There's no shortage of social problems around the world.
But the heads of certain businesses, non-profit organizations and philanthropic foundations have been tackling some of these issues with the kind of vision that few others have. Their leadership was recently recognized at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards, which kicked off this year's Clinton Global Initiative to set big, hairy, audacious goals and implement solutions to the world's most pressing challenges.
"Tonight is a chance to honor extraordinary contributions that have changed lives... and helped develop the meaning of global citizenship in an age of unprecedented interdependence," said Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State whose husband, Bill, launched CGI a decade ago.
Here are some of the honorees, the challenges they're addressing and their innovative solutions.
The Challenge: Corporate social responsibility programs haven't been enough to provide fair compensation to farm workers.
The Solution: Create a worker-driven social responsibility program.
Lucas Benitez and Greg Asbed, co-founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and winners for their leadership in civil society, spearheaded a unique partnership between the $650 million tomato industry in Florida with 12 of the biggest food corporations in the world, including Wal-Mart Stores, McDonald's, Subway and Whole Foods. "They've all agreed to buy only from farmers that have no human rights violations... [and] participating buyers agree to pay a penny more per pound for Florida tomatoes," said the actress Eva Longoria, whose foundation aims to empower Latinas through entrepreneurship and education.
That extra penny per pound may not sound like much, but it doubles the wages of Florida's tomato pickers.
"For these workers, the traditional models of corporate social responsibility have failed," said Benitez, who worked on a tomato farm when he was 18. "We asked a simple question: What if we as workers ourselves designed our own social responsibility program to protect our own human rights?"
The Challenge: How do you transform underserved communities through wireless technology?
The Solution: Donate devices to individuals and empower them to become entrepreneurs with the tech.
Irwin Jacobs--the founding chairman of Qualcomm and winner for leadership in the private sector--did exactly that, years ago.
In the U.S., he gave smartphones to students so they could help each other with algebra homework, in part, by exchanging video tutorials. In Morocco, he's overseen a program where ultrasound devices are used over the phone to check up on pregnant women in more remote locations, significantly reducing the cost of healthcare delivery. And in Bangladesh, his efforts assisted in teaching women to become microentrepreneurs by selling various phone-related services to their community members.
"We currently have over 100 projects ongoing in over 35 countries making use of the wireless [technology]," said Jacobs.
The Challenge: Encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship among unemployed youth in the Middle East.
The Solution: Link individuals with fledgling business ideas from that region of the world to the startup community in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hayat Sindi, honored for her leadership in civil society, had a PhD in biotechnology when she became a visiting scholar at Harvard and was told her proposal for a non-profit would never win the prestigious MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. But she did. And her organization has created low-cost diagnostic tools specifically tailored to the developing world.
Since then she's founded the i2 Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, which has linked budding entrepreneurs from the Middle East with the Harvard Innovation Lab as well as Boston-area professors and startups. "How will we know we achieved the impossible? It's when [success] extends beyond us and when a new opportunity is created," said Sindi, who is listed among Forbes' most powerful Arab women and is a member of the UN Secretary-General's Scientific Advisory Board.