As the trend of social entrepreneurship takes root in economies around the globe, future-focused impact investors are stepping up to the plate to help build a better world for generations to come.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 objectives to tackle global issues like hunger, joblessness, poverty, climate change, and food waste, among others. Below, we’ve selected six young people as examples of entrepreneurs bringing us closer to turning the UN’s SDGs into realities.
Brendan Carroll, founder of Skycision
Despite the fact that the average U.S. farmer spends around 1,000 hours a year manually scouting fields for signs of disease and other areas of stress, around 6% of annual crops are lost due to undetected threats, explains Brendan Carroll, the founder of Skycision. In developing nations, this number can be as high as 35%. Experts predict food production needs to increase by 70% in the next 30 years to accommodate rising population levels — so these losses are particularly concerning.
Skycision helps farmers collect and analyze aerial imagery — taken via drone and satellite — to detect potential crop issues faster and more efficiently. Carroll came up with the idea as a student at Carnegie Mellon while studying commercial drone use; he realized there were more noble uses for drones than same-day toothpaste delivery. Long term, Carroll envisions a world in which Skycision can help tackle macro issues affecting global food security.
"Skycision’s mission is to help maximize the potential of land under harvest to help feed the world," he explains. "While our efforts are largely domestic today, we see massive opportunities to make impacts in developing countries that can drastically enhance their productivity, while also helping poor rural growers become more economically viable."
To begin making progress on the UN’s SDGs such as developing sustainable agriculture practices and eliminating hunger, it’s crucial to think on a global scale.
"The social need is prevalent and obvious; the challenge is how to make it accessible. We need to come together as an industry to innovate solutions that overcome [these issues]," says Carroll. "Today, we are just scratching the surface, but it’s our mission to make this technology accessible to the most dire and underprivileged regions of the world."
Analisa Balares, founder of Womensphere
Analisa Balares’ organization, The Womensphere Foundation, is just one example of a group trying to make the UN’s SDG of gender equality a reality.
Balares created Womensphere to empower women and girls around the globe. The organization focuses on scaling education on a global level, creating mentorship platforms, and encouraging continuous learning and the leadership and entrepreneurial development of women.
Balares, who was born in the Philippines and eventually went on to pursue an Ivy League education and prosperous career path in the U.S., says she "wanted to replicate and spread this type of empowerment to women and girls across the world."
Image: Analisa Balares
Womensphere has five cornerstone initiatives: Leveraging technology and media to educate and empower; developing programs to unleash women’s potential; advancing the next generation of women leaders; mobilizing the global community; and recognizing world-changing innovators at the Womensphere Global Awards. Balares says that this "ecosystem" and community-focused approach differentiates Womensphere from other similar organizations.
Womensphere also relies on partnerships with rural communities to spread the word to parts of the world that may not have reliable internet access.
"Womensphere is building a global network of incubators designed to empower women and girls to create the future," explains Balares. "This is the most important investment we can be making as a society: Unleashing the full potential of half the world’s population."
Analisa Balares is part of the UBS Global Visionary program. Read more about her story and learn about other young entrepreneurs making an impact around the world.
Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup
In the middle of pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering, Boyan Slat dropped out of university to tackle one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: The pollution of our oceans. Slat, appalled at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other collections of plastic pollution littering our oceans, devised a way to take action.
The Ocean Cleanup, founded by Slat in 2013, is a pollution collection system driven by ocean currents. It’s estimated that the project could remove up to half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods (like vessels and nets), in a fraction of the time. A prototype deployed in June of 2016, and the first working pilot system is set to launch later this year.
The program ties in nicely with the UN’s SDG to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources."
"We’re driving the largest cleanup in history," says Slat. "The way the clean-up system works is that we let the plastic come to us, using the ocean currents in our advantage. We can now clean up 50% of the patch in just five years’ time."
Slat’s efforts have earned him numerous accolades, including being named the youngest-ever recipient of the UN’s Champion of the Earth award.
"There’s no better feeling than having an idea and then seeing that become reality," says Slat.
Atif Javed, founder of Tarjimly
In an article published earlier this year, Mashable covered Atif Javed’s startup Tarjimly and how it’s helping refugees around the globe. The company instantly connects refugees, non-profits, and immigrants in need of translation services (like medical or legal aid) to translators around the world. Today, the company boasts a community of more than 2,200 translators as well as 15 partner organizations.
"Our mission is to put a translator in the pocket of every person in need by building the future of person-to-person translation," explains Javed. "Our vision is a world where refugees are no longer statistics in our minds, but real people that we talk to and help every single day."
The initial inspiration for the project, says Javed — whose resume includes companies like NASA, EdX, Tesla, Apple, and Oracle — was "the raw feeling of helplessness that we [cofounders Aziz Alghunaim and Abubakar Abid] felt about the refugee crisis over the past six years." Javed explains that communication is one of the biggest problems refugees face while stuck in limbo in camps, navigating safety routes, or resettling into a new home.
The initiative fits perfectly into the UN’s SDG number 16, which seeks to "promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies."
"Our long-term goal is to empower a whole new economy around person-to-person translation in every language," says Javed, explaining that in the future the company aims to became a "world-class technology company for social good… pushing the boundaries of language and refugee research."
Rachel Sumekh, founder of Swipe Out Hunger
The idea for Swipe Out Hunger, explains Rachel Sumekh, was sparked by a friend’s simple CTA on Facebook: He asked fellow UCLA students to donate their unused dining hall funds to the hungry. Today, the movement has grown to a full-fledged non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about homelessness and collecting donations to end hunger.
In 2015, the organization shifted its focus to specifically concentrate on student hunger, which, says Sumekh, is a surprisingly common problem — especially among students who rely upon financial aid.
Image: Rachel sumekh
“Financial aid covers tuition, it might cover your housing, but food is the first thing that gets cut [when money is tight]," she says. "We decided we want to lead this movement.”
The organization runs "Swipes drives" (events where students can choose to donate via "Swipe machine," paper sign-up sheet or online). Donations are then distributed to meal voucher programs on campus, campus "food closets," and local community partners.
To date, more than 10,000 students have donated at more than 16 schools nationwide, and more than 120 universities have expressed interest in developing a Swipes program of their own. The progress is a great start on the UN’s SDG of eliminating hunger.
Sumekh says that in the long term, the organization hopes to have an impact on the cycle of poverty. "The impact that having a college degree has on your lifetime earning is massive," she says, adding that the cost of just a couple meals can help enormously. "You can’t imagine what it’s like to go to class and have to concentrate when you’re starving," she adds.
Leila Janah, founder of Samasource
Sama is the foundational concept behind Samasource, a non-profit founded by social entrepreneur Leila Janah in 2008; In Sanskrit, the word means "equal."
The company helps provide jobs to marginalized women and young people in some of the most impoverished parts of the world (in countries like Kenya, Uganda, India, and Haiti), connecting low-income job seekers to dignified work in the tech sector — and for big-name companies like Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft. The company has also branched out to include Samaschool, an organization that provides digital skills training to low-income individuals.
Janah says that the company has helped transform the lives of more than 34,000 people around the world, increasing workers’ income from $2 per day to $8 per day. And that’s just the start.
"In the next decade I want to get us to more than $100 million in sales and move more than 100,000 people out of poverty permanently," says Janah. "Reaching self-sustainability was always a major goal for Samasource. A non-profit that’s able to run off earned revenue and become less reliant on big grants and donations is pretty of unheard of, and we reached this milestone just a few months ago."
To accomplish the company’s ambitious goals, Janah says she’s currently focused on making Samasource’s impact sourcing model a more mainstream practice among big corporations. This would be a major milestone for the UN’s SDG to "promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all."
"It’s said that the ‘Global 2000’ spend $12 trillion on goods and services annually," explains Janah. "If those companies allocated even the tiniest percentage of their procurement budgets to impact sourcing, or changed their hiring or procurement practices to ensure that low-income people are included in their supply chain, imagine the impact that could have."
Want to learn more about how to support organizations and social entrepreneurs like those profiled here? Find out more about impact investing.