After a Year of #SocEnt Blogging, These Are Our Top Picks

After a Year of #SocEnt Blogging, These Are Our Top Picks

Impact Beacon’s 1st birthday is coming up (it’s February 17th and yes, we are planning to make a big deal out of it). With almost a year behind us, we’ve been thinking back on the 30+ social entrepreneur spotlights we’ve published since joining the world of blogging. While every spotlight was a privilege to develop, Chipsafer, Al-Tareeq, and EarthEnable were our favorites from Year 1. Here’s why.

Chrissy Barnum, Creator of Impact Beacon

My 2016 Top Pick: Chipsafer

Founder: Victoria Alonsoperez

Location: South America (Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina)

Founded In: 2013

About Chipsafer: Chipsafer is a wearable device for livestock. Reminiscent of a device like the FitBit, it is equipped with a sensor that tracks the animal’s GPS location and movement. Cattle wear the sensor in a collar, and data on their movement and location is sent remotely from the device to a farmer’s mobile phone or computer. A custom-designed software analyzes the sensor’s data and provides insight into the animal’s health based on the nature of its movement. With the product, farmers receive live information on animals that have strayed beyond their borders, show signs of being ill, and more.

Victoria needed to ensure that the wearable device could regularly self-charge. In her previous experience within the aerospace industry, she worked with CubeSat, which is a small satellite that contains the technology to self-recharge. Victoria applied this self-recharging capability to build a collar that can collect information, transmit it remotely, and self-charge as needed.

The Impact: The possibility ahead of a product like Chipsafer is enormous. A 2013 report by the U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that the annual impact of Foot and Mouth Disease in terms of production losses and vaccination in endemic regions alone amount to between US$6.5 and $21 billion. Chipsafer may totally overhaul and replace traditional methods for managing livestock, a change that would impact agriculture all over the globe.

Why I Love It: Chipsafer is my top pick for 2016 for so many reasons. Primarily, it is a perfect case study for what happens when someone takes an innovative technology and repurposes it to tackle a different problem. Wearable devices like the FitBit have transformed the fitness and wellness world, and now Victoria is leveraging that technology to overhaul the world of agriculture. Innovation can be as simple as thinking outside of the box, and stretching the boundaries of how a technology is applied.

Beyond that, I love Chipsafer because Victoria, a woman in an emerging South American market, is the start-up’s sole Founder and current Director. She is a woman working in both business and technology and, as a result, exemplary of what happens when women have access to education and professional opportunities. Victoria is by no means the only female founder we highlighted on Impact Beacon this year–we’ve spotlighted many women. However, the innovation behind Victoria’s idea, its huge global potential, and Victoria’s ability to serve as a role model for girls makes Chipsafer my Year 1 top pick.

Aaron Bartnick, Contributing Editor

My 2016 Top Pick: Al-Tareeq

Founders: Aboudi Al-Qattan and Frederik Rading

Location: Middle East (Jordan)

Founded In: 2016

About Al-Tareeq: Al-Tareeq, Arabic for “The Path,” is a nonprofit working to implement summer entrepreneurship courses for high school students across the Levant in order to inspire the region’s youth to create socioeconomic growth. Founded by two Babson College undergraduates, Al-Tareeq was originally just a college club. But this summer, Aboudi and Frederik partnered with the International Medical Corps and a Jordanian aid organization to successfully complete a two-week pilot program teaching entrepreneurship to twenty 14-18 year-old refugees.

The students learned basic principles of entrepreneurship, like ideation and how to then convert their ideas into a business plan, then set to work on their own ideas like recruiting volunteers to clean up their neighborhoods and connecting unemployed men with community improvement projects.

The Impact: After helping 20 teenage refugees through their pilot program, Al-Tareeq is planning to launch three 3-4 week courses for 40 students each, and have already begun reaching out to schools in Jordan, Lebanon, and Dubai to act as hosts. But after already receiving commitments from three schools in Jordan alone, the co-founders admit that they may need to set their sights higher. Their biggest challenge as they seek to scale will be recruiting qualified teachers whom they can trust to run the courses on their own.

To finance this growth, Al-Tareeq will also be expanding its target audience: “The refugee focus is what got us involved,” said Aboudi, “but to be sustainable we’re going to start offering the program to private school students and charge them, so that refugees never have to pay for our services.”

Why I Love It: I love seeing young people who don’t let their age prevent them from doing big things. Aboudi and Frederik are still in college, but they’re trying to tackle a problem–the global refugee crisis–that’s bedeviled generals, presidents, and the United Nations. And they’re actually making a difference. It’s pretty incredible, and I can tell from just my brief conversations with Aboudi that he and his team are just getting started. I can’t wait to watch their organization grow and see what they do next.

Sarah Rogers, Contributing Editor

My 2016 Top Pick: EarthEnable

Founder: Gayatri Datar

Location: East Africa (Rwanda)

Founded In: 2014

About EarthEnable: EarthEnable is a social enterprise that focuses on improved health and living conditions by targeting the ubiquitous problem of dirt floors, which exist in the majority of rural Rwandan homes. EarthEnable provides clean, durable, and affordable earthen floors to low income Rwandans. These floors are made from tightly compressed layers of natural materials such as sand, clay, finely chopped straw, and/or other fibers. Once the layers are packed down and dry, they are coated with treatments of a drying oil to make the floor waterproof. This proven technology is very environmentally sustainable, especially since the EarthEnable team has developed their own form of finishing varnish using locally sourced Rwandan oil.

Although the product is fairly simple, it provides a flooring option that never before existed on the Rwandan market. Gaya has also worked very hard to develop a business model that makes the product more affordable for low income Rwandans. This means that families who never had a feasible alternative to their dirt floor now have the opportunity for a cleaner and healthier floor that will last them many years.

The Impact: About 80% of Rwandans currently live in homes with dirt floors. Dirt floors are the cause of numerous living difficulties, particularly related to health and sanitation. According to the World Health Organization, diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. And some studies show a 50% reduction in diarrhea and a 78% reduction in parasitic infection just from having a clean floor. EarthEnable’s floors are directly tackling these health and sanitation challenges.

Furthermore, since the company launched its first product in November 2014, they have installed floors for over 1600 Rwandans. EarthEnable charges USD 4 per square meter, which is 70% less than the traditional cement floor, and they recently launched a new do-it-yourself (DIY) product that they offer to customers at half the cost!

Why I Love It: I think that EarthEnable is among the more rare social enterprises that actually targets the poorest of the poor, the true bottom of the pyramid, as their direct customers. Many other companies “target” the poor, but through a client base of larger NGOs who then supply the product or service to the lower income population. What Gaya has done with EarthEnable really inspires me. She and her team focused on an issue that is truly socially impactful, and then created a product that the Rwandan communities actually want and can afford.  I think it is very economically empowering for a low income individual to be able to save and pay for something that is of true value to them. I have a fair amount of experience working in low income communities in Africa, and it’s not often that I have seen businesses do this successfully.

I also love that Gaya cares so much about her customers and providing high quality customer service. She chose to focus more on the long term social impact, and creating an ethical business model for these low income customers, than the short term payout. Once EarthEnable becomes fully self-sustaining, I know that they will do even more amazing things in Rwanda and beyond!

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Bashar Humeid: Freedom is a greenhouse on your rooftop

Bashar Humeid: Freedom is a greenhouse on your rooftop

What’s on the roof of your house? How about on the rooftop of the building where you work or go to school?

If you’re like me (and much of the world), your answer is “nothing”. Your rooftop is largely unutilized space. But what if your rooftop heated and cooled your house? What if it did that for free, and collected your water and produced healthy, organic food for you and your family? In Jordan, buildings are steadily adopting a simple greenhouse unit that can do all of that, and more.

Bashar Humeid is the founder of Meezan, a nonprofit social enterprise in Amman using affordable technological innovations to address a lack of energy and water in Jordan.

From Environmental Journalist to Social Entrepreneur

Originally from Jordan, Bashar studied political science in Germany. He went on to work as an environmental and energy journalist in Germany for DW TV. From there, he moved to the UAE to continue his research on environmental issues with a think tank in Abu Dhabi.

Eventually, Bashar’s passion for the environment led him back home to Jordan, where lack of energy and water are both pressing issues. He decided that he needed to be part of the solution, and do something to enhance the efficiency of Jordan’s existing buildings. In 2011, he founded Meezan in Amman, Jordan as a nonprofit social start-up. Its mission is to design and develop regionally appropriate, sustainable agriculture, water-saving and energy-production solutions to address the food, water and energy crises affecting the Middle East.

Igniting Sustainability with the Freedom Machine Greenhouse 

Meezan’s primary innovation is the Freedom Machine. It is a simple greenhouse unit designed for rooftops. The unit collects rainwater and converts solar rays into enough heat to warm a house. Using both thermal and hydraulic insulation, the rooftop unit keeps the building cooler in the summer months and warmer during winter months.

Bashar-Humeid-Meezan-Social-Enterprise-Impact-Beacon-Greenhouse
Installing a Freedom Machine Greenhouse

In addition, the greenhouse leverages aquaponics, a water-based production method that integrates fish, fruit and vegetable growth. The system cycles nutrient-rich water from the fish pond to irrigate crops, and then filters drainage water back to the fish. Through one enclosed system, a building gains access to organic, sustainable food production as well as an energy source for heating and cooling.

Once the first Freedom Machine was installed, Bashar started to receive inquiries for replicas elsewhere. Many requests originate from NGOs looking to fund Freedom Machines in underprivileged areas or for refugee populations. Already, Meezan has installed 9 Freedom Machines throughout Jordan, Switzerland and Palestine.

The use of the Freedom Machines in Palestine is truly ingenious. Bashar explained to me that NGOs financed Freedom Machines there to discourage military units from seizing residential buildings for their rooftop access. As it turns out, people are far less likely to take over a building, thereby pressuring residents to leave, if the rooftop is covered by a greenhouse unit.

If you can do it in Jordan, you can do it anywhere

As a founder, Bashar has already achieved a lot through his entrepreneurial ventures in Jordan. After launching Meezan and the Freedom Machine, he realized there was a significant need and demand for food that is safely and healthily produced. Bashar started Yanboot, a company that plants, markets, and prepares healthy, organic food. It is one of the first of its kind in Jordan.

All of Bashar’s work, from Meezan to Yanboot, took years of dedication and hard work to realize. “It is generally difficult to launch a start-up in Jordan,” Bashar explained. “The economic situation in Jordan is hard. People don’t have a lot of money to spend. It is often said that if you start a business in Jordan and succeed, you can start one anywhere.”

Impact Beacon is almost a year old now. I’ve interviewed social entrepreneurs from all over the world, from Uruguay to Indonesia. This wasn’t the first time someone told me about weak  economies and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and the challenges they pose. But Bashar was the first to describe a link between immigration and an entrepreneurial spirit.

“My father is an immigrant from Palestine, and my mother is from Germany,” Bashar shared. “Many people here associate themselves with the immigrant community. We are Jordanians of course but, like in other countries, the immigrants here often start small businesses and other start-ups. Even now, we are seeing Syrians doing the same thing.” Bashar recognizes and appreciates the innovation that springs forth when immigrants face new and often resource-constrained circumstances–a perspective I hope more people will share in the future.

Words for the World

Protecting the environment and conserving the world’s critical natural resources is a complex and daunting global challenge. It is easy to feel like one person cannot make a difference, or to feel powerless to live sustainably and self-reliantly in your own home. Remember that your ability to take action may actually be very close. It may be right above your head.

“All over the world, people want the same thing. They want to be able to care for themselves and their families without reliance on factors that they can’t control. In other words, they want freedom. Remember that no matter who you vote for or who runs your country, you do have access to that self-sufficiency. Freedom to be more self-reliant is within reach. It is as close as your rooftop.”

To learn more about Meezan, visit http://meezan.cc/ and follow along on Youtube and Facebook. Bashar can be reached at bashar.humeid@gmail.com.

Thomas Vaassen: Unlocking the value of land for Ghanaian farmers

Thomas Vaassen: Unlocking the value of land for Ghanaian farmers

Land is a precious commodity, and land ownership holds significant value in all parts of the world. In Ghana, land is not only viewed as a monetary asset. Land holds more personal value and Ghanaians view it as part of their heritage and culture. They feel that their land is a piece of them, something they will pass down from generation to generation. With this strong attachment to land, land rights are a very sensitive and pertinent issue. But in Ghana, owning land and having proof of land ownership do not necessarily go hand in hand. This is where Thomas and his company Landmapp offer a unique service: mapping land and providing official land tenure documentation to smallholder farmers.

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Stevens Chan is Shining the Light on Blindness in Malaysia

Stevens Chan is Shining the Light on Blindness in Malaysia

In 2002, Malaysian native Stevens Chan was diagnosed with glaucoma. He didn’t know he had an eye disease, let alone one with no obvious symptoms, no cure, and which often leads to blindness.  His vision loss occurred quickly. In just 5 years, he was blind. Stevens’ experience led him to establish a Malaysian branch of Dialogue in the Dark, a social enterprise that works to increase public awareness around preventable blindness and support individuals with visual impairments.

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This Human Library is Challenging Stereotypes

This Human Library is Challenging Stereotypes

I recently checked out my first book from the Human Library: Homelessness. I read it in an open courtyard next to the Impact Hub in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was likely the most honest and direct conversation I’ve had with a fellow human who has experienced homelessness.

Confused? So was I, until Turisaina (Turis) Tukiman clued me in.

Turis is the Operations Lead at Human Library in Malaysia. Originally created by a group of young activists in Copenhagen, the Human Library is now a global movement. It’s purpose is to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices.

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Azam Hisham: Inspiring Small-Scale Sustainability at Biji-Biji

Most people would walk into an office covered in trash and see a mess. Azam Hisham sees an opportunity to change the world.

Welcome to Biji-Biji, one of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s fastest-growing maker spaces and sustainability initiatives. Founded by 29-year old Malaysia native Azam Hisham and three friends–Gurpreet Singh Dillon, Rashvin Pal Singh, and Zoe Victoria–Biji-Biji is on a mission to create and inspire.

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Picha Project: Empowering Refugee Families in Malaysia

Picha Project: Empowering Refugee Families in Malaysia

Malaysia is one of Asia’s great melting pots, with diverse representation from many Asian countries and cultures. From native Malay to Indian, Chinese and more, Malaysia brings amazing food to the dinner table. It is also home to over 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.¹

23-year old Swee Lin Lee and her co-founders, Suzanne Lin and Kim Lim, founded the Picha Project to help refugees find employment and contribute their own culture to the Malaysian mixing bowl.

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Gayatri Datar: Improving health and living conditions in Rwanda, one floor at a time

Gayatri Datar: Improving health and living conditions in Rwanda, one floor at a time

Imagine having to clean a dirt floor. I ask myself, is that even possible? Dirt is inherently dirty, so how can it be cleaned? Well, 80% of Rwandans face this challenge every day. To tackle this issue, Gayatri (Gaya) Datar is providing clean, durable, earthen floors to low-income Rwandans through her social enterprise start-up, EarthEnable.

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Steven Olikara: Building Bridges Across a Divided Government

Steven Olikara: Building Bridges Across a Divided Government
“This election in particular has brought to bear some of the deep divisions we have in this country. It’s critical that the millennial generation leads the way in being bridge-builders politically, ethnically, racially and socio-demographically.”

Steven Olikara is the Co-Founder and President of the Millennial Action Project (MAP), a nonpartisan nonprofit with a mission to re-establish political cooperation across parties and defeat the polarization and gridlock that is holding back the United States government. By working in close collaboration with lawmakers, MAP has already advanced legislation on issues including entrepreneurship, technology, 21st century skills training, veterans’ employment, immigration, volunteerism, and more.

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