How the Next Generation Is Redefining Social Entrepreneurship

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When I was a kid, the sum total of my entrepreneurial adventures was a lonely little table my sister and I used to set up on the street by our house, selling paintings for 25 cents a piece. We were well aware that the artwork was sloppy and ill-conceived, but were counting on pity purchases from adults (it’s a well-known fact that most adults will buy almost anything that adorable kids are selling from a broken card table in the middle of a sidewalk).

Today’s generation of young entrepreneurs, however, blow my half-hearted efforts at small business out of the water. Not only are they creative, innovative and ambitious, they are wholeheartedly embracing the concept of social entrepreneurship – using a standard business model to address widespread social issues instead of generate profit.

Here are three kids who have truly made a difference in the world – and put my puny childhood money grabs to shame.

Charlie Simpson

Haiti Earthquake

Haiti Earthquake. Image courtesy of International Federation of Red Cross.

Back in 2012, Charlie Simpson, a 7-year-old boy from the UK, raised over $175,000 for relief efforts in the wake of the Haitian earthquake. He started a campaign on a crowdfunding site by pledging to cycle five miles around a local park with the goal of raising about $1,000 with a simple but heartwarming message. “My name is Charlie Simpson,” he wrote, “I want to do a sponsored bike ride for Haiti because there was an earthquake and loads of people have lost their lives. I want to make some money to buy food, water and tents for everyone in Haiti.”

Local media picked up the story and donations came pouring in, many with heartfelt messages of support. Charlie is around 15 years old now, and probably a UN ambassador or something. When I was 15, I was squandering my babysitting money on dill pickle chips and mall jewelry.

Well played, Charlie. Well played.

Jessica Markowitz

Jessica Markowitz was an 11-year-old girl from Seattle when she started Richard’s Rwanda, an organization that supports Rwandan girls affected by the 1994 genocide. What began as a fundraiser with 10 of her friends has morphed into Richard’s Rwanda — a registered nonprofit organization that lists among its admirable objectives, to “enable girls to finish primary school and attend six years of secondary school,” and “reduce the gender discrimination that prevents girls from completing primary and secondary education.”

Markowitz, now 16, continues to have a dedicated role in the organization, devoting countless hours to tirelessly advocating for the rights of women as young as herself.

Alexandra Scott

Alexandra Scott was just a year old when she was diagnosed with cancer, and only 4 years old when she decided to take action to help fight it. Alex set up a lemonade stand in her front yard to raise funds for pediatric cancer research, and raised an incredible $2,000 in a single day. She continued to raise money with her lemonade stands and people across the country began joining in to help, holding lemonade stand fundraisers in her name. Unfortunately, Alex lost her battle to cancer in 2004, but her mark on the world is undeniable. She had raised over $1 million to combat childhood cancers, and her spirit of social entrepreneurship continues to live on in Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, the organization founded in her name.

Sometimes the amount of energy children have is nothing short of exhausting, but when you see the incredible ways they are able to pair their endless energy with their pure desire for improving the world, it is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Allowing children to embrace the concept of social entrepreneurship and not shy away from educating them about large-scale issues facing our world — like earthquakes, genocides, cancer and, yes, environmental issues — allows them to have agency over their lives and a chance to leave a positive impact on the world they will grow up in.

Feature image courtesy of Patrick 

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Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.