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Social Entrepreneurs: Startups set to change the world

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 6:45 a.m. MDT

The handbags were featured in Vogue India, but the company wasn't growing, and eventually they were just months away from running out of cash.

Gul switched to a business model. "If I wanted to have impact, we needed to be a fashion label focused on sales, not a non-profit focused just on social impact because the number of socially-conscious shoppers is a minority," Gul said.

"This meant going from reading 80-page reports on education in Pakistan to reading fashion magazines," she said.

Gul found that a business model allows for something that nonprofits lack—scale.

Gore said that while NGOs are limited by donations, businesses can grow exponentially, and for social entrepreneurs, their influence can grow exponentially too. "Scale is the biggest advantage that social entrepreneurship brings to the table," she said.

Unreasonable Institute, the accelerator program, only accepts ventures that make a compelling case for their ability to grow and reach at least one million people.

Gul is now the CEO of Popinjay handbags, and her bags sell at upscale U.S. retailers like Anthropologie. She has tripled her workforce to 150 women, and they earn two to three times what they did when the project was a nonprofit. "Since 75 percent of the 250 million people employed by the fashion industry live in the developing world, the potential for this change is so massive that it gives me goose bumps," she said.

Return on Investment

Gul said that she went from feeling shy about asking for money as a nonprofit founder, to being confident and playing hardball as a CEO. Her investors, all Pakistani, have been entrepreneurs themselves, and they act as mentors. "They will test my website, make phone calls to manufacturers. They want me to succeed," she said.

Her success has raised 100 more families out of poverty. The women she employs have five, six, seven children, Gul said, and one income is not enough to support them. For girls, it provides enough money for them to stay in school, instead of dropping out to work in cheap carpet factories.

"The best part is to see what it does for the women," Gul said. "Many of them have not had a lot of choice in their lives. They have a sense of dignity and a sense of purpose and a sense that the beautiful work they make with their own hands has value in the world."

Entrepreneurs offer unique problem solving skills, Kuehne said, and a penchant for risk-taking. "Instead of thinking, 'that's too much,' they think, 'why not?'" she said.

Ategeka said the risk-taking is part of the appeal. "That way you end up landing in opportunities and saving lives that you wouldn't otherwise," he said. The former orphan has job offers for six figures and benefits, but he sees those as handicaps.

"It's easy to get raises, get promotions, and get comfortable," he said. "I may not have done a whole lot yet, but I'm saving one person at a time. And that has a ripple effect. I'm sitting here talking to you, and I'm the product of one person's vision and generosity."

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Email: laneanderson@deseretnews.com

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