When these four social entrepreneurs found the conditions they observed in the field to be unsatisfactory, they immediately took action. Today their ideas have fundamentally transformed the way people around the world use natural resources, educate young girls, and manage their land. For their bold work, Alasdair Harris, Ma Jun, Safeena Husain and Jagdeesh Rao were named the recipients of the 2015 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. The honor, which comes with a $1.25 million award, recognizes entrepreneurs who have had a proven impact on a large-scale problem. Below are the details of their efforts.
1. Alasdair Harris
Founder, Blue Ventures
London, United Kingdom
Blue Ventures organizes projects that rally coastal communities in the developing world around local conservation efforts. "Typically conservation alienates people," Blue Ventures founder Alasdair Harris says. "It has the opposite of the effect that it needs to achieve." That's why the main focus of his organization, founded in 2003, is to demonstrate the benefits environmental projects can yield. "If we can succeed in doing it, then I believe we can have a chance of growing conservation to a completely different scale," he says.
One of Harris's first demonstrations involved temporarily cordoning off an octopus-fishing area in Madagascar. By allowing the ecosystem to rebuild, octopi and other sea life flourished, leading to an increase in catch and profits. Blue Ventures has since carried out similar projects in Fiji, Malaysia, and Belize. Harris says his organization's income last year was more than $1.4 million.
2. Ma Jun
Director, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
"Our main focus is to control air, water, and soil pollution in our country. And our main way of doing this is to use transparency to promote public participation to drive change," says Ma Jun says of his nonprofit. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs since 2006 has maintained a publicly accessible national pollution database, where the data is displayed on an interactive online map of China. Users also can search individual companies' environmental supervision records.
Jun was struck for the need for such a repository after traveling throughout his country, doing research for his 1999 book China's Water Crisis. He found that although national environmental standards existed, pollution was widespread. He was convinced that greater transparency could change industrial practices.
Journalists, non-governmental organizations, and researchers were some of the first to use his database to advocate for change, Jun says. But now brands like Apple, Hewlett Packard and H&M are using the data to monitor their suppliers. Last year the institute raised more than $1.4 million. Jun says that the information it's provided has prompted 1,800 factories to change their processes.
3. Safeena Husain
CEO, Educate Girls
Educate Girls has two main goals. First, to bring Indian girls who aren't in school into the education system. And second, once they are there, to make sure that they are really learning. Founder Safeena Husain employs a very hands-on approach to make this all happen. In order to find girls who aren't in the classroom, her staff must go door to door.
"[We find out,] are there 50 girls in a village out of school, or five?" Husain explains. "And once we know exactly who they are, then we conduct village meetings and get the village leadership, the teacher, the headmaster, the parents, everybody involved." Changing entrenched views about girls and education is a long-term process, she says, but so far her organization's efforts have helped to educate 1.3 million children, including more than 80,000 girls that it has brought into the school system.
Husain said her organization had a budget of $3.2 million last year, and $3.5 million in 2015. She aims to raise $9.5 million by 2018 in order to extend Educate Girls' services to 4.4 million children.
4. Jagdeesh Rao
Chief Executive, Foundation for Ecological Security
Anand, Gujarat, India
About 200 million people in India rely on government-owned common land for their livelihoods. Historically these areas have been overexploited, since without ownership rights people have lacked a strong incentive to preserve local resources. That's why in 2001 Jagdeesh Rao founded the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) to help local villagers set up formal institutions-;like forest protection, management, and grazing land committees-;in order to better maintain publicly owned land.
Rao hopes to empower people to make decisions that benefit their communities in the long-term. By educating them about sustainable practices-;for example, harvesting water and protecting biodiverse food areas from cattle-;the organization aims to restore the environment and provide them with greater economic security.
Rao has been working on the problem since 1984, when he first visited Hyderabad as an undergraduate studying agriculture sciences. Through FES he has collaborated with more than 7,000 villages to bring 3.7 million acres of common land under local management. Since 2013, the organization has raised $2.9 million, $3.6 million and $3.9 million each year.