We are living during a time of great challenges. The global economy remains slow, the environment is deteriorating, population is growing, and many governments (even rich ones) are struggling to meet the needs of their citizens.
The financial crisis proved that we cannot solely rely on business and government to solve our problems and make our lives better.
Fortunately, we are also living during a time of great opportunity. We are more connected than ever before and a number of enterprising leaders are sharing ideas and creating disruptive solutions to our current challenges. These so-called "social entrepreneurs" are not traditional "for-profit" entrepreneurs or "not-for-profit" charities. They are instead out to create social value and make their communities healthier, safer, more prosperous and happier places to live.
They are particularly active in the Americas. In November, 32 social entrepreneurs from North, Central and South America presented their ideas during the second annual Continuity Forum hosted by the Americas Business Council Foundation (abc*) in Miami. The goal of the forum is to discuss ideas that are working in places as diverse as Bogotá, Puerto Vallarta or Vancouver, and finds ways to replicate them throughout the entire region.
The social entrepreneurs were selected specifically for the forum by Ashoka and the abc* Foundation based on their potential to increase the scale of their missions and expand their work in the communities they serve with new outside advisory and financial support. Of the group of 32, we then selected ten that target U.S. Hispanics or Latin Americans and had the most potential for disruptive change.
Here is our list of Univision's top social entrepreneurs of 2012:
Alexander Eaton | Chief Executive Officer, Sistema Biobolsa
Buen Manejo del Campo (BMC) produces, distributes and promotes Sistema Biobolsa, a high quality modular bio-digestion system that transforms agricultural waste into potent organic fertilizer and renewable methane-rich biogas fuel. The company promotes Sistema Biobolsa through education, microfinance, and capacity building. Their model has the potential to reach tens of millions of small and medium farmers throughout Latin America, improving their efficiency, health and sustainability.
Ben Simon | Founder and Executive Director, Food Recovery Network
Food Recovery Network (FRN) unites students at colleges and universities to fight food waste and hunger by recovering surplus perishable food from their campuses that would otherwise go to waste and instead donating it to people in need. The Food Recovery Network brings the food to homeless shelters, food banks and other non-profits in the surrounding communities.
Cecilio Solis Librado | Founder, Red Indígena de Turismo de México, A.C. (RITA)
Tourism companies are regularly attracted to indigenous territories because of their rich cultural and natural heritage. Rarely, however, does this tourism result in a viable source of jobs and sustainable economic development for the communities in the territories themselves. Red Indígena de Turismo de México, A.C. (RITA, or, the Indian Tourism Network of Mexico A.C.), was founded in 2002 as a response to this challenge by 32 companies of 16 different Mexican indigenous ethnicities. Ten years later, RITA is now comprised of 189 companies from 16 Mexican states, through which they continue to welcome the rest of the world into their communities while actively participating in the construction of economic and cultural destinies.
Daphne Nederhorst | Founder, Sawa World
Daphne is combating global poverty by identifying local changemakers called "Sawa Heroes" in the world's fifty poorest countries who have created significant projects without outside support.
Sawa World uses a bold approach to solve extreme poverty for the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. The organization finds inspiring innovators, known as Sawa Leaders, who live in extreme poverty but have created successful, localized solutions to some of their most dire challenges. Sawa then empowers local youth reporters to ensure that these successes are shared and replicated by others in need. Sawa's motto is "Solutions from Within!"
Francesco Piazzesi Tommasi | Chief Executive Officer, ¡Échale! a tu Casa
In Mexico, there are six million families living in shacks. ¡Échale! a tu Casa is a social-impact franchise program that provides sustainable community development through the production of housing. The program aims to restructure the community's networking outlets and cure the flaws inherent to the self-building process through the implementation of social inclusion, empowerment, technology, training, financial education, social financial trust and innovation.
Jorge Camil Starr | Chief Development Officer, Enova
Enova is a social enterprise dedicated to creating informed digital citizens by providing underserved Mexican communities with access to quality educational opportunities and information technologies. According to the organization, Mexico's educational system is failing; for every 100 Mexican children, only 25 graduate from high school and only 13 obtain a college degree. The digital divide is also significant; 69 percent of the population does not have access to computers or the Internet. Enova's solution to this problem is the RIA (The Learning and Innovation Network), a group of 70 educational centers located throughout Mexico. The RIA provides access to computers in a safe and pleasant environment, develops a blended learning model supported by excellently trained facilitators and offers a range of courses specialized to the needs of Mexican students.
Jose-Pablo Fernandez | Founder and Executive Director, Parents Alliance, Inc.
Parents Alliance unlocks online learning opportunities for low-income, limited English-speaking Hispanic parents by offering them language courses and a portal to continuing education in Spanish. The company trains parents, mostly mothers, to use the Internet so they can become full partners in their children's education, communicate with their children's teachers and schools and pursue their own educational goals to achieve upward mobility.
Kerstin Forsberg | Founder and Director, Planeta Océano
Planeta Océano is committed to conserving and restoring coastal and marine environments—vital life-support systems—that are threatened by overexploitation, pollution, habitat degradation and climate change. Planeta Océano centers its efforts, which primarily occur in low-income areas in Peru, in three main pillars of action: research, environmental education and awareness, and sustainable development of coastal communities.
Patrick Struebi | Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Fairtrasa (Fairtrade South America)
Fairtrasa helps underprivileged, small-scale farmers in Third World countries escape poverty and improve their lives by providing them with technical support and access to international markets. The company works to ensure that farmers are paid fair prices for their produce, which can often be up to 10 times higher than local market prices, and helps them increase their yields to become self-sufficient and grow beyond subsistence level.
Salomón Raydán | President, Fundefir
Fundación de Financiamiento Rural (Fundefir) (Rural Financing Foundation) is an organization that works to promote economic and social development of communities and their inhabitants through the execution of a broad applied finance training program that offers consulting tools for the development of skills in the fields of finance, family business, association and community development.