Social entrepreneurs making real change where it’s most needed

While big-picture trends continue to paint a worrying picture of our future, those of us with a more optimistic worldview find solace and inspiration in the countless smaller—but socially and environmentally transformative—initiatives taking place around the world.  Yes, the race between environmental calamity and evolutionary transformations is neck-and-neck, but the Dreamers, Drivers, and Doers among us see a real potential for rapid, exponential advances in the tech realm, alongside a wave of on-the-ground entrepreneurial visionaries driving rapid progress in health, education, and clean energy in communities around the world.  We received a fresh dose of inspiration from a compendium of “22 of the Most Fascinating Social Good Startups Changing the World.”  The common thread here is empowering individuals to create small companies that create new jobs and incomes while tackling local issues including poor sanitation, recycling, access to electricity, and supporting small farms.  Click through for a look at five of our favorites.

This particular list features projects associated with the Mentor Capital Network, a project of the William James Foundation that helps small entrepreneurs develop business plans and creates relationships with investors.  The Network is holding its annual gathering this week, and you can learn more about that, and several other of the companies that are working with them, here.

While most of these projects are only available to accredited investors, crowdfunding platforms such as Kiva provide opportunities for anyone to put some of their money into similarly transformative initiatives.  These examples, and the full list of 22, are but a tiny sampling of the sorts of things taking place in every country; it’s the accumulation of these small but significant steps that give heart to those of us who believe we’ll find our way through the eye of history’s needle and into a future that does indeed get better for us all, and for the planet.

The following descriptions are from Mentor’s director Ian Fisk:

sanergyThe long term objective of Sanergy is to build and scale viable sanitation infrastructure in the slums of Nairobi. The model involves four parts: (i) building a network of low-cost sanitation centers in slums, (ii) distributing them through franchising to local entrepreneurs, (iii) collecting the waste produced, and (iv) processing it into electricity and fertilizer. At each step, the model creates jobs and opportunity while simultaneously addressing serious social needs. “As of June 2015, we have a network of over 700 toilets run by 342 Fresh Life operators,” says communications manager Medora Brown. “Our network is used almost 30,000 times a day, and we remove more than seven metric tons of waste from the community every day. In total, we have removed and safely treated over 5,440 metric tons of waste. In the process, we have created over 725 high-quality jobs in an area where there is 40% unemployment.”

Wecyclers gives low-income communities in developing countries a chance to capture value from waste and clean up their neighborhoods through incentive-based recycling. “Since August 2012, Wecyclers has registered over 7,000 households for our collection service, built 25 operational collection cargo bikes and collected over 800 metric tons of recyclable materials,” says co-founder and CEO Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola. (see image at top of post)

day-one-responseDayOne Response develops and supplies innovative solutions for disaster relief. One solution is the DayOne Waterbag, which is a lightweight reusable personal water treatment device that provides all the essential functions for water purification. According to co-founder Amy Cagle, DayOne Waterbags have been deployed in over 20 countries, and the company has provided over 7 million liters of clean water in less than a year.

doraEstufa Doña Dora‘s mission is to maximize access to efficient, clean, and safe wood-fired cooking devices for rural and peri-urban Guatemalan families. “Since 2012, over 1,000 families have decided to buy a Doña Dora stove, paying the market price,” says co-founder and CEO David Evitt. “That means a smoke-free kitchen for 5,042 people, 2,573 tons of CO2 emissions avoided per year, and an annual savings of $126,646 on firewood.”

access-afyaAccess Afya sells basic healthcare services and supplies via high-tech mini-clinics to poor Kenyans, whose current healthcare options are unpleasant, unreliable, or unaffordable. “The organization has proved that the poor will pay for healthcare if it is superior to the low-quality status quo and offered at a price point that is still affordable,” says CEO Melissa Menke. “We found that price ceiling to be around $5 per visit, and we have over 7,000 clients at this level.”

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