How Entrepreneurship, Humanitarian Efforts Go Hand in Hand

Mike Peña, Stanford University December 22, 2013

With the holidays underway and our thoughts attuned to peace and goodwill, now is the perfect time to explore how entrepreneurship can fuel humanitarian efforts. For our weekly Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) seminars, we of course focus on topics central to technology startups. But throughout the academic year, we also invite speakers who bring the entrepreneurial mindset to the nonprofit sector.

During a season when there’s no shortage of soirees, and charitable instincts are at front of mind, ETL speaker Scott Harrison offers up a strategy for turning a personal celebration into a splashy charity event that can send ripples around the world.

Founder of charity: water, a New York City-based nonprofit that brings clean water to poor villages in Africa and other parts of the world, Harrison describes in this video clip how he tapped his social network from his days as a hotshot nightclub promoter in the Big Apple to bring in big money for the cause closest to his heart.

Ashoka, another entrepreneurial nonprofit in New York City, places its social mission front and center. “Ashoka believes that there is nothing more powerful than a new idea in the hands of a social entrepreneur,” the organization’s webpage states about its approach. “Ashoka finds and fosters the most powerful emergent ideas being led by the most effective social entrepreneurs.”

Founder and CEO Bill Drayton also spoke recently at ETL, and described how Ashoka maximizes impact by selecting highly potential “changemakers” and building networks of social innovators. But in order for any solution to spread, Drayton said it must first be seen as simple, safe and easy to understand.

In terms of private entities, the humanitarian organization bringing the most resources to bear is none other than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its massive assets, now at about $40 billion, support initiatives in education, world health and population. That the co-founder of Microsoft has dedicated his fortune to philanthropy has, in the minds of some, vaulted him past even Steve Jobs as the technology leader they’d most like to emulate.

But for all the grandness of the foundation’s aims, it is comforting to hear from Melinda Gates that she wants us to start locally, supporting causes in our own community that we’re passionate about. Most importantly, she wants us to get involved now:

Happy holidays and all the best for your entrepreneurial endeavors in 2014.