Real Leaders

6 Successful Social Innovation Projects

Brands with a conscience not only attract better talent and woo discerning consumers, they also wind up building communities and boosting the bottom line. As they say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Social innovations are new strategies, concepts and ideas that meet the social needs of different elements which can be from working conditions and education to community development and health — they extend and strengthen civil society.

Social innovation includes the social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques and also the innovations which have a social purpose — like activism, online volunteering, microcredit or distance learning. It focuses on new work and new forms of cooperation (business models), especially those that work towards a sustainable society.

Here are six ordinary community members who decided to find a solution:

1. Changing Communities, One Healthy Meal at a Time. 

Getting diagnosed with type 2 diabetes made Chad Cherry abruptly rethink his relationship with food. He took the increased risks of blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and stroke so seriously that he decided to become a chef, to learn how to combat the poor diet he’d become accustomed to. Amazingly, the hospital that treated him failed to mention poor diet as a contributing factor to his illness.

Our health systems are designed to medicate once symptoms appear, not educate people on their lifestyle choices – that may lead to illness, or even death.

Cherry researched his condition online and connected the dots between what he was eating and his diabetes. He turned to organic ingredients and cut highly processed foods from his diet and within a few months started seeing and feeling the difference. Chad and his wife call themselves farm-to-table consultants and have already racked up celebrity clients, including personal chef to the Kardashians, Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, rapper Ace Hood and has also fed Barack and Michelle Obama.

Their goal is to refresh people’s relationship, knowledge and experience of food with healthier, locally-grown produce. Together they aim to fight “food deserts’ in inner cities across America. Read the full story here.

2. Flower Power Helps Heal The Violence in Baltimore.

“I’m an urban change warrior,” says Walker Marsh of Baltimore, who uses vacant lots in the inner city to grow high-quality flowers, herbs and vegetables. The tall, soft-spoken urban farmer is sitting on the floor, gluing sunflower petals to a discarded stop sign with childlike wonder. Baltimore is not known for its softness, and you can’t help wondering how someone such as Marsh succeeds in a city that has seen gun crime, rape, robbery and murder spike many times the national average. 

When Marsh couldn’t find a job, he decided to create his own. Tha Flower Factory now trains young horticulturalists who are recruited from the juvenile justice system and together they are changing East Baltimore – one flowerbed at a time.

Brightly colored patches of flowers stand out starkly against the dull, faded inside walls of buildings that were demolished years ago and never rebuilt. Empty lots in cities become magnets for the homeless, drug dealers and dumping grounds for waste, but Marsh has transformed them into green lungs and living symbols of growth and renewal in places of despair. The flowers get sold to local stores, restaurants and businesses. Read the full story here.

3. T-shirts To Make You Eat Your Words.

The next time you say something offensive in public, beware – Amanda Brinkman may put it on a T-shirt. German-born Brinkman moved with her family to Los Angeles as a child and has always looked for attention. During the 2016 presidential debates, she found it. After hearing Donald Trump call Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” she bristled, and on a whim mocked up a T-shirt with the phrase emblazoned on the front and put it up on her new website.

She woke up the next morning to 10,000 orders and called the online payments company to report an error. It wasn’t, and Brinkman found herself thrown into the midst of a new business venture that started by appropriating someone else’s words. Can attitude alone make you money? Well, yes, it seems so. Read the full story here.

4. Building Bikes For Social Mobility.

Bicycles are a manifestation of what John Dengler has been trying to do with the homeless of Tampa, Florida for years. The city suffers from the second-highest rate of homelessness after Los Angeles, mainly due to temperate winters that allow those on the streets to survive year-round.

“In our society, if people don’t have monetary value, they don’t have value,” says Dengler, who was on a mission to find gainful employment for those who sometimes found a part-time job across town, but still needed a way of getting across a city of 2,500 square miles.

As Dengler traveled around Tampa, he began noticing something strange. Thousands of abandoned bicycles – in police impounds, chained to city buses, around colleges, condos and apartment blocks. “Literally hundreds of thousands,” he says. “You couldn’t collect them all if you tried; just another example of our wasteful society.”

Seeing homeless people the city didn’t seem to value, and bikes that no one cared for, Dengler decided to put them together to create something new – Well Built Bikes. The organization teaches people on the streets how to build and recondition bicycles to sell at a fraction of a new one. Read the full story here.

5. How Soup Is Uniting and Transforming Communities.

When last did you fund a new venture over a bowl of soup? Well now you can.

Detroit Soup invites community members to pay $5 at the door and then listen to presenters vying for votes on a project that will make a positive difference in their communities. Projects range from art, urban agriculture, social justice, education and technology. Budding entrepreneurs have four minutes each to pitch an idea to diners and then take questions. Your $5 buys you a bowl of soup, salad, bread and a vote, and once the votes are counted, the winning presenter receives all the money collected at the door.

“It’s like Shark Tank, but minus the a-holes,” says Amy Kaherl, the founder of the Soup fundraising idea, that has already spread to more than 100 cities around the world. Read the full story here.

6. I Told my Classmates at Age 8 That I Was Actually a Girl.

Opening up at age eight to the fact that you’re transgender can be tough. Especially when you’ve decided to announce it at school while standing in front of your fellow grade-three classmates. Eli Erlick, an assigned male at birth, told his class in 2010 that he was a girl, and subsequently became a victim of assault, isolation, and violence. She was banned from using school restrooms for six years.

Her initially unsupportive parents, who ironically met while protesting, supported Erlick’s physical transition to female at age 13. She went on to cofound Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) three years later – one of the largest transgender organizations in the United States – and has devoted her life to the well-being of transgender youth. Read the full story here.

More like this

Most Recent Articles