6 Impact Entrepreneurs Changing the World
When we think about the characteristics of a true entrepreneur, we think about their exceptional talent, skills, vision and willingness to take extreme risk; and of course, years of instant ramen, couch hopping and other similar sacrifices, all in pursuit of the next game-changing product or service that would change the way everyone thinks, works, travels, eats, learns, sleeps, loves or banks.
But what is the driving force behind adopting such an emotionally and mentally taxing lifestyle? What is it about their mindset that sets these pioneers apart from just another Average Joe? For most, it's because they believe that the risk is worth the reward. The prospect of becoming the next 30 year-old billionaire—free to live life the way they want to—is far too good to pass up, and they have the will to see it through. Sure, our keynotes and core values may say it’s all in the name of “changing the world,” but only so long as we can enjoy that world from the exquisite beaches of our private islands.
That being said, there is a growing group of entrepreneurs who are equally as ambitious, talented and risk-seeking, who also envision a future shaped by innovation and discovery—but are not motivated by the the same massive exit pay.
In fact, these bold thinkers will never even come close to one. These selfless individuals are the bold innovators of the nonprofit world, impact entrepreneurs who are changing the landscape of the world’s most pressing issues on a massive scale, all while disrupting old narratives and beliefs of how to solve the world's problems and make it a safer, kinder and more prosperous place to live in.
Here are my current six favorites.
1.Lisa Sherman, Ad council
Prior to becoming the President and CEO of the Ad Council—the nonprofit organization that was responsible for such prominent advertising campaigns as Smokey Bear, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”—Lisa has held upper-level and executive positions at Viacom, Verizon and Hill Holiday.
With such credentials, she could outperform the executives of many entertainment and communication companies, but she instead chooses to devote her professional career towards nonprofit pursuits, including her current roles at the Ad Council, and as the vice chair of the board for God’s Love We Deliver, an organization that cooks food for those that are too sick to do so themselves. Like others on this list, she is a member of the World Economic Forum as their Information and Entertainment Steward.
2. Adam Braun, Pencils of Promise
Adam’s revolutionary “for-purpose” approach combines his extensive investment prowess with his passion for change, ensuring that his educational nonprofit, Pencils of Promise, holds true to its guarantee that 100 percent of its donations are used to their maximum level of efficiency.
In fact, his vision for expanded global educational opportunities is so strong, that he quit a well-paying financial job with Bain & Company to pursue nonprofit work full time, to the extent of creating yet another organization, MissionU, that offers a free, pre-professional one-year college alternative.
Because of his work—and his New York Times Bestselling memoir, "The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change"—Adam has been awarded several accolades, including spots on the Business Insider 40 Under 40, the Forbes 30 Under 30, and the Wired Smart List of People Changing the World lists, as well as one of the first World Economic Forum Global Shapers.
3.David Levin, KIPP
A graduate of Yale University, Dave has been on the “front lines” of education, as a fifth-grade teacher with Teach for America. He later took this expertise and co-founded KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program, a system of public charter schools. Whereas many other charter school systems are for-profit, KIPP is not, meaning that, while Dave takes a significant pay cut, the students greatly benefit.
As a result of its innovative teaching techniques, KIPP schools—which are made up of 95 percent minority students, 88 percent of which are on reduced lunch programs—outperform most public, private and other charter schools in all metrics.
Dave has since been given—among a plethora of others—the Presidential Citizens Medal, the United State’s second highest presidential award for a private citizen.
4.Scott Harrison, Charity: Water
Scott comes from a far more unorthodox past than the others on this list—before founding his nonprofit, he spent a decade as a successful top nightclub promoter for high-profile companies, like MTV and Bacardi. Although he was certainly financially and socially successful, he realized that he still felt unfulfilled. Leaving that party-filled life and all of its money behind him, with no funds and from the closet-bedroom of a friend’s loft, Scott founded Charity: Water with the goal of providing clean water for developing countries.
With unprecedented levels of transparency —donors are emailed specifically as to when and how their money is used—the nonprofit has since funded 28,389 projects in 26 countries, helping over 8 million people get water while setting accountability standards for the industry.
5. Joe Schmidt, Freedom United
As the co-founder of Canvas On Demand, a highly profitable design company that was featured on the INC 500, and a finalist in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition, Joe was on track for a very comfortable future. It was when he was confronted with the horrifying reality of modern-day sexual slavery, however, that he left his director position with CafePress and decided to use his business acumen for the nonprofit sector.
Joe is at the forefront of the abolition movement due to his creative background, which enables him to identify and utilize previously untapped online and digital advocacy resources. This is most apparent in his two anti-trafficking startups, Freedom United and Audacity Factory, allowing other entrepreneurs, activists, communities and governments to collaborate on an insidious, worldwide problem.
6. Nancy Lublin, Crisis Text Line
Fresh out of Brown and Oxford University—where, at the former, she earned a Marshall Scholarship, given only to “intellectually distinguished young Americans [and] their country’s future leaders”—Nancy Lublin turned heads with her natural affinity for marketing and entrepreneurship by creating Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps women acquire professional attire and guides them through the job search process.
Praised by such media figures as Oprah on programs like "60 Minutes," Nancy certainly had her pick from a wide array of lucrative job offers. Her commitment to helping those most in need, however, instead led her deeper into the nonprofit sector, where she continues to be a champion for youth and social change.
As the former CEO for Do Something and the founder of Crisis Text Line, she has been the recipient of many awards, including one of Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, Schwab’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year, and a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum.
Moshe Hecht, winner of the 2017 NonProfit PRO Technology Professional of the Year, is a philanthropy futurist, public speaker and chief innovation officer of Charidy, a crowdfunding platform and consulting company that has helped 3,000 organizations raise over $700 million.
Moshe's passion lies at the intersection of technology and charitable giving. When Moshe is not at the office, he is writing music and enjoying downtime with his wife and three redheaded children.