Social Enterprise: How 6 Companies are Changing Lives

Samuel Hum
Samuel Hum
July 3, 2014
2 min read
Social Enterprise: How 6 Companies are Changing Lives

In this article

6 Companies that are Fighting the System to Change Lives featured image

Many businesses are stepping up their game to change the world. Companies have moved beyond collecting donations, to creating long term, comprehensive solutions for disadvantaged communities.

Inspired by the good work that Shop with Meaning is doing, we've decided to feature some examples of brands that are doing their part to change the world in a more sustainable way:

1. Warby Parker - Disrupting eyewear and spreading awareness.

Warby Founders (clockwise): Neil Blumenthal, Jeffrey Raider, David Gilboa & Andrew Hunt
Left to right: Warby Parker founders Neil Blumenthal, Jeffrey Raider, David Gilboa & Andrew Hunt

Warby Parker originated from a frustration with the eyewear industry.

One of the co-founders lost his glasses while on a trip, and had to squint and struggle the entire semester because he couldn't afford another pair:

Glasses are too expensive. The eyewear industry is dominated by a single company that has been able to keep prices artificially high while reaping huge profits from consumers who have no other options.

Warby Parker circumvents current methods of manufacturing and distribution, designing their eyewear in-house and selling them straight-to-consumer at extremely affordable prices.

They partner with non-profits like VisionSpring, training individuals in developing countries to give basic eye examinations and sell prescription glasses. This helps to create jobs and spread awareness for affordable eye care.

2. Sseko Designs - Breaking the cycle of poverty for women.

Founder of Sseko Designs, Liz (centre)
Founder of Sseko Designs, Liz (centre)

According to Liz Forkin Bohannon, founder of Sseko Designs:

We believe that every woman has a dream. When she is given the opportunity to pursue those dreams, we are collectively walking towards a brighter and more just and beautiful world.

Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand based in Uganda. They sell accessories and sandals made by women from all walks of life - especially young, unemployed women in East Africa.

Sseko Designs extend jobs and scholarship opportunities to their suppliers, so that they can continue their education and pursue their dreams.

3. Elegantees - Restoring women rescued from sex trafficking.

Elegantees founder Katie Behnke
Elegantees founder & creative director: Katie Behnke

When founder Katie Behnke learned about sex trafficking, she realised that it could have happened to her.

Katie found her purpose through empathising with survivors:

I’m convicted that my calling is about restoration to purity and dignity. I believe that women can be restored in every way, just like I am. I want to use my gifts, and the truth of who we are created to be, to restore women.

Elegantees is an apparel company that employs survivors of sex trafficking, while doubling as a safe space while they navigate their new lives.

4. Oliberté - Empowering locals to make their own living.

[caption id="attachment_16512" align="aligncenter" width="450"]

Oliberté founder Tal Dehtiar with Feraw Kebede, general manager of Oliberté

Feraw Kebede, general manager of Oliberté (left) with founder Tal Dehtiar (right)[/caption]

Founder Tal Dehtiar takes a firm stand against traditional charity models in Oliberté:

Africa doesn’t need donations — it doesn’t need anything. It has everything it needs. What it requires is the right support system. While knowledge is key and important, the best long term solution for local development is hiring and focusing on hiring locally from the start.

Oliberté is an ethical sustainable brand based in sub-Saharan Africa. They create a community and system in Africa that employs local people and uses local materials to make excellent shoes.

In 2013, they became the world's first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory!

5. 31 Bits - Using fashion and design to empower people to rise above poverty.

The 31 Bits team.
Left to right: co-founders Alli Swanson, Anna Toy, Jessie Simonson, Kallie Dovel

The idea to start 31 Bits came from an eye-opening trip to Uganda:

Our classmate, Kallie, had just gotten back from a life-changing trip to Uganda. She met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no job, and they were our age. OUR AGE. Our lives couldn’t look more different.

31 Bits sells beautifully-crafted jewelry made by women partners in Uganda from recycled bits of paper.

31 Bits' five-year development program in Uganda, then ensures that each partner receives health education, finance training, counseling, and business training.

Upon graduating, their partners are equipped with the emotional, social and technical skills to run their own business.

6. A Better Chicago - funding the best social enterprises in the city.


A Better Chicago (ABC) is a venture philanthropy fund that focuses on the Chicago metropolitan area. They fund and mentor the highest-performing non-profits in the area to improve opportunities for the low-income population.

Chosen based on their focus on education, early childhood or workforce development, 100% of the donations are then pumped into these organizations.

To date, A Better Chicago has built helping many non-profits such as Citizen Schools and OneGoal.

Honorable Mention: Kiva - microfinancing entrepreneurs in developing countries

Kiva founders Matt Flannery (left) and Premal Shah (right)
Kiva founders Matt Flannery (left) and Premal Shah (right)

Kiva was started because co-founder Matt Flannery cared a lot about the situation in Uganda, and wanted to do something to help them out. In his own words:

I actually enjoy working in Africa. I enjoy all the people I was meeting. I enjoy the purpose and cared for it, in and of itself. The thing that kept us going was the actual work, we liked. Rather than the result.

How Kiva helps - it's a microfinance platform for low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries. Because funders know where their money is going, they feel more invested in their recipients, and are likely to give more with that level of information and personal interest.

100% of the funds go directly to borrowers, and all funds are eventually repaid.

The best social enterprises tackle the root of the problem.

Social enterprises don't just aim to help the disadvantaged. They aim to guide the disadvantaged out of dependency.

For this reason, the best social enterprises provide their target communities with the tools, opportunities, and networks to generate their own income.

Our hope is that our list members will eventually be out of work, their organizations so successful that the problem they set out to solve no longer exists.


Read Next: 6 Entrepreneurs Weigh In: The #1 Way To Accelerate Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Samuel Hum
Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

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