Entrepreneurs Who Have Made a Difference and Why You Can Too | TopMBA.com

Entrepreneurs Who Have Made a Difference and Why You Can Too

By Avery Phillips

Updated January 16, 2018 Updated January 16, 2018

In the modern business world, we use the word entrepreneur all the time. It is the type of title that easily loses its meaning, given just how frequently people bestow it upon themselves or others. At the core, an entrepreneur is a businessman or woman who has accepted more than the usual amount of risk that comes with a given venture.

The truth is that those who truly embrace the very spirit of entrepreneurship are those who are invested and committed to causes far beyond what the typical business person must consider. And often, those are the individuals who end up changing the world. 

They combine their business know-how and their passions in such a manner that their organizations don't just survive, they impact the world around them for good. Their examples are the ones that keep the shining flame of what it really means to be an entrepreneur.

As an MBA student, you could be poised to follow the same path, and to utilize the same skills to create a long-lasting difference in the world around you.

Entrepreneurs who are changing their world

The first thing to establish is that we’re not just talking about the Mark Zuckerbergs or the Steve Jobs of the world; it’s clear to all that they have changed the world in a massive way. We’re talking specifically about those who have gone out of their way to make changes that have weighty benefits for the communities they’re introducing their ideas to.

Cemal Ezel

Ezel is an entrepreneur who looked at a need, and commodity, in demand and saw a relatively straightforward solution. While this isn’t in and of itself a big deal, what is a big deal is the fact that he took it upon himself to make that solution workable.

Ezel utilized the love that his native London has for coffee as a means to employ others who desperately need and want jobs, and by extension combat homelessness in the city. Change Please trains homeless individuals as baristas, and pays them the livable wage in London. They also work to create a space where mental well-being is fostered and support is shown beyond the coffee cart.

Keiran Olivares Whitaker

Whitaker was working as a scuba diving instructor in Mexico. That job gave him a front row seat to some of the most beautiful sites on earth, but also the serious devastation to rainforests that farming causes. He was so troubled that he decided not to just watch it happen, but work towards a solution.

He made good on his background in environmental engineering and began Entocycle in an attempt to, “Develop the most sustainable way to feed the world.” He’s doing that by farming insects that are nutritionally dense and can be grown in an ethical, efficient manner. According to Whitaker, insects are the natural food of many farmed animals, and because they can be grown in small, indoor spaces they don’t pose a threat to our natural resources the way that animal food crops do.

Jessica Jackley, Premal Shah, Matt Flannery, and Chelsa Bocci

These are four people who, during their twenties, were motivated by their first-hand experiences to build others up, and so they started Kiva. Kiva began as just another non-profit, but it has become a platform built by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.

It operates with a simple pretense. Individuals in financial hardship apply for a loan. After an approval process that loan is posted on Kiva, and then lenders crowdfund in increments of $25 or more. 96.9% of Kiva loans are repaid, which demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic of even those who don’t have access to traditional systems of credit.  

As Medium reported, “There are now 1.6 million lenders funding US$1 million in loans every three days, and the community is at the doorstep of an incredible milestone: $1 billion in lending to 2.4 million borrowers around the world.”

Kiva is thriving because its founders recognized that opportunity and an entrepreneurial spirit shouldn’t be hindered by agency. Rather, those who have to fight for it a little harder are usually more deserving and more willing to make it work.

You can change your world, too

'Entrepreneur' can become synonymous with 'humanitarian' in your own life. If you are working towards utilizing your MBA in a way that leads to a fulfilling life, where you make a mark beyond the walls of your business, the first step is to simply recognize that it can be done.

As Goutham Menon, professor and director of the School of Social Work at University of Nevada, Reno, says of those who work for resolutions to social problems, “You need to be a humble and kind individual who is concerned about people, who is concerned about what others are facing, and be ready to stand up for them. You’re standing up for people who do not have a voice to stand up for themselves, who do not have the opportunities to stand up for themselves, so we are there to help them stand up for themselves.”

Here are some actionable steps to translate your business know-how into world-changing actions:

Target the right issue

This is an area where it's useful to network and reach out to fellow social entrepreneurs. These are the ideal people to help you see what social justice issues are in need of support. Others who have looked longer are more likely to have already recognized what needs to be seen.

With that being said, in a lot of ways, you’re likely to be most effective if you target an area where you personally recognize a need. Advocates are most influential when they are saying something they believe to be true, and not just something someone else told them to say.

Behind every entrepreneur is an army of supportive people and professionals, and your army will be bigger and bolder if they believe you truly care.

Recognize the business opportunity

This is the part where you actually get to utilize that MBA you’ve worked so hard for, and what sets entrepreneurs apart from other business professionals. It’s creatively approaching a problem in a manner that hasn’t been previously established.

For example, Cemal Ezel founded Change Please when he saw the issue of homelessness and he thoughtfully considered a business venture — quality coffee — which he recognized would be supported within his city.

The Collat School of Business points out that even if you are established within a field that is outside the scope of what a humanitarian would do, a fresh perspective will likely show that you actually do have the means to make it happen.

The school suggests asking whether or not your company shares its profits with the community, whether it does business ethically, and whether or not it's working with sustainability in mind, etc. If you are already working for an organisation that shares your priorities, get involved and support the effort; if not, how can you serve to promote changes in both understanding and practice?

Participate in the solution

Among the most important skills for social entrepreneurs is the distinct ability and willingness to actively participate in solutions.

This means getting your hands dirty, and actively participating and leading others who are already working on a solution to the problem. When Whitacker decided to tackle a sustainable food source, he didn’t just fund research or communicate his ideas to a team. He quit his job, he moved from Mexico back to his home country, and he began to write the business model that would become Entocycle.

That means he knew exactly what was happening. He was directly invested in a way that translated to people believing he had good reason to be up in arms.

Part of participation is talking about the problem, loudly and often. And the good news is that this is easier to do than ever before. Given the accessibility of the internet, you can talk in such a way that your visibility isn’t restricted by your zip code.

In the moments when you doubt whether or not you’re using your education to lay the right foundation for worthwhile work, consider your peers. Consider those who have already successfully used professional ventures as humanitarian ones.

If you are drawn in by social justice issues, then you won’t regret taking the time and energy needed to come up with a way that allows you to make a difference. Whether it be relying on an MBA to make a complete career shift, or crafting a game plan to change the impact of the company where you currently reside, you can be the key to major changes that make a real difference.


This article was originally published in January 2018 .

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