4 Social Entrepreneurs Who Changed Careers and Changed the World
By nature, humans are problem solvers. We see something that’s broken and want to fix it. Some people take this urge to problem-solve and create businesses to fix issues they find in society and in the world. These gems are called social entrepreneurs.
Not every social entrepreneur grew up knowing that they’d have a career solving the world’s problems. In fact, many social entrepreneurs had to make the tough decision to leave a cushy job in order to pursue their dreams of helping others. Fortunately, the rewards exceeding the difficulties.
If you’re thinking about making a big career change to something that benefits humanity, you’ll be inspired by these stories.
- Scott Harrison, Founder of charity: water
Harrison lived a lavish life as a promoter for New York’s top nightclubs and fashion events—a life many would kill for. Harrison may have been rich in money, but he admits he was “spiritually bankrupt.” Instead of doing nothing about his situation, Harrison did everything to start living a life that helped the world.
What did he do? He quit his job and volunteered with Mercy Ships, a humanitarian group offering free medical care to impoverished nations. His work as a volunteer helped him find his own calling in life and business—and charity: water was born. Now, Harrison travels around the world providing clean water to developing countries.
- Karen Aiach, Founder and CEO of Lysogene
Aiach left her career as an audit specialist to dive full-time into biotech, an industry in which she had zero experience or education. However, Aiach’s decision to start working in the biotech field wasn’t sparked by curiosity, but rather necessity and desperation. Her goal was to find a cure for her daughter’s illness, “Sanfilippo Syndrome A, a rare neurodegenerative disease that has no cure and can reduce life expectancy to less than 20 years,” Aiach explains in her interview with Forbes. This is how Lysogene came about.
It started as a desperate, last-ditch effort to find a cure for her daughter’s rare neurodegenerative disease, but Lysogene is now a full-fledged biopharmaceutical company, pioneering gene therapies for central nervous system (CNS) disorders.
- Suzanne Ma, Co-Founder and CMO of Routific
Ma always envisioned a career in journalism. She graduated at the top of her class with a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and went on to become a reporter for the Associated Press and DNAinfo. Ma felt that she was doing everything in her career that she set out to accomplish, however she ended up feeling unfulfilled and drained at the end of the day.
Ma left her career and life in New York to move to the Chinese countryside and begin a three-year adventure gathering research for her book—a book that she wrote “without a contract, without any connections in the publishing industry, without any guarantee that anyone but [her] parents would read and appreciate what [she] was writing,” Ma tells Huffington Post.
After handing in her manuscript, Ma ended up co-founding a startup with her husband (who also left his career as a banker and consultant). Called Routific, the company cuts waste and reduces greenhouse gases by optimizing transportation routes for delivery fleets.
Ma admits that people cautioned her not to “risk everything for a dream that might never be realized” by jumping into Routific so quickly. However, “like any fated relationship,” Ma says, “if the timing is right, and if you have the skills, the determination and the resources to propel yourself forward, you can take that leap.”
- Patrick Struebi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fairtrasa
Struebi thought he had it all as a successful executive at one of the world’s leading commodity trading companies. However, while on a business trip in Peru, he realized that his life’s work was only making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Struebi returned home, left his cushy corporate job, sold all his belongings, and got a one-way ticket to Mexico so he could reevaluate what he wanted to do with his life.
During his travels through Latin America, Struebi started talking with small-scale farmers and quickly realized his calling in life: to help these farmers. In 2005, Struebi founded Fairtrasa, which stands for “Fair Trade South America.” Its mission: “to help small-scale farmers improve their production and gain crucial exposure to global markets” (World Economic Forum). Today, Fairtrasa has expanded to 15 companies and provides organic, fair-trade fruits from Latin America’s family farms to all major markets in Europe and the U.S.
“There are many of us [social entrepreneurs] out there,” says Struebi, “and I believe that there are many others who are social entrepreneurs at heart but don’t realize it.”
Tell Us What You Think
What issue would you tackle as a social entrepreneur? We’d love to hear how you’d make the world a better place. Share your ideas with our community on Twitter, or leave a comment below. You never know, this may be the push you need to finally take the leap into your social entrepreneurship venture.
Leah Arnold-Smeets, owner of Emiko Consulting, is passionate about helping entrepreneurs capitalize on their strengths, improve on their weaknesses, and reach their full potential. Leah obtained her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration & Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Southern California (USC).