4 social entrepreneurs on a mission

These entrepreneurs are in the ‘make the world a better place’ business

Marcus Webb – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Marcus Webb | Independent Money Mentor

Editor of Delayed Gratification and independent journalist

These four social entrepreneurs know what it means to be driven to solve a problem, and share a belief that the best way to do that is with a business model that benefits society. They’ve harnessed their entrepreneurial spirit – and that of those around them – to meet the grand challenges we face today in a way that prioritises people and planet, and can still deliver profit.

1. Recovering value from what we discard

Kabira Stokes had once hoped for a career in costume design. But everything changed when she worked for the future mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti, then the city council president. After studying LA’s crime statistics alongside Garcetti, Stokes turned her focus to prison policy and reform. For several years now, her mission has been to tackle the issue of how society treats ‘throwaway’ people and trash. As CEO of Homeboy Recycling she meets the urgent need for better recycling of discarded electronics through providing employment and training to former prison inmates and other Angelenos struggling to get into work.

2. Turning abandoned wood into bespoke furniture

Oliver Waddington-Ball has the Midas touch when it comes to transforming both waste and peoples’ lives. At the Goldfinger Factory, in the underbelly of the iconic Trellick Tower in west London, his craft-based social enterprise is a beacon in the local community. Abandoned wood is turned into bespoke furniture under the expert eye of artisans-in-residence, who in turn provide training and support to young people to develop traditional craft skills. With an impressive range of clients for their beautiful interiors and the additional benefits they offer such as free building services for the local community, Oli has found a way to achieve his mission of “turning waste into gold”.

3. Challenging the crowd to deliver social solutions

Mumbai-born Zenia Tata is a self-styled ‘serial social entrepreneur’ who passionately believes that “doing good for the planet is good for business” – and that the way to do this at scale is with a sustainable model. (She also happens to be a space buff, scuba diver and pilot.) As executive director of global development at ‘innovation engine’ XPRIZE, her task is to find and develop new technology that can help tackle some of the challenges faced by economically disadvantaged people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Her current focus is on water security and XPRIZE has put up a prize fund to innovators and engineers around the world who can develop technology that increases access to clean and abundant water for those who most urgently need it.

4. Sowing the seeds of change

Down a south London side street, the ‘agricultural mavericks’ at Ande Gregson’s Green Lab are working on some big ideas. Ande’s team hope to tackle the problems of our unsustainable food system by using technology to find long-term solutions – they want to rethink the way we produce and process food. In addition to being a bio-lab for research and experiments focused on sustainability, Green Lab runs workshops for schools and curious individuals. If you’ve ever craved an introduction to urban aquaponics (growing food using fish waste and a water recirculating system, for the uninitiated) you’re in luck

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