Making billions is so 2018. These days, it’s about making it and using it to become a massive difference in making the world a better place. Entrepreneurand Investor went undercover in the world of philanthropy to discover the most inspiring people using their success to shape society for the better.
Bill and Melinda Gates
What do you do when you become the richest person in the world? Give it all away. Well, at least 99% of it.
That’s the revolutionary play set out by Bill and Melinda Gates when they announced they would be using almost all of their earned wealth to make the world better.
What’s more, the duo pledged to use the same brilliant minds and resolute drive that took Microsoft from an Albuquerque garage to a global empire, in order to use the money as effectively as possible.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was set up in 2000 to deliver positive change, describing itself as ‘impatient optimists working to reduce inequality’.
Since its inception the charity has been the channel for over $36bn USD of the Gates’ philanthropic giving, in global health, emergency relief, education, poverty, and more.
Perhaps the most illustrative example of their social impact is their quest to end malaria for good.
The disease was thought to be nearly gone, until global outbreaks in some of the world’s poorest regions reversed decades of decline, affecting over 200m people, and killing nearly half a million – over 90% in Africa.
The Gates’ have thus far spent $2bn to eradicate the disease for good, and used their entrepreneurial mindset to find ways outside of traditional norms to tackle the issue, most notably working with a biological engineering company to create a strain of mosquito (who pass on the disease) that would kill off disease carrying mosquitos within a generation.
Their work has inspired huge change, not least their Giving Pledge in 2010, when they invited successful people around the world to donate the majority of their wealth, which has thus far had $600bn pledged by some of the planet’s richest people.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan
Two of the early adopters of the Gates’ Giving Pledge were Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife Priscilla Chan, who pledged to give away 99% of their wealth – currently valued at $69bn USD.
Through their philanthropic venutre, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the married duo seek to find new ways to leverage technology, community-driven solutions, and collaboration to accelerate progress in Science, Education, and within our Justice & Opportunity work.
Using their different skill sets and experiences has proven to be an effective way of creating the kind of big social change they are aiming for.
Zuckerberg said: “The reality is we have very different experiences, as a doctor and educator, and an engineer and executive — so we learn a lot from each other.
“What makes us a good team is that we’re both optimistic about the future at a time when a lot of people don’t feel that way. We believe there are answers to even the toughest problems, and one of the things we’re most proud of is that we’ve built a team that believes that too.”
Like the Gates’, the Facebook tycoons are focussing on big problems and entrepreneurial and sometimes left-field thinking to solve them.
This includes the pledging of $3bn to “cure all diseases” in their daughter’s lifetime by funding science to map every cell in the human body. In a move straight out of silicon valley, its engineers and scientists are called “investigators”, who aim to challenge everything we ever thought about disease, in order to find long lasting solutions.
The central ethos of the philanthropic pair is that collaboration is the key, and ideas are only as wild as the passion to solve a problem – whatever the pathway to get there.
The fashion industry is often seen as narcissistic and frivolous, yet, whilst this can certainly be true, within its broad doors are some of the most incredible and meritocratic entrepreneur stories. What may surprise some is that, look beyond the bright lights of the runway, and there are powerfully inspiring people using fashion to change the world.
Mari Malek is one such tale.
Today, she is the Vogue cover model, who stars in Sundance winning movies and Lady Gaga music videos, and who DJs in the coolest clubs in Manhattan under the name DJ Stiletto.
However, twenty years ago, she was a nine year old child living in a refugee camp in Egypt, after fleeing war-torn South Sudan.
One of over twenty siblings, Malek had a traumatic childhood, when her mother fled the country with her and her two sisters, in search of a safer life.
Eventually the foursome were granted passage to a new life in the USA, where they first resided in a New York apartment block so teeming with crime, drugs, violence, rats, and prostitution the family found it more terrifying than the horrors they were escaping.
Inspired by her mother’s desire to work tirelessly to earn money, learn the language, and move the family to the safer environs of San Diego, Malek threw herself into her studies and creative pursuits. At the age of 22, and now with a young baby she was a single mother to, she then took the plunge to move back to NYC to make it in the incredibly competitive fashion world.
From there huge success and acclaim followed. However, the model/actor/DJ kept grounded, and vowed to use her platform to make a difference.
In South Sudan the adult literacy rate in women is just 16%. Having seen the value education had given her and her sisters, Malek felt compelled to affect positive change, and set up the charity Stand 4 Education to address this.
Malek’s commitment to the cause has seen the issue become a talking point around the world, receiving support from both Barack and Michelle Obama, and channeling funds and know-how into the region to provide the structures that deliver change.
The Canadian music scene has led global trends in recent years, with Drake, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd all responsible for sales of over $500m USD in the past decade.
One man who could very well have been on that esteemed list is the Canadian Serb, Filip Filipi.
Filipi was just seven when his family were amongst the estimated 5.1m Serbs fleeing their homeland, as the Western Balkans war raged around them.
Growing up in Canada, he was musical prodigy, and channeled this into becoming a hiphop artist and producer, whose path entwined the three aforementioned artists. Critical acclaim was followed by a fervent fan base, and his coronation as the next darling of Canadian music was seen as an inevitability.
However, what happened next stunned the music world when, at the age of just 24, he turned away from his musical destiny, in order to focus his life to making the world a better place.
Whilst the war in the former Yugoslavia ended twenty years ago, the shadow of death and destruction still lingers large in the region, with many people who couldn’t escape living in abject poverty.
Whilst he lived on the other side of the world, Filipi couldn’t rest until he did something about this, and made the decision to devote his life to it – to the exclusion of everything, including music.
In the subsequent seven years, the humanitarian created the charity, 28 Jun to help people in need in his former homeland, and delivered £7m of aid, including critical medical supplies. He has also taken on a role within the United Nations, to provide a voice for those that cannot speak
He also built a team of Serbs displaced around the world who shared his vision, whilst having a chronic phobia of flying, meaning he traversed the planet via land and sea only.
Filipi’s story is one of the greater good outweighing personal ambition, and the remarkable ability one person has to change society when they focus on this above all.
Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah
You will be familiar with the actor Rosario Dawson’s work since her debut movie, Kids in 1995 made her a household name. What you may be less aware of is that, alongside running a highly successful movie career of 24 years and counting, the Sin City star has been working to impact social change on an international level.
Her business partner Abrima Erwiah is a childhood friend, with a background in luxury fashion, and since 2014 the two have collaborated on the socially conscious lifestyle brand, Studio One Eighty Nine.
Combining their vast global influence and expertise, the founding duo’s brand works to use fashion as an agent of social change, creating dignified local industries that impact all around the world.
By working alongside talented artisanal communities, the pair help create localised fashion industries in developing countries, which can then be sold around the world, through its New York boutique and global e-commerce business.
The aim is to inspire economic growth in African communities, with Western distribution allowing for sales of traditional African production methods, such as kente weaving, hand-batiking, and basket weaving.
Like the best social enterprises, sustainability is the watchword, with sales supporting education programs in Ghana, including training courses for seamstresses.
What follows is a changed local society – more jobs are created, which brings both people and income to the area, which supports growth in other industries to support the thriving population. Crucially, it reduces the reliance on one-off donations, and drives a self-sufficient community, which keeps its traditions alive.
The studio has benefited from the founders’ celebrity credentials, including Alicia Keys, and delivered credibility boosting partnerships with organisations as diverse as Nike and the United Nations, Meanwhile, awards recognising their achievements include the prestigious CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative for Sustainability.
Ultimately, Hollywood and fashion have come together to achieve more as a collective than they could have ever done so individually, and Dawson and Erwiah’s social impact will outlast anything they do in their personal careers.