If you’re at all involved in the social entrepreneurship world, there are several major topics you will have heard about. World hunger, clean water, preventable disease treatment, environmental care, social equality, and the like are huge problems that social enterprises are working to tackle. And the work happening in those realms is amazing, but what about the smaller problems?
As a changemaker, you may look around and wonder what problems most people don’t see. Maybe you want to go in a different direction with your efforts. If so, read on to learn about some unusual social problems changemakers are working to tackle.
Fair Trade Electronics
As changemakers, we tend to think more about where our products came from than most people do. Were our clothes made in some sweat shop in Indonesia, or were they made by fair trade artisans? But one industry we tend to forget about when we’re thinking about fair trade is electronics.
Because electronics are so expensive, it can be easy to assume that all the manufacturers are paid fairly for their work. But in 2012, a study actually showed that electronics manufacturers have the worst working conditions, on average.
So what are social entrepreneurs doing about it? Mostly, they’re starting their own electronics manufacturing companies where they can ensure their workers are paid fairly and treated well. You could also start a website that sells fair-trade electronics at near-wholesale prices, then using the profit you do make to raise awareness about this issue.
If you’re like us, every time you clean out the fridge, you find some old bell pepper lurking in a drawer that you meant to use and never did. You have to throw it away, which is a waste of food and money. But it turns out grocery store shoppers aren’t the only people with this problem.
Grocery stores wind up having to throw away a lot of food, too. Like us, they’re estimating what they’re going to need and when it’s going to make it off the shelves. With products like produce that don’t have a long shelf life, they can wind up throwing out a lot of food.
Social entrepreneurs are tackling both the problem of supermarket waste and that of hunger all in one fell swoop. Instead of having to throw the food away, the stores can donate it to “secondhand” grocery stores (meaning they can write it off on their taxes as a donation). The social enterprise can then sell the food at a lower cost so that underprivileged communities can afford more fresh produce, and they can use the profits to feed the hungry.
When you went on that vacation to the French countryside a few years back, we’re willing to bet you didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the social impact of your tourism. After all, it’s supposed to be a vacation, right? But tourism done this way can have a huge impact on communities without benefitting them much at all.
It’s worth doing some additional reading on the topic, but in essence it boils down to this: when we visit a community, it’s easy to accidentally offend the residents. We all love a good museum, but sometimes those museums can turn local artifacts into nothing more than commodities for the tourists. And while tourists do spend money that goes into the economy, oftentimes it doesn’t go through ethical channels that get that money back to the people there.
There are several social enterprises endeavoring to change the way we visit the rest of the world. These groups work closely with the locals in a given area (often having several different destinations that they cover) to make sure travelers know the right ways to behave and spend their money to help the community. This also means the tourists get a more genuine cultural experience from the place they’re visiting.
A lot of people think that when you donate to charity, you have to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time in order for it to make a difference. It’s also easy to assume that charitable giving comes only (or at least mainly) from individuals. But micro-giving, especially from businesses can make an enormous impact.
There are a lot of ways that people can donate money to charities by doing things they’re already in the habit of – opening tabs in a browser, for example. You can also ask businesses to make micro-donations from their profits, things that will cost them pennies per sale. For example, ask a baker to donate the monetary equivalent of a handful of flour for every loaf of bread that they sell.
If you are or were a college student, you have definitely spent some time in your career cringing at textbook prices. Textbooks are notoriously expensive, and they are one of the products that you can’t get a cheaper alternative for. So what happens if you’re an underprivileged student trying to get your books without going broke?
That’s just the issue that a number of social enterprises are working to solve. As a college student, you may also have found that you wound up with books you didn’t want at the end of the semester. Several changemaking initiatives are working to round up those books and either sell them at discounted prices to underprivileged students or donate them to students in developing countries.
Solve the Unusual Social Problems
As changemakers, our job is to look around at the world, see the problems others don’t, and find ways to address them. While there is no doubt that those working on tackling climate change are doing amazing work, there’s also great change happening in more unknown areas. We hope you’ve gotten some ideas and inspiration from this list.
If you’re looking for ways to solve the unusual social problems, or any social problem, check out the rest of our site at the Sullivan Foundation. We work to provide training and resources for budding changemakers. Learn about how you can join one of our Ignite Retreats for a weekend of igniting change.