems they face. Trained in mechanical engineering (B.S) and sustainable design (M.S.), he is a two-time alumnus of Stanford University and its famous Institute of Design (the Stanford He partners with diverse clients to help them successfully overcome challenges and capitalize on the opportunities before them. His clients include governments, foundations and nonprofits working to address challenges in the criminal justice and foster care systems, Syrian refugees designing solutions to challenges in refugee camps, students at Stanford University designing a more inclusive campus, and corporate executives from Sony, Oracle, and Santander. He is an expert in multi-stakeholder, human-centered design and is one of the subjects of the PBS documentary: “Extreme by Design,” which is used as a design thinking teaching aid all over the world.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

This App Saves Lives–Share It With Kids You Love In Utah

Teen suicide risk in Utah is multiples of the national average. During the school year just ended, seven students at one Utah high school died at their own hand. The problem isn’t new this year. Many people are working at strategies to end the pattern. One initiative is the SafeUT app.

Utah kids are encouraged to download the app to their phones and to keep it where they can see it in hopes that the constant reminder will get them to use it when they need it–when they’re thinking about harming themselves.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the app is working. One youth, contemplating a suicide attempt, decided to text a last note to a loved one. Upon opening the phone, he saw the app, opened it and engaged with a professional counselor and decided not to harm himself. He’s thriving today.

Interview with Missy Wilson Larsen, the Founding Chair of SafeUT.

The following is the pre-interview with Missy Wilson Larsen. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.

More about SafeUT:


The SafeUT Crisis Text and Tip Line is a statewide service in Utah that provides real-time crisis intervention to anyone in need, especially youth, through a smartphone app. The app allows users to chat, text, or call licensed clinicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, the app has a function for students to report safety concerns to school administrators or law enforcement anonymously. The crisis line clinicians respond to incoming chats, texts, and calls by providing supportive or crisis counseling, suicide prevention tools, and/or referral services. Anyone with needs rooted in emotional crises, bullying, relationship problems, mental health, or suicide related issues is invited to reach out through SafeUT.

SafeUT is free and confidential.

If an “active rescue” is necessary where the crisis counselor believes the user is in immediate danger, the clinician will alert emergency services to attempt a face-to-face safety evaluation based on the information provided by the user.

For-profit/Nonprofit: Government Resource

Revenue model: Funded through the State of Utah

Scale: SafeUT is a critical resource for those in mental health crisis and students who have safety tips throughout Utah and beyond. It is also the basis for a national 3-digit call number that Senator Hatch is introducing in DC

Missy Wilson Larsen
Photo Credit: Farris Gerrard

Missy Wilson Larsen’s bio:


Over the past 25 years Missy has become recognized for her collaboration and results-focused work in business, non-profit, and government leadership. She has built a successful career on a passion to connect resources for community-building initiatives. Before joining the innovative team at doTERRA International this year, she served as Chief of Staff to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes where she oversaw policy issues, office administration, community outreach, and partner alliances.

In the early 1990’s, Missy served as Press Secretary, Spokesperson & Business Liaison for the late U.S. Congressman Bill Orton (UT, 3) and in 1994, she solely launched INTREPID PR, an award-winning firm based in Salt Lake City. After a decade of success, she left the agency to care for her four children and continued to represent some of Utah’s most valued businesses and organizations at their request. In 2009, after mentoring a Somali-Bantu refugee family, Missy co-founded the Utah Refugee Coalition (now Utah Refugee Connection) as an organization to connect government offices, non-profit organizations, and businesses with a core mission of helping incoming refugees integrate into Utah communities and build self-sufficiency. Today the organization connects refugees and refugee providers with needed resources and volunteers.

Missy is the founding Chair of the statewide SafeUT Crisis and Tip Line Commission and currently chairs the Utah Refugee Connection Board, serves as Vice President of Government Relations for the Boy Scouts of America Greater Salt Lake Council, and serves on the World Trade Center Utah Board, Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors, Anti Bullying Coalition, and on the Hale Centre Theatre Board. She has served on numerous boards over the past 25 years and continues to volunteer as a refugee mentor to a Somali Bantu family. Missy and her husband, Sam, are the parents of four children.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

Young Entrepreneur Hopes To Tell A New Story In Haiti

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

Resenting the prevailing narrative about poverty in Haiti, Marc Alain Boucicault, 30, a Fulbright Scholar, and a former economist for the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, is putting his experience to work as a social entrepreneur, hoping to change the story and the economy.

Boucicault recently launched Haiti’s first coworking space for technology entrepreneurs in Haiti. He kicked off Banj, as he calls the new venture, with a tech conference that included representatives from Facebook and Google. He hopes to see technology infuse the traditional economy, giving more farmers and business owners access to international markets, eventually narrowing the country’s overwhelming trade deficit.

Banj already has 100 members with four of 13 available offices rented—and it’s profitable, according to Boucicault. He’s built the business with sponsorships rather than loans or equity. The members and tenants cover the infrastructure costs and the partners fund program costs.

Marc Alain Boucicault

The business sprang directly from Boucicault’s experience as an economist. “As a young economist, I was frustrated by writing about the macroeconomics of Haiti marked by a negative real growth over the past 30 years. I saw hope in the young entrepreneurs I was meeting every day but knew there was a long way to go before they can bring a change to the economy. I knew that, if one day, I could find a working model to help, I would want to go and do that full time,” he says. Now he has.

Christine Souffrant Ntim, a Forbes 30 Under 30 winner and founder of the Haiti Tech Summit, hosted her Haiti Tech Summit at Banj on April 26, bring Facebook and Google to Haiti. She is excited about the impact it will have on the country. “It serves as a true example of entrepreneurial leadership,” she says.

She notes that basics like internet access and electricity remain challenges for many entrepreneurs and Banj solves that problem for entrepreneurs, allowing them for focus on their projects. In addition, Banj provides entrepreneurs with access to experts and mentors.

She also notes that Banj has made so much progress so quickly that it is changing the perception of what is possible in Haiti. “Within a year, Banj has been a partner or space for Google, Facebook, Startup Grind Port Au Prince, Hult Prize Haiti and more.”

Haiti’s history is difficult. The CIA’s World Fact Book describes Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The indigenous Taino people were nearly wiped out by Spanish settlers within 25 years of Columbus landing on the island. More recently, exports have not yet recovered to pre-earthquake levels and the country continues to run a large trade deficit.

“But that’s the narrative we’re trying to change. We want people to see Haiti differently,” says Boucicault. From his perspective, technology has the potential to enable even the most basic industries in Haiti to grow. For instance, the agricultural sector can increase output and exports by getting help from technology.

His strategy is to pair the “traditional rich Haitian bourgeoisie who have access to assets, have access to capital and combine them with the lower, middle-class Haitian who doesn’t have access to capital, doesn’t have access to money but have access to ideas.”

There is no question that Haiti needs a new narrative. Here’s hoping that the story Boucicault wants to write in its place proves to be nonfiction.

Click here to get my free webinar showing the three myths that hamper and the two keys for nonprofit crowdfunding success.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

One Key To Impact Investing: Start Big

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

Robert Rubinstein, 66, founder and chairman of the TBLI Group, has been advocating for sustainable, responsible or impact investing since the mid-1990s. One of the key lessons he’s learned: start big.

“I always focus on irresponsible investors and criminals. And I always communicated in their tribal language, so I only showed them self-interest, opportunity and money flows,” Rubinstein jokes enthusiastically, referring to the investors who didn’t already employ some form of responsible investing.

Those money flows were key. He says others in the space have made the mistake of focusing on the “moral imperative.” Money managers face targets, he notes. If they don’t meet their benchmarks they get fired. The only way to get through to them is to speak their language and to focus on financial returns.

Robert Rubinstein, TBLI

You have to package it in a way that they can move zeros,” he says, noting that money managers have to put lots of money to work and can’t be bothered with investments that are too small.

“Too much of the impact space is only about smiling children drinking milk in Tanzania as the only form of impact. That’s a form; it’s not the only form. So, our definition is broader because we want to get switched to a values-based economy, an economy based on well-being and a low to zero carbon economy. You can’t do that on small scale. You’ve got to do big time.”

He says that “most” companies already have an internal price on carbon built into their financial models. That some people in Washington decry climate change as fake doesn’t matter. “It has nearly no influence whatsoever on institutional investors.” They are looking to “decarbonize portfolios at scale.”

Some of the sectors that excite him for making impact investments at scale include public transportation infrastructure, community banks and what he likes to call “fuel-free energy” like wind and solar. These are all areas where investments can be made at scale.

Ibrahim AlHusseini, founder of The Husseini Group, who has attended TBLI events, says, “In the past, the prevailing narrative was that money must be left to grow unencumbered by the wealth holder’s values. Now we have the choice to make equal or larger returns while we solve real social or environmental problems at the same time.”

Getting to this point, however, has been a long road. Rubinstein says he feels like a “25-year overnight success.” When he started publishing his sustainability magazine in 1995 he would sometimes be invited to speak at conferences. He would leave copies of the magazine around for the asset owners and managers. “They were afraid to touch it. They thought they might get some illness or disease.”

He put the magazine aside in 1998 to launch TBLI Group, which stands for Triple Bottom Line Investing—profit, people and planet, though “not necessarily in that order,” he quips. The firm has three business lines: ecotourism, conferences and consulting. Most people get to know the firm, which he says is profitable, through its conferences, usually held twice each year in different places on the globe.

Toni E. Symonds, senior policy advisor to the California State Legislature has attended the conferences many times—typically at her own expenses, she was careful to note—says, “TBLI events are gathering places for people who want to use their time and talent to support upward mobility and create inclusive economies.”

“In the 15 years since I attended my first conference, TBLI has served to influence and inspire many aspects of my public policy work.” She boasts of drafting a bill in 2005 that would have set California’s first greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and another in 2008 that would have the state create an investor-based climate change disclosure standard for public companies doing business in California.

As you can see, Rubinstein has influenced a shift in the financial markets over the past 20 years, but his work is not done.

“The problem is that global financial systems [have an] I win-you lose mentality. TBLI would like to change investment perspectives to a values-based system whereby everyone has the opportunity to be a winner. That’s a good problem to solve. And we are here to take on this challenge,” he says.

Click here to get my free webinar showing the three myths that hamper and the two keys for nonprofit crowdfunding success.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

Deep Optimism: The Unique Outlook Of Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Years ago, while running a boutique investment banking firm that served mostly entrepreneurial clients, I came to appreciate that successful entrepreneurs come in all varieties but share one thing in common: optimism.

When I say “optimism,” I don’t mean the ordinary sort where one says the glass is half full. I’m talking about the sort of optimism that looks at a glass with perhaps a drop of water and concludes that the glass is effectively full.

As I’ve been writing about social entrepreneurship as a regular Forbes contributor for the past six years, I’ve come to appreciate this brand of entrepreneur for having an even deeper optimism. These are the folks who, while others are looking for the quick fix and the easy opportunity, stare death in the face and say I’m coming for you.

Personally, when I think of social entrepreneurship, I focus on three areas: poverty, disease and climate. My admiration is deepest for those who square up their shoulders and tackle one or more of these problems head-on.

Take, for example, Jake Harriman. While serving in the Marines, he began to recognize that poverty was contributing to the death toll in Iraq. He saw a man load his family in the car and attempt to run through the American line to escape the hell they were living. The American line held. Only the father survived.

Harriman went to Stanford following his second tour of duty where he earned a Bronze Star and began organizing an effort to end extreme poverty around the world. He launched Nuru International to create a model for lifting entire communities out of poverty. The organization works with impoverished people to create viable businesses and to then plow some of the profits back into the community using a hybrid for-profit/nonprofit approach.

Harriman didn’t get mired in the problem; he immersed himself in the solution.

How do you see these glasses of water?

Deep optimism is not limited to social entrepreneurs even if they epitomize it. Rotary International decided 33 years ago to end polio. [I am a member of Rotary and have been paid to speak at Rotary events.] Whether it was hubris or naivete, they planned to eradicate the disease within about twenty years. While the battle has not been won, the financial support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped. Seeing cases go from 350,000 per year in the mid-80s to just 22 cases in the world in 2017, eradication seems assured if global partners including the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control continue their support.

In the climate arena, social entrepreneurs are using wind and solar as weapons to slow the warming of the planet. Rayton Solar has developed a process using particle accelerators to slice the silicon for solar panels in a way that will reduce the manufacturing cost of a panel by 60%. In India, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy led a five-fold increase in power from solar in under three years, largely by engaging social entrepreneurs. Sighten is developing software to reduce the cost of installing solar.

The world’s biggest problems are proving to be the world’s biggest opportunities for those with the right kind of optimism.

They are the ones who see the empty glass as effectively full. It isn’t ignorance or delusion that causes them to think this way. Their attitude simply reflects the fact that they know where to get the water.

Click here to get my free webinar showing the three myths that hamper and the two keys for nonprofit crowdfunding success.

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This Mission-Driven Business Helps Millions Of Students Learn STEM Skills

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

Vince Bertram, 50, CEO of Project Lead the Way, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides STEM education, curriculum and training to schools, districts and teachers for millions of students across the country, says operating as a mission-driven business is key to having impact.

With $73.2 million in 2017 revenue and programs in 10,500 schools in all 50 states, Project Lead the Way—PLTW—serves millions of kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

Bertram says, “We are a business and if we don’t have a sustainable business model, we can’t provide the service to schools.”

Most of the organization’s revenue comes from fees for service and product sales. PLTW’s online store sells equipment and supplies that teachers and schools can use for teaching science, technology, engineering and math—STEM skills.

Vince Bertram, Project Lead the Way

In addition, PLTW works with corporations—many of whom are working to grow the qualified workforce—who make grants to the organization, which in turn makes grants to schools of 100% of the corporate donations.

Bertram describes the grantmaking function as a “service for corporations” that want to invest in education. Over the past five years, corporations have provided $91 million in funding through PLTW.

“Other organizations in particular in the nonprofit world will become highly vulnerable because of ebbs and flows in philanthropy and we can avoid that by having a sustainable business model,” Bertram says.

For his part, Bertram says education wasn’t always important to him. He says, both his parents dropped out of high school and he himself was on the verge of doing so after his father left home. “I just didn’t see the relevancy of school. I didn’t understand its long-term implications and the power of education.”

He credits teachers and a principal who influenced him with gaining an understanding of the value of education. It became his overarching passion.

He worries that we don’t give students particularly good advice. “We tell them things like Just follow your dreams and everything will work out. It’s just not reality. It’s irrational. You know the world doesn’t care about their dreams. They care about what they can do and the value they can add.”

“The ideal situation is when we see this convergence of passion and interest and skills so you can actually go out and do the things you want to do and people will actually pay you for it,” he explains.

PLTW provides curriculum along three pathways: engineering, biomedical science and computer science. The organization also teaches educators how to teach this content using problem-based courses.

The process of learning requires students to apply math and science, Bertram says. The challenge is to get students to the point that they can apply knowledge outside the context in which they learned it.

In a recorded interview which you can watch in the player at the top of this article, Bertram and I talked about the importance of building robots and blowing stuff up.

“We can give them things that they really enjoy doing at the same time bring real-world context to it. [We] show them how we implode buildings, how we really create this structure through a mountain, how we build roads and how we take robotics and put that into a manufacturing facility that’s going to be very disruptive to the workforce,” he says.

Kelly Garcia, a PLTW Gateway Teacher at Benton Middle School in La Mirada, California, says she was among the first teachers in the area to be certified and so she’s seen the program’s impact over many years.

“It has been transformative for our district and community as a whole. Many of our students are from low-income families, and they have very little access to information about STEM careers. As a result of the PLTW curriculum, our students not only learn about their career possibilities, but they also are given opportunities to develop the skills necessary to achieve their goals.”

She highlights the success of a first-generation, Latina college student, Celeste, who is now studying environmental engineering at Stanford. “I once asked her how she decided on environmental engineering as a major, and she told me that she remembered the exact moment she made the decision: She said she was in an 8th-grade PLTW class, energy and the environment, building a windmill when she thought ‘I can do this!’”

Martha McCabe, the executive director for Kansas City STEM Alliance, says, “PLTW is a game-changer for so many students.”

Each year, the Kansas City Stem Alliance gathers students from around the city to present their capstone engineering and biomedical sciences projects. “Over 375 students participated in last week’s PLTW Senior Showcase representing 41 high schools and 21 school districts,” she says.

The success can be measured in revenue as well as impact. Over the last seven years, since Bertram took the top job at PLTW, revenue has grown from under $10 million to over $70 million.

Bertram credits a business focus driven by mission for the success. “We absolutely look at this from a business perspective. We take a lot of pride in that but there is a difference in being driven by profit and being driven by mission. And for us, our mission is to ensure that every child has access to this kind of experience.”

If you share my passion for doing good with your money, learn how you can become an impact investor with my online course, 25% off with this link.

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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!

Global Impact Comes From Female Cofounder’s Success With $1B Enterprise

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

“The reason I get up in the morning is to be able to truly give back to humanity. I think we’ve been given a responsibility to do that, ” says Emily Wright, co-founder of dōTERRA, the private manufacturer and distributor of essential oils.

The scale of the business gives her an unusual ability to have an impact. She notes that the company generates a profit on more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Her current title is founding executive, sales and marketing.

Working with a founding team of six men, she says of women, “I think we think a bit differently.” Of working with an all-male team, she adds, “I love the way they think and everything they contribute; I think they appreciate what I contribute.”

It wasn’t always like that. In a prior company, she says she sat on a board of four, working her way up from executive assistant to a become an executive herself. “I had to work a lot harder in order to achieve that position,” she says, adding, “I was paid about half the amount of the men.”

Because of challenges she faced early in her career, Wright says, “What I love most is empowering other women.”

Emily Wright, dōTERRA

“I know what it feels like to be in their shoes,” she says of other women. “I know what it feels like to have $26 in my checking account, wondering how in the world I’m going to put food on the table for my children. I know what it feels like to go hungry. I know what it feels like to lose my identity. I know what it feels like to get beaten up and tossed aside by the world.”

DōTERRA reports having 2,000 employees and 3 million “Wellness Advocates” who buy the products and sell them to their friends in a network marketing program. Most of the Wellness Advocates are women, giving Wright influence with millions of women.

Since the founding of the company, Wright has had responsibility for sourcing raw materials and for the company’s social responsibility initiatives. She has helped to infuse sourcing with a sense of mission and purpose. Even before the company became profitable, she says the founders agreed to “create a culture of giving back.” The founders personally funded the creation of the Healing Hands Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

She recalled a sourcing visit to Haiti in 2013. During the visit with local suppliers, she was taken aback by a gentleman who got up and said through a translator, “I have a dream to someday have clean water.” She learned that the community had to travel three hours each day to retrieve water that then had to be boiled to be safe to drink.

Since then, Wright reports that dōTERRA has not only provided clean water by drilling wells in the community, but has constructed schools, clinics and community centers as well as providing them with “sustainable income” via the purchase of essential oils.

One of the most challenging environments for sourcing its raw materials is Somalia, its primary source of frankincense.

Wright recalled her first visit to the country. Upon her arrival with CEO David Sterling, she saw in the faces of the people a complete lack of hope. “We have to change this,” she says they immediately agreed.

It has taken time, but the company has invested in the community that grows frankincense, providing warehouses with running water and sanitation for processing as well as schools for both their boys and girls. They have also built a clinic and have begun work on a hospital there as well.

Wright boasts that the income of the frankincense growers has increased fivefold as dōTERRA worked to eliminate middlemen who leveraged the desperate situation of the growers to buy from them at abusive prices.

Similarly, dōTERRA established sourcing operations in Bulgaria in 2015. Stoyana Stoeva, co-founder and partner in the local social enterprise called the Social teahouse, said that dōTERRA has been a partner since they were founded in 2016.

The Utah-based company paid to reconstruct a three-story building that hosts a “tea saloon,” seminar space and coworking space. With help from dōTERRA, the Social Tea House has created a line of locally sourced merchandise that helps fund its social mission.

Stoeva credits dōTERRA with helping to accomplish its goals, to mentor young people with limited opportunities, providing them with skills, from non-violent communication to responsibility and financial management.

Wright remains optimistic. She describes the Somalia project as “probably” the hardest project they’ve completed. “What’s next?” she asks.

Still, she says, “What I want to be known most as is the world’s greatest mom.”

If you share my passion for doing good with your money, learn how you can become an impact investor with my online course, 25% off with this link.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

Learn How to Build a Better Board For Your Nonprofit

Kate Hayes joined Echoing Green with a clean mission in mind: help nonprofits build better boards. Too many boards are untrained, lack diversity and aren’t fully engaged. She’s developed programs to help nonprofits and board candidates alike to be more effective.

Interview with Kate Hayes, the of Echoing Green.

The following is the pre-interview with Kate Hayes. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.

What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?

Nonprofit boards are ineffective – members do not reflect the communities they serve, they are not active enough in fundraising, and they are not focused on strategy. Only 16% of board members are under the age of 40; 80% of board members have received no training; and 65% of board members don’t think their fellow board members are engaged. At the same time, very few training programs exist, so we are stuck in the cycle of bad boards.

My goal was-and is- to re-imagine what board service looks like. Direct Impact is an experiential board leadership program which prepares exceptional young business leaders for high-impact nonprofit board service. We help individuals identify and unleash the skills, competencies, and qualities they need as leaders to be able to influence and impact people throughout their lives, both through board service and beyond. Through an intensive leadership development process, we are preparing them to change the game.

At the same time, I work with social entrepreneurs as they develop their own boards, and seek to bring ‘next practices’ to life in the boardroom.

A recent article by Kate Hayes:

More about Echoing Green:

Twitter: @echoinggreen



For over 30 years, Echoing Green has unleashed next-generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems. These leaders, who spend their lives working with purpose, define their generations; they make society better.

Echoing Green continues to build a global community of emerging leaders – almost 800 and growing – who launched Teach For America, City Year, One Acre Fund, SKS Microfinance, and more. Whether it’s through our Fellowships or our other innovative leadership initiatives, like Direct Impact, we unleash unexpected potential by tracking down the best and the brightest leaders, bringing them together, and launching them on a path to success.

For-profit/Nonprofit: 501(c)3 Nonprofit

Revenue model: Echoing Green is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and is funded philanthropically. The specific program I lead, Direct Impact, is a fee-for-service program, where individuals and/or corporations pay tuition for the programmatic experience.

Scale: Direct Impact is Echoing Green’s newest program, and was started three years ago. To date, we have graduated six cohorts of business leaders, for a total of over 50 graduates. The program is continuing to grow, with increasing demand from both individuals and corporations.

Kate Hayes
Photo Credit: Echoing Green

Kate Hayes’s bio:

Twitter: @kdahayes


Kate Hayes is the director of Direct Impact at Echoing Green. She oversees programming for business leaders who are dedicated to realizing their full potential as agents of social change. She leads retreats, workshops, and immersive site visits focused on leadership development, purpose, strategic governance, philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship. Prior to joining Echoing Green, she worked as Director of Evaluation and Program Impact in the national office of Minds Matter. While at Minds Matter, she led several new initiatives for engaging alumni, scaling the organization, and training 1,700 skills-based volunteers across the United States. Kate currently sits on the Executive Committee at the Northfield Mount Hermon School, where she serves as Vice President of the Alumni Council. Kate writes about leadership development and governance across the web, including in Forbes and SSIR. She holds a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Northeastern University.

I consider myself a hybrid between a social entrepreneur and intrapreneur. I joined Echoing Green to re-think the way we were working with business leaders, so in a sense, I am an intrapreneur. At the same time, I am working to solve a major challenge in the space, which is that nonprofit boards are extremely ineffective.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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!

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