“It’s easy to make a buck, tougher to make a difference.”
Blake Mycoskie knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that poor kids often went without shoes. But it was while on vacation in Argentina that he first saw and understood “the real effects of being shoeless: the blisters, the sores, the infections.”
An entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, Mycoskie was inspired to address this problem, and when he returned to the States, he started a new business – TOMS – based on a simple premise: for every pair of shoes they sold, a pair would be provided to a child in need.
He called it the One for One® business model, and he and his team have replicated it several times over, adding eye care, safe water, and birth kits and training to the TOMS mission.
According to their website, TOMS has:
- Provided over 60 million pairs of shoes to children since 2006
- Restored sight to over 400,000 since 2011
- Helped provide over 335,000 weeks of safe water since 2014
- Supported safe birth services for over 25,000 mothers as of 2016
Having that kind of impact has got to make going to work each day a pleasure, despite whatever business problems or challenges await. Making a difference in the world with our work can make all the difference in the level of life satisfaction we enjoy.
Increasingly – as a coach, recruiter, and colleague – I hear from people that they want the work they do to make a difference, to have meaning for them and others.
Some of that can be accomplished by how we do our work, by the way we improve the lives of our customers and team members, and by working in integrity. Every one of us touches others in the work we do, so no matter what that work is, it can make a positive difference.
This yearning for meaning also drives the importance of company culture and the community contribution made by our employers. Give us a genuine opportunity to meaningfully help others and watch our satisfaction soar.
But for some, the most satisfying approach is tackling and solving specific world or local problems through their own business. These folks are increasingly known as social entrepreneurs. They see things from a different angle and they work to disrupt the “normal” way of dealing with an issue.
As Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka, Innovators for the Public, describes it:
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”
Drayton, credited with the rise of the term “social entrepreneur,” is intent on supporting the efforts of this growing sector. He sees social enterprise not as just a trend, but as a change of historical proportions, a heartening thought. He’s certain that the role of youth is paramount if positive change is to reach critical mass, and he sees that critical mass approaching:
“The millennia when only a tiny elite could cause change is coming to an end. A generation hence, probably 20 to 30 percent of the world’s people, and later 50 to 70 percent, not just today’s few percent, will be changemakes and entrepreneurs. The world will be fundamentally different and a far safer, happier, more equal, and more successful place. To get there, we must end the infantilization of young people.”
“They and the rest of us must enable all young people to be fully creative, initiatory, and powerful changemakers.”
Marquis Cabrera is thankfully doing both of those things – creating change and training others on how to make change of their own through social enterprise.
Cabrera, who founded Foster Skills, Inc. at the age of 21, spent his early years in the foster care system. He was eventually adopted by loving parents who stuck by him and helped him get his life on track. He was later inspired to help other kids make it successfully through the system by providing “practical life skills and emotional stability” through the Foster Skills program.
But Cabrera didn’t leave it at that. He’s also intent on passing along to others his experience with creating a social enterprise, which he defines as “for-purpose businesses [nonprofits or for-profits] that use the methods and disciplines of business to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.”
Cabrera tells his story and shares his approach here, in hopes that others will feel empowered to improve the world around them.
In a Boston Globe story, published when Cabrera was selected as a Massachusetts Innovator of the Year in 2013, Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson shared these thoughts:
“Marquis is truly a superhero for his work in building and supporting families, and inspiring other young people to be changemakers as well.”
It can sometimes feel hard to imagine we can make a dent in the troubles of the world.
“The daily news is chronically dispiriting,” says Drayton, “a reportage of follies that seem to be taking place in a world without a compass. This is probably so in part because this is a time when deep historical tides are moving with unprecedented speed and force.”
But the examples all around us of people making a difference despite that are piling up. They’re showing us there’s always a way. It’s a paradigm shift, for sure, but one we can handle.
I think it begins with believing and understanding at a very deep level that yes, we each do have the power to make a difference. Change then becomes a reality when we match that belief with our own unique way (or ways) of contributing.
Whether it’s in how we do our current work, or our involvement in the community work of our employers, or creating a social enterprise of our own, “we can change the world…rearrange the world,” as Graham Nash sang during another time of massive social change.
We can change the world.