Nicholas Kristof has a lovely and inspiring editorial in today's NYT about the young social entrepreneurs who are working to create systems that increase equality and opportunity. It begins:
"In the ’60s, perhaps the most remarkable Americans were the civil rights workers and antiwar protesters who started movements that transformed the country. In the 1980s, the most fascinating people were entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who started companies and ended up revolutionizing the way we use technology.
"Today the most remarkable young people are the social entrepreneurs, those who see a problem in society and roll up their sleeves to address it in new ways."
He offers some examples:
Andrew Klaber...spent the summer after his sophomore year in college in Thailand and was aghast to see teenage girls being forced into prostitution after their parents had died of AIDS. So he started "Orphans Against AIDS , which pays school-related expenses for hundreds of children who have been orphaned or otherwise affected by AIDS in poor countries. He and his friends volunteer their time and pay administrative costs out of their own pockets so that every penny goes to the children.
"...Soraya Salti, a 37-year-old Jordanian woman who is trying to transform the Arab world by teaching entrepreneurship in schools. Her organization, Injaz , is now training 100,000 Arab students each year to find a market niche, construct a business plan and then launch and nurture a business. Injaz has spread to 12 Arab countries and is aiming to teach one million students a year. Ms. Salti argues that entrepreneurs can stimulate the economy, give young people a purpose and revitalize the Arab world. Girls in particular have flourished in the program, which has had excellent reviews and is getting support from the U.S. Agency for International Development."
"Another young person on a mission is Ariel Zylbersztejn, a 27-year-old Mexican who founded and runs a company called Cinepop, which projects movies onto inflatable screens and shows them free in public parks. Mr. Zylbersztejn realized that 90 percent of Mexicans can’t afford to go to movies, so he started his own business model: He sells sponsorships to companies to advertise to the thousands of viewers who come to watch the free entertainment. Mr. Zylbersztejn works with microcredit agencies and social welfare groups to engage the families that come to his movies and help them start businesses or try other strategies to overcome poverty. Cinepop is only three years old, but already 250,000 people a year watch movies on his screens — and his goal is to take the model to Brazil, India, China and other countries."
Kristoff's conclusion: "So as we follow the presidential campaign, let’s not forget that the winner isn’t the only one who will shape the world. Only one person can become president of the United States, but there’s no limit to the number of social entrepreneurs who can make this planet a better place."
Let me just add that in the process of saving the planet we also often save ourselves. Helping others helps get you out of your own rut, broadens your perspective, gives your life meaning, and puts you in community with other wonderful people. If you are depressed, anxious, or confused, by all means see a therapist, but also join a cause.