“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
—George Bernard Shaw
This past Saturday I was in Boulder, Colorado with Lana Roulhac, our Shanghai-based design director. We had the distinct honor of attending the culmination event for the Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator and investor of high-impact social entrepreneurs.
During this remarkable day, we heard 22 social entrepreneurs hailing from places as diverse as Botswana, Cameroon, China, Congo, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Spain, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Uganda. Irrespective of nationality or project, they all shared one philosophy—a desire to be absolutely and utterly unreasonable in achieving their goal of solving some of the world’s toughest social challenges.
From afternoon to evening, a room of more than 1,000 international investors, partners, socially engaged citizens and members of the Boulder community were raptured by master of ceremonies Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of the Unreasonable Institute and the social entrepreneurs. All of them shared their vision for addressing a major global issue and their progress to date.
The scope of their projects and what they’ve achieved—primarily through innovation and creative thinking—is breathtaking, especially when you consider that many of the entrepreneurs are in their early to mid-twenties.
Across the Unreasonable Institute there were several emerging themes:
1. The infinite potential of mobile technology to educate, empower and ultimately uplift farmers and small businesses in developing worlds
2. The burning need for alternate solutions to the water and sanitation crises facing our world
3. The ability for targeted innovations and platforms to have major, global impact
4. The transformative power of purpose—especially in developing countries
After an inspiring day, Lana and I were called to the stage to select two social entrepreneurs to be our first-ever Siegel+Gale Corporate Social Responsibility Fellows. Despite a very difficult decision, we proudly called Michael Wilkerson of Own Your Own Boda and Mouhsine Serrar of Prakti Design to receive their awards—which include $10,000 each and the commitment of Siegel+Gale’s talent to dramatize their story and catalyze their impact.
Michael, just 25 years old, has already brought about significant change in Uganda. A former journalist and Fulbright scholar, Michael made his first trip to Uganda as a teen. Over the course of his visits he learned that one of the best jobs available for men with little education was to drive a boda boda—a motorcycle taxi. After meeting a boda boda driver, Michael realized the potential that motorcycle ownership (versus renting) had in accelerating Ugandans out of poverty. Today he is the co-founder and CEO of Own Your Own Boda, a three-year-old for-profit social enterprise.
Mouhsine is another entrepreneur bringing about widespread change in countries like Haiti, India, Nepal and Sudan. A mechanical engineer by training, Mouhsine designs and distributes clean-burning, fuel-efficient cookstoves to developing countries. With smoke-inhalation from traditional and open cookstoves contributing to 1.9 million deaths annually, Mouhsine’s innovations have improved the quality of life of more than 100,000 people.
While Michael and Mouhsine beamed proudly after our announcement, Lana and I knew we were the real winners. We were reminded that whatever challenges we face in this world, there is an army of Unreasonables ready and willing to charge ahead.
Today the Unreasonable movement has two more followers in Lana and me. Once our CSR initiative officially kicks off this week and our Siegel+Gale team begins working with Michael and Mouhsine, I guarantee there will be hundreds more.
Hayley Berlent is a strategy director for the Siegel+Gale New York office.