December 20, 2018

5 social entrepreneurs who created change in 2018

They feed their communities, empower the next generation, and advocate for those who need it most.

Entrepreneur Raphael Wright plans to open Neighborhood Grocery in Detroit next year.

Social entrepreneurs employ a rare mix of CEO-level vision and selfless volunteerism in service of improving the lives of the people around them. In 2018, we heard many amazing stories of social entrepreneurs from all over the country. These are five of our favorites, including a Milwaukee restaurateur who offers authentic, actionable advice for others looking to jump into social entrepreneurship, and a serial entrepreneur whose latest venture is aimed at revitalizing his Detroit neighborhood.

The only black-owned grocery store in Detroit

Raphael Wright knows firsthand how food insecurity can impact the health of young people in Detroit because he experienced it himself and wound up being diagnosed with diabetes at age 19. This serial entrepreneur sees locally-owned grocery stores not only as a way to provide Detroit residents with access to healthy food, but also as economic engines that can bring jobs and investment opportunities to their communities. That’s why he launched a crowdfunding campaign to create Neighborhood Grocery as a locally owned and operated market that can help make Detroit’s neighborhoods healthier and wealthier. “I want Neighborhood Grocery to be representative of the community—food and services provided for us, by us,” Wright said.

Chef Caitlin Cullen opened The Tandem in 2016. So far she has employed over 80 people from the restaurant’s Milwaukee neighborhood and trained many who had never worked in the food service industry. Photo by Adrianna Grace

Hard-learned lessons of social entrepreneurship

The realities of social entrepreneurship may not always be self-evident without diving headlong into them, but Caitlin Cullen did a great job of laying out these 12 important lessons she learned from her own experience. Cullen opened her restaurant, The Tandem, in a low-income black neighborhood of Milwaukee, knowing she’d need the support of the local community. So she committed to hiring and training young people from the surrounding area, even if it meant teaching every last new hire the ins and outs of having a restaurant job. And she learned a lot about herself along the way.

Social entrepreneur Audrey Henson founded College to Congress to create more opportunities for the best and brightest to be able to intern on Capitol Hill. Photos courtesy of College to Congress

Making Congressional internships more accessible

The reality of internships in the U.S. Congress is that often only those with pocketbooks deep enough to live in Washington, D.C., without income can afford to take these life-changing opportunities. Audrey Henson secured her first unpaid congressional internship by sheer willpower, and she worked two part-time jobs and took out a loan to survive the summer in D.C. That experience inspired her to create College to Congress, a nonprofit organization that partners with members of Congress to fund internships, opening opportunities to more college graduates. Here, Henson offers five pieces of advice to help aspiring social entrepreneurs on their paths to success, including the importance of hard work and being fearless. “By grinding everyday to build your social-impact business, you are living the American dream,” Henson said. “The worst that can happen is that you took a risk on yourself to better your country.”

Through Girls With Impact, Jennifer Openshaw is teaching young female entrepreneurs how to build successful ventures. Photos courtesy of Girls with Impact

Putting young women on the path to entrepreneurship

The “mini-MBA” Summer Intensive program from Girls With Impact helps young women turn their ideas into business plans and gives them the leadership skills to build their own businesses or nonprofit organizations. In her essay for The Renewal Project, Girls with Impact CEO Jennifer Openshaw, highlighted the leadership gap among young women. And she calls out some of the inspiring successes she’s seen through the program, including Countless Cares for Cambodia, which provides essential school supplies for Cambodian children, and Cleo, an Uber-like service for makeup experts.

Jillian Hishaw founded the nonprofit F.A.R.M.S. to advocate for aging farmers. Photo by Meg Haywood Sullivan

An advocate for forgotten farmers

Jillian Hishaw’s family lost their farm when a dishonest lawyer and an accountant took advantage of her aging great-grandmother. That experience led her to create Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), an organization that provides legal services to aging farmers while reducing hunger in farming communities. Hishaw’s essay about becoming a lawyer and founding a non-profit offered an honest look at the challenges and focus it takes to walk the path of social entrepreneurship. “I have learned to compare myself less to others and stay focused on the mission,” Hishaw said. “I look forward to continuing to right the wrongs my family experienced while positively evolving in the process.”

Travis Marshall

Travis Marshall is a Los Angeles-based freelancer writer who covers health, wellness, and lifestyle issues.