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Social Entrepreneurs Find Creative Solutions to Global Concerns

Many people are concerned about issues such as poverty, human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability. Although many of them might not know what steps to take to move from concern to effective action, others have already embarked on journeys in this direction. They come up with their own solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems.

Wilford Welch's career as a diplomat, a professor of international business, and an author, helped him understand the challenges faced by people around the world. As a global citizen, he says, he is deeply concerned about 2 issues in particular.

"I feel that we are using up our resources around the world at a much faster rate than is possible to be sustained in the future," he says. "The second is I'm concerned about those 900 million people living in extreme poverty around the world, living under conditions of no education, no health care, no access to clean water, etc."

In 2004, Welch transformed his concern into action. He co-founded Quest for Global Healing Initiative, a non-profit that supports thousands of people who tackle local and global problems themselves. In a new book titled, Tactics of Hope: How Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing Our World, Welch and co-author David Hopkins share inspiring stories of more than two dozen of those people and their innovative solutions that can be easily replicated all over the world.

Individuals Take Creative Action

"Let me give an example," he says, "two men in South Africa recognized that the average woman in rural Africa has to walk three miles to get clean water. And they created something called 'play pumps,' which is a hydraulic system, in which they put a well in rural villages. On top of the well, they put a merry-go-round for the children to turn and play on. Then on top of that they put a holding tank for the water, and they put advertisements that help support the funding to keep the pump going."

Other social entrepreneurs are providing learning opportunities for people who are deprived of education.

"John Wood left Microsoft and started an organization called Room to Read," he says. "Now he has created more than 4,000 libraries in Asia and Africa."

Welch says, Ann Cotton, an English woman who went to Zimbabwe in 1992, is another example."[She] recognized that impoverished girls had no opportunity for education. She created an organization called CAMFED that now provides full education, through primary school at least, to 400,000 young girls in four African countries."

Rugmark Addresses Child Labor

RugMark provides a solution to another issue: child labor and fair trade.

"RugMark was actually founded in India by Indians. This is not a western-imposed standard or organization," says Nina Smith, Rugmark's spokesperson in the United States.

She points out that many of the expensive carpets purchased by Americans and Europeans in the mid-1990s were handmade by children. An estimated one million youngsters in India and Pakistan were forced to work long hours in unhealthy or dangerous conditions. Over the past 10 years, she says, Rugmark has been able to reduce that number to about a quarter of a million by raising public awareness about the problem.

"We have a certification label that consumers can look for on the back of the rug, that means that rug is certified child-labor free, " she says. "Every rug that carries that certification label was produced in a factory that receives random, surprise inspections for child labor and other working conditions." Smith says Rugmark has, on occasion found children working in factories."They are rescued and offered rehabilitation and long term education."

African Healthcare Workers Get Wheels

A lack of access to medical care inspired Andrea Coleman, her husband Barry and world-renowned motorcycle racer Randy Mamola to create Riders for Health.

"We visited Africa — Barry, Randy and I — and found that women were being taken to hospital in remote communities in wheelbarrows when they were in difficult labor," she says. "We found children were dying from easily preventable and curable diseases simply because nobody had the transportation to bring immunization, to bring education about clean water and sanitation, to talk to people about mother to child transmission of HIV, to make sure that people knew that it was the mosquito that causes malaria and how to protect yourself from the mosquito."

When they realized that it was a transportation issue, she says, they decided to donate motorcycles, and train local health workers to use and maintain them. Riders for Health is now on the road in Lesotho, and Gambia. The program, Coleman says, is improving health care services and making life easier for those who deliver it.

"It transforms their own lives," she says. "They can do their job predictably and reliably. They get on the motorcycle safely. They've all got protective clothing and helmet. They get out, do their job and come back home, see their children and go out the next day and see lots of people. It means they see about five times as many people as they ever saw before."

Lawyers Learn Rule of Law

International Bridges to Justice, IBJ, is a response to the growing number of reports of prisoner torture and abuse. The organization, based in both the United States and Switzerland, educates people about their basic legal rights.

"The United Nation's Commission on Legal Empowerment of the poor just released a report in which they opined that two out of every three people on the planet — and the total number is 4 billion — were excluded from the rule of law process," says IBJ Deputy Director Jean Amabile.

Amabile says IBJ's challenge "is to spark the revolution so that people …are not apathetic about the plight of these 4 billion people, but recognize it as their personal responsibility."

She says IBJ is doing that by training public defenders around the world.

In China, she says, IBJ has worked in every province, training thousands of lawyers. "We've done advisement of rights campaigns in three languages within China, advising citizens of their fundamental rights to be represented by a [lawyer] and to not be tortured by authorities," Amabiel says.

IBJ supports a legal aid center in Cambodia and has done training session in Burundi, Rwanda, and is conducting a "nation-wide team-building training of attorneys throughout the entire country of India."

Tactics of Hope co-author Wilford Welch says hearing from such concerned, enthusiastic citizens gives him hope that people are powerful and creative enough to be able to solve the world's problems.