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17 Young Social Entrepreneurs Who Are Making the World a Better Place
By Conscious Company Magazine
Conscious Company Magazine partnered with leading accelerators, incubators and educational institutions to identify 17 rising entrepreneurs who see things differently, are shaking the tree, disrupting industries, making money and doing good. These individuals are bold. They're young. They're fearless. And they are the face of the up-and-coming generation of change makers willing to risk it all to make the world a better place.
Angaza LTD. – Maria Mayanja, Co-Founder
- Founded: 2012
- Location: Kengali, Rwanda
- Industry: Ethical Fashion
For Upcycling Non-Biodegradable Waste Into Accessories
At Angaza Ltd., Maria and her team upcycle Kigali's non-biodegradable waste into fashion accessories such as bags, wallets and gadget covers, creating green jobs along the way. The team is also revolutionizing the way environmental issues are taught in schools in Rwanda by engaging students in fun, hands-on activities such as tree planting, competitions and upcycling to engender a more conscious generation of Africans rooted in sustainable practices.
“I am passionate about environmental conservation and want to help people understand it better in a 'non-rocket science' kind of way."
Because International – Kenton Lee, Founder
- Founded: 2009
- Location: Nampa, ID
- Industry: Ethical Footwear
For Creating a Shoe That Kids Won't Outgrow
Over two billion people have some kind of soil-transmitted disease. More than 300 million kids do not have shoes—and countless more have shoes that do not fit. When kids have shoes that fit, they can stay healthy and continue to go to school, help their families and communities and have as many chances to succeed as possible. Kenton and the team at Because International have created The Shoe That Grows—a shoe that can adjust and expand five sizes and last up to five years—to address this problem. The team distributes shoes to kids worldwide, providing a pair of shoes that fits year after year.
“The mission of my life is to put other people in the best possible position to succeed and I absolutely love doing this for kids around the world. I am constantly inspired as I listen to those living in extreme poverty to hear their thoughts, ideas and dreams for how their daily lives can be improved."
Ecoprise – Bhuwan K.C., Founder and CEO
- Founded: 2012
- Location: Nepal
- Industry: Clean Energy
For Providing Clean Energy to Base-of-the-Pyramid Communities
Through Ecoprise, Bhuwan and his team provide clean energy solutions to base-of-pyramid communities in Nepal to create economic, environmental and social benefits. The company's model is based on appropriate technology design, shared distribution channels and specific knowledge-transfer processes. The company works with banks, co-ops and self-help groups to develop financing programs that increase affordability and incorporate a support package that includes credit, marketing, sales materials and business skills training.
“Through my work at Ecoprise, we improve the lives of millions of Nepalis who face energy poverty and would not have knowledge and access to these solutions if we did not exist."
EZBZ Inc. – Shana Schlossberg
- Founded: 2011
- Location: New York City
- Industry: Internet Marketplace
For Connecting Consumers With Local Businesses
Shana and the folks at myEZBZ.com directly connect consumers with local businesses through an online concierge service. Using proprietary technology that can match any consumer request with related local businesses in minutes, the website presents a consumer with all reputable local businesses at the same time and creates a level playing field where large and small companies have the same opportunity to win the consumer's business. A business cannot pay more to receive an advantage and the consumer is able to support local businesses instead of the larger corporations that usually dominate first-page results on most other search platforms.
“I have been working with local businesses for over 15 years and always felt that marketing platforms work against them instead of for them. I wanted to create a platform that facilitated connections between consumers and businesses in a fair and honest way."
Green Monday – David Yeung, Co-Founder and CEO
- Founded: 2012
- Location: Hong Kong, China and U.S.
- Industry: Food
For Creating a Platform to Get a Country to “Go Green"
David Yeung and Green Monday are on a mission to combat climate change and global food insecurity. Using a plant-based diet as an entry point to promote a low-carbon, healthy and sustainable lifestyle, the group has created a platform that enables businesses, schools and individuals to make green behavior happen. The platform is built upon both a social pillar and a venture pillar. The social side drives advocacy campaigns to raise awareness and demand for a green lifestyle, while the venture side takes an active role in the market to increase the supply of green choices by way of impact investing, corporate consulting and food retail and distribution.
“Our planet is sick, people's health is suffering and animals are subject to unimaginable cruelty. As a long-time vegetarian, I know that if we can mobilize a collective shift to a more plant-based diet, all these environmental and social problems can be much alleviated."
Koe Koe Tech – Michael Lwin & Dr. Yar Zar Min Htoo
- Founded: 2013
- Location: Yangon, Myanmar
- Industry: IT, Healthcare
For Making Healthcare More Accessible
In Myanmar, eight children die every hour. Thirty-two million people suffer from infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Eighteen million people suffer from hypertension. Dr. Yar Zar Min Htoo, co-founder of Koe Koe Tech, contracted Hepatitis B from a rural doctor who reuses dirty needles. As a result, Yar Zar Min Htoo and his cousin Michael Lwin developed Koe Koe Tech. With just a phone and the company's mobile health apps, a rural person in Myanmar can gain access to Population Services International-generated information in 32 health categories; the ability to teleconsult with quality doctors (who use clean needles), rural health workers and midwives; and the ability to purchase high-quality, lower-cost health products.
“As a Myanmar-American who lived a comfortable, healthy, relatively easy life in comparison to my co-founder, I feel that it is fundamentally unjust that one's life outcomes are largely predicted by luck—luck of geographic location of birth, luck of the socioeconomic status of the family one is born into, luck of one's ethnic, gender and national identity." – Michael Lwin
Lucky Iron Fish – Gavin Armstrong, Founder and President
- Founded: 2012
- Location: Guelph, Ontario and Cambodia
- Industry: Natural Health
For Creating a Simple Solution to Combat Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is the world's most common micronutrient issue, negatively impacting the lives of half of the world's population, mainly women and children in developing countries. Gavin and the folks at Lucky Iron Fish have developed a simple solution to combat iron deficiency in Cambodia and beyond. The Lucky Iron Fish is a simple at-home fortification tool. Boiling the company's product for ten minutes as a part of food preparation can release up to 90 percent of a person's daily required iron intake. The product can be re-used for up to five years and only costs around $5. It is shaped like a fish—a symbol of luck in Cambodia.
“We are committed to being a true social enterprise with a positive social attribute in every aspect of how we do business and it is my hope that we can prove that social enterprises are not a fad but the future of business."
MiiR – Bryan Pape, Founder and CEO
- Founded: 2010
- Location: Seattle
- Industry: Adventure and Lifestyle Products
For Creating Activewear That Truly Gives Back
Bryan and his team at MiiR inspire and empower through amazing design and transparent giving. The company's line of bottles (water bottles, growlers and tumblers) directly facilitates clean water projects, its line of bags gives to educational initiatives and its line of bikes gives bikes to those in need in developing countries.
“We believe in good design and that products should be functional and beautiful and also believe companies have the unique ability to change the world for the better."
Obamastove SPC. – Yusuf Tura, Founder
- Founded: 2007
- Location: Ethiopia
- Industry: Cookstoves
For Designing An Affordable Cookstove
An estimated three billion people regularly breathe in poisonous smoke from open fire cooking. It is becoming one of the world's most pressing health and environmental problems, killing more than four million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Yusuf Tura is tackling this problem head-on through his company Obamastove, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of locally made, low-cost cookstoves. In addition to cookstoves, Obamastove also manufactures improved briquettes, which are custom-made to fit inside its Obamastoves. The company has made, sold and delivered more than 250,000 stoves, each costing less than $10 and the product is now the top-selling stove in Ethiopia.
“The stove saves lives and the environment and creates green jobs for extremely poor communities. I am most inspired by the team that I work with and the villagers we serve who are living on less than $1 per day."
Regrained – Jordan Schwartz & Dan Kurzrock
- Founded: 2012
- Location: San Francisco
- Industry: Packaged Food
For Turning “Waste" From Breweries Into Healthy Food
Craft beer is booming and with it, so is food waste. Eighty-five percent of brewing's by product is grain—more than six billion pounds annually. Breweries extract sugars as a liquid and the physical grain that is left behind with its protein and fiber is considered “waste." Yet, this grain can offer the food system a sustainable source of nutrition. Dan and Jordan teamed up to create ReGrained to upcycle this grain and close the loop by turning it into delicious food, like granola bars.
“We are inspired by the potential to find the sweet spot between profit and purpose by creating win-wins for our customers, partners, community and planet." — Jordan Schwartz
“We see our work as an opportunity to use entrepreneurship as a means of creating a more sustainable urban economy—simultaneously upcycling 'waste' and feeding people." — Dan Kurzrock
Resonate – Ayla Schlosser & Solange Impanoyimana
- Founded: 2013
- Location: Rwanda & East Africa
- Industry: Women's Rights & International Development
For Empowering Women to Become Leaders in Their Communities
Resonate provides experiential leadership training to women and girls in Rwanda and throughout East Africa in order to support and unite them to lead change in their communities. Gender inequality inhibits the growth and development of communities both locally and globally. By coaching women to become leaders, Resonate unleashes their self-confidence, strength and power to lead positive growth in their communities.
“I want to live in a world where every little girl can be or do anything she dreams up—Resonate is building that dream into a reality." — Ayla
“Every day I get to witness the transformation of the women we work with—women like Francine, who was previously unable to live up to her dream to be a leader and who now conducts monthly meetings to solve problems in her community—and that gives me hope for a better future." — Solange Impanoyimana
Shea Yeleen – Rahama Wright, CEO and Founder
- Founded: 2005
- Location: Washington, DC and Ghana
- Industry: Beauty and Agri-business
For Employing Women Through Shea Butter
The motto of Shea Yeleen is Transform your Skin, Transform a Community. For the last decade, Rahama and the Shea Yeleen team have committed their efforts to supporting economic empowerment of women producers of shea butter in rural Ghana. The company helps Ghanaian women bring high-quality organic shea butter products to the global marketplace while providing them with a source of living wages. Through the business model that Rahama has developed, shea trees are protected from being cut down, consumers have access to healthy and natural bodycare products and women are financially and emotionally empowered.
“I want to live in a world where women everywhere have the financial stability to care for themselves and their families. Each time I visit the shea cooperative and hear a story from a woman who was able to save money or send her child to school, it keeps me going."
Tonle – Rachel Faller, Founder and Creative Director
- Founded: 2013
- Location: Producing products in Cambodia, selling internationally in 15 countries
- Industry: Ethical Fashion
For Turning Garment Waste Into Clothes
The garment industry is the world's second largest polluter, throwing away about half of what it produces (approximately 50 million tons) in wasteful manufacturing. Imagine if we could cut this pollution in half just by wasting less. Rachel and her team at Tonlé are on a mission to prove that that's possible. Using remnants discarded by large manufacturers, the company produces beautiful, comfortable garments and uses every scrap, creating zero waste in the process. In one year, Rachel and her team have saved 22,000 lbs of textiles, 70 tons of CO2, 450 lbs of pesticides and 46,296,600 gallons of water. And they're just getting started.
“It's hard to say whether the environmental significance of what we're doing or the positive changes in people's lives that we see through our work is more important to me, because at the end of the day how we treat the planet is destroying people's lives today—and we have to do something about that."
4P Foods – Tom McDougall, Founder
- Founded: 2014
- Location: Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC
- Industry: Local Food
For Bringing Healthy Food to Food Deserts
Tom and the good people at 4P Foods are working to fix the broken food system by bridging the gap between small family farms that use sustainable practices and those who want to support them. The company also uses the power of that community to get good, healthy food into the food deserts that need it most—those that bear a disproportionate burden of the externalized costs of industrial food production. In a sense, Tom and his team are delivering food from good people to good people and, perhaps more importantly, using food as a tool for social justice.
“Our farmers, our members, our team, our partners—as individuals they are all amazing, but the change that is possible when they are all working towards the same vision is humbling, inspiring and powerful."
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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
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