The Global Good Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports high-potential social entrepreneurs in more than 25 countries globally, collectively impacting the lives of over 8.5 million people. Since its founding in 2012 by Carrie Rich, a faculty member at George Washington University in Washington, DC., the Fund has supported 105 Fellows from three continents with over 18,000 hours of mentoring and coaching. Entrepreneur.com has named The Global Good Fund one of its Top 30 Startups to Watch.
Here, meet The Global Good Fund’s seventh cohort of Fellows. This select group of ten social innovators, chosen from among thousands of applicants, come from around the globe. Yet each of them is striving to create a ripple effect of change around our world’s most pressing social issues, including health, education, and finance.
- Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter, CEO and Cofounder of IMPAQTO
IMPAQTO has developed a network of social innovation spaces in emerging cities in Latin America, places that hold promise but are often overlooked. Currently, a new generation of change agents are seeking to build a new, sustainable economic model. However, the mortality rate for most startup businesses on the continent is exceptionally high due to lack of access to capital, high rents, low social mobility, and gender-based obstacles.
IMPAQTO assists Latin American entrepreneurs by providing co-working spaces, business acceleration programs, and social innovation consulting. In addition, IMPAQTO Network & Consulting serves leading public and private sector organizations, such as Nestlé and the City of Quito, thereby helping to sponsor scholarships for entrepreneurs in incubation programs.
Seven years ago, CEO and Cofounder Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter returned from a powerful job in Switzerland to her home country of Ecuador with the dream of starting an impact business around affordable housing. However, reality quickly set-in. “In a polarized society like Ecuador, the idea of a social enterprise was an oxymoron,” she says. “People questioned my enthusiasm and optimism.”
Nevertheless, she networked to discover a cofounder, and together they started hosting meetups for the change-maker community. Through this process, Arevalo-Carpenter found her life purpose: Empower an entire generation of Latin American changemakers in furthering the social innovation revolution.
To aspiring changemakers, Arevalo-Carpenter offers this advice: “Surround yourself with a community that inspires you and understands your mission. Your work as a changemaker will sooner or later put you to the test. When you run out of fuel, when the context seems too complex, when you doubt yourself, having a community to rely on is what will help you back on your feet.”
- Hyasintha Ntuyeko, CEO and Founder of Kasole Secrets Company, Ltd.
Kasole Secrets develops and distributes organic sanitary napkins. The company also consults and runs menstrual hygiene management campaigns at a national level in Tanzania.
Although trained as a telecommunications engineer, Founder and CEO Hyasintha Ntuyeko started Kasole Secrets due to her own personal challenges. “My discomfort during my menses made me decide to dedicate my career as an entrepreneur to improving the menstrual experience for women and girls in Tanzania,” she says.
When she started advocating for menstrual hygiene management in her country, Ntuyeko faced many obstacles. “People thought it would be a losing battle,” she says. But she kept at it, working tirelessly for nearly a decade to push her agenda. And now, she feels that Kasole Secrets has managed not only to change the narrative in Tanzania but also to have a ripple impact across other countries.
In addition, Ntuyeko had to confront family and community members as well as potential partners and customers telling her that she was too young to be an entrepreneur. However, she remained consistent in her dedication to the task and eventually was able to win their trust. “Everything is possible if you are willing to walk the distance, focus and commit your full self to it,” she says.
- Rachel Connors, CEO and Cofounder of Yellow Leaf Hammocks
Artisan activity is the second-largest employer in the developing world, yet the vast majority of global artisans are mothers living in extreme poverty. When you combine that fact with women’s power to wrench their families, and by extension their communities, out of poverty, it becomes clear that the artisan sector needs to be brought into the 21st century as a tool for ending global poverty.
Yellow Leaf transforms “bottom of the pyramid” communities through sustainable job creation for women. By working with artisan mothers, the company produces hammocks that improve employees’ as well as customers’ lives. “The mothers we work with are able to make long-term investments in the health, nutrition, and education of their families,” says CEO and cofounder Rachel Connors. “This manifests in incredible ways. 100% of their children are able to go to school instead of working in slash and burn fields, and the first group ever are now attending college based on their mothers’ savings from weaving work.”
Bootstrapping the business from the beginning proved a huge challenge to Connors and her team. At the same time, it forced Yellow Leaf to be results-oriented. “When you bootstrap, you’re very in touch with your customers and your supply chain, which leads to a higher level of intelligence about every aspect of a new business,” she says.
“Bring your A-game,” Connors says to aspiring changemakers. “It’s not enough to have good intentions. You need to make sure you have the skills, hustle, and dedication to live up to your mission.”
- Vaibhav Lodha, Cofounder of ftcash
Every year, millions of people into poverty due to health problems, financial setbacks, and other shocks. Most of those living in or near poverty lack even the most basic banking services. This means they use cash, physical assets, or informal providers such as money lenders to meet their financial needs—from receiving wages to saving money. However, these informal mechanisms can be insecure, expensive, and complicated to use.
ftcash, one of India’s fastest-growing financial technology ventures, converts cash to digital payments and provides pre-approved advances and loans that can be disbursed at the click of a button. After a successful launch in India in 2015, the company was incubated by PayPal and accelerated by MasterCard. By enabling small businesses to accept electronic payments, ftcash empowers lower and middle class individuals, giving more people access to better health, education, and nutrition.
A series of early failures in the corporate world led Cofounder Vaibhav Lodha to re-examine his ideas about success in career and family. “I started to explore my true north, and aligned myself to more people who share a common purpose: To empower lives and create a just society,” he says. “Through entrepreneurship in financial inclusion, I believe I am doing good.”
Lodha compares life to a series of trapeze swings. “We are either hanging onto a trapeze bar trapeze bars,” he says. “Most of the time, we hang onto the same bar. But every once in a while, we look out into the distance and see another trapeze bar swinging toward us. It is our next step, our growth, our aliveness coming to get us. We know that we must release our grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one. Each time, we are filled with terror. This is where we need to rely on ourselves. Hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. Transitioning to the new bar is the only place where real change occurs and we truly grow.”
- Abbey Wemimo, Co-CEO of Esusu Financial, Inc.
Esusu uses data to financially empower marginalized Americans, students and immigrants. A smartphone app helps individuals save more money and access larger sums of capital through the digitization of rotational peer-to-peer savings and loan practices that are popular in immigrant communities. And by reporting rental payments to credit bureaus, Esusu helps individuals boost their credit scores. Both service offerings work to help more people gain access to affordable credit.
Co-CEO Abbey Wemimo was inspired to create Esusu by his personal experience. He immigrated to the USA with his mother, a single parent, when he was young. She had no credit score, and without that, she struggled to access bank loans and establish a financial identity. As a result, Wemimo is passionate about promoting financial inclusion for all Americans, regardless of their background. “It is easier for people to pursue their dreams when they are not burdened by crippling debt and when they are not ignored and shunned by mainstream capital providers,” he says.
The biggest challenge Wemimo faced in starting Esusu was winning over the trust of prospective customers. After some time, the company adjusted its go-to-market approach to partnering with nonprofits, community development organizations, and colleges in order to reach the core customer base. “The key takeaway: be persistent, nimble, and humble,” he says.
As an African-born American, Wemimo is fond of an old African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” He advises aspiring changemakers to “surround yourself with people who inspire you, and who you can collaborate with. Teamwork will sustain you when the going gets tough.”
- Kevin Gibbons, Cofounder and Executive Director of Health Access Connect
Health Access Connect is a nonprofit organization that links Ugandans living in remote areas with healthcare resources. Through its Medicycles program, Health Access Connect uses micro-financed motorcycles to transport health workers to outreach clinics, where they focus on anti-retroviral treatment, HIV testing, antenatal care, family planning, and other essential health services.
“It is often difficult to see the global implications of our work because we spend so much time managing the day-to-day operations and trying to find funding and partners,” says Cofounder and Executive Director Kevin Gibbons. “But one of our main goals is to set up an open-source system for sustainable healthcare delivery that can be applied to many countries around the world.”
Gibbons joined the US Peace Corps as a volunteer after graduating from college in the US. He lived in the Philippines for three years, working for a small forest conservation nonprofit in remote communities. “I was never happier or more fulfilled than when working toward a goal larger than myself,” he says. Later, when traveling to Uganda to conduct Master’s research, Gibbons noticed that people kept mentioning the lack of access to healthcare. He decided that there must be a way to get the free, life-saving healthcare offered just a few miles away to people in more remote areas.
The biggest obstacle Gibbons has faced with Health Access Connect is funding. “We don’t quite fit into the way that donors give money,” he says. “We don’t build hospitals or give out medicine. We set up a sustainable way for communities to get health services. It is difficult to get people to understand that vision when they do not live in Uganda.”
To people thinking of starting a business or nonprofit, Gibbons recommends first working or interning at a similar organization. “Try to understand how work gets funded, what the important facets and vocabulary are, and how the organization is managed,” he says. “If you understand those three things (not easy!), you’ll be well-placed to make the change that you want to.”
- Eyitayo Ogunmola, CEO of Utiva
Utiva is a talent accelerator that seeks to rapidly develop Africa’s motivated young people with skill sets to transition into entry-level positions within startups and large corporations. The company is currently working with students across 25 universities. “When you teach someone to be successful, she becomes a model of excellence to others,” says CEO Eyitayo Ogunmola.
Ogunmola himself was jobless after graduating from school and “almost lured into cybercrime,” he says. “I grew up in a community where most bright young people graduated from school without any opportunity in the job market. I experienced the same thing and I know the reality.”
Two years later, Ogunmola met a mentor who helped him chart a new direction. He started learning new skills and got a job in consulting in Lagos, Nigeria. “I was excited, but I felt a deep sense of frustration because other youths around me were left without hope,” he says. “I discovered that unemployment in Nigeria is not caused by a lack of jobs but the unemployability of the youth population.”
The first struggle Utiva faced was finding quality faculty to commit time and resources to students. So, Ogunmola started doing the trainings himself. Within a year, he had found over 50 volunteers, professionals from different backgrounds. Today, Utiva has partnerships with firms and brands working to train college students through staff volunteers.
“While it is easy to do small things because they make a difference, building scale into your model should be your focus,” Ogunmola advises to aspiring changemakers. “ From day one, think of how to scale your intervention. We need to create solutions that address big problems at scale.”
- Tonee Ndungu, Founder and CIO of Kytabu Inc.
Kytabu Inc. is an education technology company that provides students in Kenya with affordable access to required textbooks via their mobile devices. With an increase in access to both devices and data connectivity, more students are looking for technology solutions to access learning content. Kytabu has influenced the Kenyan government to pursue a digital policy that allows devices in schools.
Founder and CIO Tonee Ndungu grew up dyslexic and with ADHD, so he knows from first-hand experience the challenges students in the Kenyan education system can face in accessing affordable, relevant and relatable content. He hopes to scale his technology to a country-wide level in order to improve education for the young people of his country.
Fundraising is a huge challenge for an African-based African founder, according to Ndungu. “The majority of angel, venture capital, private capital, and seed investments come from Europe and the Americas. Most funders invest in those they can relate to. This has sidelined a majority of African founders,” he says.
His advice is to practice “patience, persistence, and planning. With a clear and tested strategy, in those three words are the totality of starting and running a meaningful intervention.”
- Neha Arora, Founder of Planet Abled
Planet Abled, which recently was named one of the best innovative practices by the Zero Project Conference at the United Nations, provides inclusive travel solutions to people of all disabilities and the elderly. “A lot of times people with disabilities and senior citizens are apprehensive of traveling in India because they are at a loss of information about accessibility,” says Founder Neha Arora. “Planet Abled strives to break that barrier. One can travel solo, with family, as an institution or organization or join a group tour at over 35 destinations across the Indian subcontinent.”
When she first started Planet Abled, Arora says, people would look down upon their travel groups and make rude comments because it was something they’d never seen before. So, the company organized get-togethers at coffee shops and in pubs, at cultural places and festivals. “We’d go in large numbers, with a mix of people with various disabilities and people without disabilities all enjoying their time together. These get-togethers were then joined by other disability-focused organizations across the country,” she says.
Arora herself wasn’t able to travel much as a child owing to the disabilities of her parents. This is what inspired her to found Planet Abled. Nevertheless, she worried about the company’s commercial viability, laying the groundwork for three years prior to launch.
“If you find a problem and feel that you can solve it, do not wait for the perfect time and perfect circumstances to do it,” advises Arora. “It will never be right. Jump into it and get your hands dirty. The solution and problem both will evolve.”
- Hitesh Tolani, CEO of Virtudent
Today, 40% of Americans can’t access basic oral healthcare. Virtudent makes high-quality dental care convenient and easy to access through a combination of onsite and telemedicine technologies. As the trusted onsite dentist for Fidelity Investments, Wayfair, LogMeIn, Hubspot, and many other companies, Virtudent is able to take a portion of its proceeds to serve 5,000 children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to basic oral healthcare.
CEO Hitesh Tolani, a child of immigrant parents, fell into “immigration limbo” for 22 years. During this time, he lost his father, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and his family was left destitute. Fortunately, their story went viral throughout the U.S. and 35,000 people wrote to their Congressmen and Senators to help Tolani’s family. “As I watched people go to bat for us, I wanted to do the same one day for others,” Tolani says. “I am a pure product of their generosity. As a dentist, I feel I have the ability to pay it forward.”
Although Tolani faces obstacles daily with Virtudent, he is determined to work hard, be tenacious, be kind, be humble, ask for help, and keep going. “No is not an acceptable answer,” he says to aspiring changemakers. “Respect rules, regulations and laws, but to get where you want, dig deeper. You have to look beyond and find the path that leads to the ‘but.’ No, but you could… that is when you know that you’re on the right track.”