Sunday, 29 March 2009

Skoll 2009: Inspirational social entrepreneurs

With 785 delegates from 60 countries and 6 continents at the Skoll World Forum, it was hard to avoid inspirational social entrepreneurs during the 48 hours I spent in Oxford this week. But then, why would I want to?!

From Altanta to Amsterdam and Zambia to Zimbabwe, entrepreneurs are achieving success tackling social, community and environmental issues which those adopting traditional governmental and public sector approaches can only dream about.

Here is just a handful of the many inspirational individuals and organisations I came across during my time at Skoll:

Endeavor: After several months chatting with Elmira Bayrasli from New York-based not-for-profit Endeavor via social network Twitter I had the pleasure of meeting Elmira and her colleague David Auerbach in person at the forum. Established in 1998, Endeavor identifies entrepreneurs with high impact potential in developing countries and provides them with the resources required to break down local barriers to success.

In the developed world, Endeavor Entrepreneurs would be celebrated but in their own countries they are often overlooked, encounter few role models and lack access to sufficient capital and contacts. As of 2007, business owners assisted by Endeavor throughout Latin America, South Africa and Turkey have created 86,000+ new jobs and generated over $2.51bn in revenues.

Nathaniel Whittemore, founding director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University, interviewed Elmira. Here's what she had to say:

Better World Books: The best business ideas are often the simplest and Better World Books is one such company. Originally established by Xavier Helgesen, Jeff Kurtzman and Chris Fuchs while studying at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the company collects used and unwanted books, re-sells them online and donates half the proceeds to literacy projects. To date Better World Books has raised more than $6m for literacy charities around the world and saved in excess of 22m books from landfill. In 2008, Better World Books opened its first non-US subsidiary in Edinburgh.

Here's a short film about Better World Books:

APOPO: If I asked you to name your favourite animal, it's very unlikely you'd sing the praises of the rat. Once you've read about APOPO though you may well change your mind.

Founded by Belgium Buddhist monk turned social entrepreneur Bart Weetjens, the organisation trains African giant pouched rats to search for deactivated landmines in Africa. Cheap, intelligent and, most importantly, lightweight, the 'HeroRATS', as APOPO calls them, have been responsible for the reopening of over 400,000 square meters of suspect land thus preventing the potential deaths of hundreds if not thousands of local people. And if you thought that was impressive, the rats are also now being used for the early detection of tuberculosis in humans!

Here's a short film from Animal Planet about APOPO's work in Africa:

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