The Power to Lead: The Next Generation of Social Entrepreneurs

Teens across the U.S. are increasingly starting nonprofits and giving back to their communities, all the while learning critical business skills. Winners of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards talk about their activism and journeys as young social entrepreneurs.Read More

by Diana Drake

In business, social entrepreneurship is getting a lot of attention these days. While social entrepreneurs have as much creativity, passion, drive, energy and appetite for risk as traditional entrepreneurs, they are looking to solve the world’s problems and maximize social value over profits – and to do so on a grand scale. Raviv Turner, cofounder and CEO of Guerillapps, a startup focused on developing social games to support real-world causes, told Forbes magazine this month, “The first step to becoming a social entrepreneur is identifying a social problem in need of a solution. Aspiring social entrepreneurs need not look too far to find social issues in need of solving: poverty, hunger, poor education, environmental damage, political suppression, disease and social inequality,” to name a few.

A growing number of teenagers are drawn to the social entrepreneurship model – and this concept of giving back to their communities. They are defining success not only by what they can achieve for themselves, but also what they do for others. This mentality is prompting young people like Candonino Agusen, a junior at Kealakehe High School who spoke to Knowledge@Wharton High School from his home in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to plan a future with a social impact: “I’m interested in becoming a doctor, a general practitioner, but after I complete my residency I plan on joining Doctors without Borders and helping overseas and third-world countries,” notes Agusen.

Nancy Lubin, CEO of, a nonprofit that helps young people to engage in philanthropy, recently told Crain’s New York Business, “Kids today just saw their parents go through a recession, get laid off and struggle. They look around and say: ‘What’s the point? I don’t just want a second car in my driveway. I want a life of purpose.’” This, along with access to technology that brings the world closer than ever, is inspiring a new generation of social entrepreneurs in training.

Third-world Country Poverty

Samantha Kerker, 17, took macroeconomics as a freshman at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Fl., and fell in love with entrepreneurship. Inspired to start her own business, she invested $2,600 of her money to launch a website selling tie-dye clothing, created from chemicals and colors that she mixed herself. Six months later, she had $7,000 and a desire to do something meaningful with her money.

When students from Lynn University in Boca Raton, where her mother works, lost their lives in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Kerker had her answer. Unable to travel to the disaster-stricken country, she chose the next Latin American country most in need: Nicaragua. “My mom and I packed our bags and lived, slept and breathed in third-world country poverty for a week. With the money, we built a house for a homeless family and a latrine. All the people were incredible, humble and so happy that we were there,” says Kerker.

Back home, Kerker’s friends asked her if she would stay in touch with the family she helped – possibly through Facebook. “I said, ‘Facebook friends? They don’t even have running water or electricity!’ That’s when I realized that my friends didn’t get it,” notes Kerker.

And so was born Students for the Poor, a network of clubs operating in all 28 high schools in the Palm Beach County school district that mobilizes student participation in community service projects and global outreach. With Kerker at the helm, all the clubs held an outdoor amphitheater concert in February to raise $30,000 to build a school in Nicaragua and to sponsor 60 students from the school district to travel to the country over spring break 2013. “I want the students to be part of the building process and experience a third-world setting,” says Kerker, who this month was one of 10 high school and middle school students to win a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her outstanding volunteer service. “My hope is that they’re going to go there and come back and be inspired like I was.”

In this age of connectivity, when getting a friend’s attention is one FB post away, many aspiring social entrepreneurs are rallying their classmates around causes. Jordyn Schara, a junior at Reedsburg Area High School in North Freedom, Wis., runs Foundation for HOPE (Helping Our Peers Excel), a nonprofit that mentors young people to get involved in their communities. In part, says Schara, the organization is a way to “house the community service projects I do,” which include a program that ships books and magazines to soldiers in Iraq, an initiative promoting reading through comic books for elementary school-aged kids, and a project to collect and dispose of unused or unwanted pharmaceuticals so that they do not end up in the water supply, while raising awareness of prescription drug abuse.

“What I’ve enjoyed the most is finding something in my community that isn’t being addressed and jumping in to address it,” says Schara, who wants to major in broadcast journalism in college and become a war correspondent. “My program is in over 18 states, and I hope to take it global. Our duty as human beings is to help each other.”

Find Your Voice

With a great-grandmother who was “very close” to Ghandi, Neha Gupta says that social activism is in her DNA. Still, the sophomore at Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pa., believes that her journey starting Empowering Orphans, an organization that has raised $500,000 in money, products and services for orphans in India and locally, has been personal as well as professional. “This process has taught me that every person has a voice,” notes Gupta, who has learned to navigate the world of grant applications and organizing fundraising events. “I really didn’t think that I was going to make an impact at all. I thought I could help maybe 100 kids. It’s taught me that when I use my voice, it can have amazing effects.”

The next generation of social entrepreneurs? Yes, if they have anything to say about it. “I’ve learned leadership, politics, organization, negotiations, procedures, documents, legal issues, liability issues. I would call people to set up meetings and they wouldn’t call me back. I had to keep persisting,” says Kerker, who intends to study social entrepreneurship in college. “I’ve had so many bumps in the road and so many people telling me it was impossible to do what I wanted to do. I proved them wrong. Ten years from now, I want to create my own international nonprofit business.”


What is social entrepreneurship?

How do the students in this article reflect the qualities of social entrepreneurs?

Is it important to have both a local and global mission these days? Why or Why not?


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2 comments on “The Power to Lead: The Next Generation of Social Entrepreneurs

  1. As we all human are social animals according to a say, therefore we all are tied with society and the problem arise in society is must also affect us.

    Here the above article describes the value of social entrepreneurs and the conditions how youths and teens are leading these communities.

    So a number of entrepreneurs are taking valuable steps towards the well being of the society for a better and developing cause.


  2. I believe that social empowerment is just as important in society as economic empowerment. Living in Mumbai, one can witness a clear economic disparity between the rich and the poor. However, the economic disparity is often discussed, the societal stratification and social inequality, which are yet prevalent, even in urban and educated India, is often ignored. While the sky-scrappers are 70+ storeys high, the mentality of many is as low as the ground floor, where they put up signs stating staff not allowed in elevators meant for owners their guests only. In India, it is common for commercial building to have separate elevators for blue-collar workers. Over years of travelling to countries both more and less economically developed than India, in no other place have I witnessed such discriminatory policies implemented so commonly.
    Couple of years ago, an expat couple with 2 young boys, rented an apartment in my complex. They had hired a local, female domestic help. One Sunday, the family went swimming and asked the help to join them. She was very apprehensive, probably because she had not ever entered a swimming pool. Most economically challenged parts of the city, have running-water only for 2 hours a day, that too they need to queue up and fill a bucket or two, so the luxury of entering a swimming pool was definitely foreign to her. Soon the security was summoned, the manager of the building asked her to leave the pool immediately. The poor woman was in tears. I assumed that she was pulled up, because she had flouted the rules and entered the swimming pool fully clothed. It was only the next day I found out that she was asked to leave the pool because she was a domestic worker and not an owner or guest. I was shocked beyond words. My domestic helpers have never used the gym or swimming pool, but I wasn’t aware that there was a ‘rule’ that they weren’t permitted to use the facilities. I questioned my parents about how can one distinguish between guests and domestic helpers, and why could a domestic helper not be signed in as a guest. I was met with silence, with the obvious understanding that ones economic strata defines if he can be a signed in as a guest or not. This absurdity is not only limited to where I live. Most of the sought-after ‘proper clubs’ in Mumbai have a designated area for helpers and nannies, beyond which they are not allowed. Most residential apartments have separate ‘servants bathrooms’ outside the house. In fact, this feature in apartments fetches a premium, as the “bosses’ don’t have to share their bathrooms with the staff. These are only few of the several examples of social inequality considered acceptable by a large majority of the population. 
    Whereas I do understand that there is an economic gap in the world, and a large one in India, but to iniquitously discriminate right of admission on the basis of socio-economic class is archaic. Even though Modern India abolished untouchability, many decades ago, the caste system (determined by birth) remained, and now entwined with the socio-economic based ‘class system’ has created an abominable system, which unfortunately, is unique only to India.
    The issue of social inequality often stems from those in the lower classes not being aware of their rights. They often believe that they are responsible for their situation, as they have not worked hard enough, or are not educated enough, thus thinking themselves as inferior. Instead, it is vicious circle, classism creates lack of opportunities, which in turn accentuates socio-economic gap, that is fuels classism. This is what motivated me to form my own NGO. Over the last year before the general elections, I visited public schools and taught them the importance of voting, and how they could exercise their right to vote in the future. Over the course of 3 months, I reached over 3000 children from 17 schools. While I am proud of my efforts, it is far from significant in the larger picture. 
    True equality can never be achieved without social mobility. The Indian Constitution prides itself in being a socialist nation, and while there are laws to ensure social mobility, the under-privileged must be educated on them, to ensure they are treated equitably.

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