Conservation Entrepreneurship/Definition/Social Entrepreneur Examples

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Two good sources for learning about social entrepreneurs are:

Other famous social entrepreneurs are:

Here is a case study that we looked at in class- The example of Julie Lewis and Deja Shoes (during and after):

Note- feel free to comment or discuss any of the other posts found on the discussion page.Lynch 00:27, 12 January 2009 (UTC)

Assignment 2: Everyone post a 1-2 paragraph introduction to a Social Entrepreneur -- describe the person / enterprise and then make a brief analysis of the ""skills and characteristics"" that the person needed to bring to bear to be successful.

Heres my response to this assignment:
Mark J. Plotkin, PhD can be described as an ethnobotanist, a college dropout, a once Harvard Museum of Zoology employee, a Harvard graduate, a Yale graduate, a Tufts graduate, and foremost as a social entrepreneur. Following years of education and exploration under the famous ethnobotanist Richard Schultes, Mark Plotkin founded the Amazon Conservation Team. The Amazon Conservation Team is an NGO that works at the nexus where the social and environmental realms converge. Mark Plotkin has been a fore-figure in the movement to incorporate socio-cultural needs, desires, and traditional knowledge in pursuit of biological conservation in the Amazon. For his PhD he worked in Suriname with the Tirio people, where he developed the ‘Shamans Apprentice’ program. The goals of this program were twofold: 1.) document and record the ethnobotanical knowledge of the Tirio, and 2.) reconnect the younger generation of Tirio with the traditions and knowledge held by community shamans. Since its inception the Amazon Conservation Team has expanded from Suriname to numerous South American countries, and has developed innovative programs that protect both cultural and biological diversity.
In 2008, Mark Plotkin was named as one of the “Social Entrepreneurs of the Year” by the Skoll Foundation. Mark Plotkin has exhibited many skills or characteristics throughout his career that I relate to social entrepreneurism. While still at the age of an undergraduate student, Mark Plotkin showed independence and curiosity by joining an expedition to South America in pursuit of the Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger). This independence and drive eventually lead him to the creation of the Amazon Conservation Team, a highly successful international NGO. Once his NGO was in full swing, Mark Plotkin was unafraid and quite bold to initiate innovative projects that were both untested and controversial. In the last few years alone, Mark initiated a project that put GPS units in the hands of indigenous communities in Brazil in order to map territories and areas important to the community. The result of this experiment proved to be highly effective in mapping and therefore protecting forested lands on one hand, and proved very upsetting on the other due to the fact that mapped areas conflicted with state, national, and/ or illegal development activities. Another characteristic that I see in Mark Plotkin that has likely had some part in his NGO’s success is his willingness to publicize and communicate his desires and goals. While Mark is probably more comfortable in the jungles of South America, he has never passed up the opportunity to throw a fundraiser, give a talk, interview, or film a movie. I see this as a vital characteristic for someone who wishes to advance their social or conservational goals and desires.

Related Links: Amazon Conservation Team: Skoll Foundation: http://www.skollfoundation.orgLynch 00:36, 12 January 2009 (UTC)

Mark was at WWF when I first worked there, then moved to Conservation International with Russ Mittermeier where he was a key leader, before starting Amazon Conservation Team. Mark has the characteristic of being a great storyteller, both verbally and in pictures. WWF calendars often used Mark's pictures (Russ Mittermeier's too). Mark wrote a really excellent book, Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice. Rbusch 15:33, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

One of my favorite books! His other books are good as well, just not as exciting. Lynch 00:03, 14 January 2009 (UTC)

Maria E. Ordonez grew up in then rural Guayaquil, Ecuador. Encroachment and urbanization soon happened where she lived. In response to the death of her natural world, Maria became a passionate environmentalist. She has always loved children and studied to become a teacher. While volunteering at a television studio, she realized the power of the media to educate. From this birthed the Fundacion Arcandina, Maria's production company dedicated to a show that teaches citizenship and environmental ethics to children via puppet show.

The skills Maria exhibits I believe are related to her success in social entrepreneurics are related to her passion. She was so affected by what happened in her community that she made an internal vow to change the world, any way she could. She also really loved children, so her adeptness at combining her passions was impressive. A humbleness was key to her success, too. She continued to volunteer her time and energy, reminding herself that the world changes one person at a time.


Dan West was not looking to impact 45 million people when he began serving as a relief worker. The Indiana farmer volunteered during the Spanish Civil War handing out milk rations to children when he realized, These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow” [1]. When he returned to the United States he founded Heifers for Relief with the goal of ending hunger through providing training and livestock to needy families. Today this organization has grown into Heifer International and has helped 45 million people in more than 50 countries. Supported by gifts from American individuals, Heifer International offers livestock as well as training in proper husbandry and sustainable farming practices to poor families in developing nations. The key feature of the organization is “Passing on the Gift” in which families that have received livestock are required to share the offspring of their animals and the training they have received with other farmers, creating “an expanding network of hope, dignity, and self-reliance” [2]. For more information see [3].

Dan West was able to accomplish his goals first and foremost because of a desire to help others. His drive to serve others was not fulfilled by going and doing what many at the time would not, but rather he was not content with his efforts but sought ways to improve the system and then took efforts to put those into action. Another key aspect was his foresight to create a sustainable system through development of the “passing on the gift” concept whereby people not only are brought out of the trap of poverty but help their neighbors to improve their livelihoods as well. Patience and persistence were a final important trait for Dan’s success. Although he developed the idea of using livestock to end hunger in the 1930s the first shipment of cattle did not go out until 1944. During that time many people would have lost sight of their goals and been caught up in the demands of life but Dan remained resolute and his dedication over many years brought about an organization has a reach that likely far exceeds his original goals.

I noticed Heifer International in the list of social entrepreneurs on the Fast Company site and I was very excited because I have worked with campus organizations before to support this group, but I did not know much about them. It was very interesting learning more about the organization and their scope and methods. I especially like the passing the gift concept.


I have long been interested in the Nobel Prize for peace winner in Africa, Wangari Maathai. She changed the way that agriculture and resource management was done in Kenya and this ballooned into an international organization that is trying to revolutionize the way agriculture conservation is practiced all over the world, taking into account sustainability, and reforestation. She reeducated the women of Kenya in tree planting and environmental conservation after being: "The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964). She subsequently earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966). Professor Maathai pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region. "Professor Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya in 1976-87 and was its chairman from 1981-87. In 1976, while she was serving the National Council of Women, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. With the organization which became known as the Green Belt Movement Professor Maathai has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds."

It seems to me that she is exemplary in terms of social impact and grassroots movements. While she is exceptional, I believe that the basic characteristics that she brings to the table that make her successful are- passion, intelligence, drive, charisma, stubbornness, empathy and a broader perspective of the issues that she was confronting.


Equal Exchange is a worker-owned, fair-trade, for-profit, social enterprise that began marketing coffee in the 80's and has since expanded into tea, chocolate, pecans, sugar, almonds, and cranberries. It was founded around 20 years ago by Rink Dickinson, Jonathan Rosenthal and Michael Rozyne, who met while working at a natural foods cooperative in New England and envisioned an enterprise embodying these principles:

   "* A social change organization that would help farmers and their families gain more control over
       their economic futures.
   * A group that would educate consumers about trade issues affecting farmers.
   * A provider of high-quality foods that would nourish the body and the soul.
   * A company that would be controlled by the people who did the actual work.
   * A community of dedicated individuals who believed that honesty, respect, and mutual benefit are
       integral to any worthwhile endeavor."

The company began with a risk, all 3 quit their jobs and with a core group of investors and $100,000 the company began, which only became profitable after 3 years. They began trading coffee from Nicaragua during a US embargo of that country, thus from the get go demonstrating a kind of activist entrepreneurship and a mission to tell the story of marginalized producers (thus opening markets for these producers). Today the company employs 100 in the US and works with 30 plus producer groups around the world. On its website it lists these as its guiding principles: Our Guiding Principles

   * Trade directly with democratically organized small farmer cooperatives.
   * Facilitate access to credit for producer organizations.
   * Pay producers a guaranteed minimum price that provides a stable source of income as well as
        improved social services.
   * Provide high quality food products.
   * Support sustainable farming practices.
   * Build a democratically-run cooperative workplace.
   * Develop more environmentally-sound business practices.  

The company also applies its principles of democratically run, cooperative workplaces to itself. It is a worker owned cooperative, based on one person - one vote, high transparency, and a 4:1 top:bottom pay ratio cap. Describing their organizational operations they write, "A worker co-op is not owned by outside shareholders or a small group of founders or partners but by all the employees in equal portions. Top level managers and entry-level employees alike own an identical share and receive an equal share of any profits or losses. These "worker-owners" both elect the Board of Directors and fill six of the nine Board seats. The Board in turn is responsible for hiring and supervising management. Consequently a circle is formed, as in American civic democracy, of everyone being accountable to someone else."

The company has been on the fore-front of the fair trade movement in the US particularly and in addition to supplying a product to consumers has engaged extensively in educating the public through campaigns and through forming alliances and economic endeavors with interfaith church groups, which both use Equal Exchange coffee and sell products. An estimated 10,000 congregations are part of this network.

Thus Equal Exchange has engaged a great deal in educating consumers as to the value, both social and environmental that their products embody, beyond their edible calories and flavors. The market for such ideal laden coffee was just awakening in the 80s when Equal Exchange was founded and they were able to ride the wave and promote its growth through education, as during the 80s and 90s and early 2000s this market showed extremely fast and consistent growth. The growth of the niche market for "responsibly" produced food only seems poised to continue to grow.

Fast Company which lists Equal Exchange on its list of 45 Social Entrepreneurs has this to say about the company: "The improbable company is alive and well. Equal Exchange has been profitable 18 of the last 19 years, has averaged 30% annual revenue growth, enjoys about $28 million in annual sales, and employs about 100 people in 6 states.

In 21 years Equal Exchange's impact amongst farmers has grown beyond coffee farmers in a few Central American nations. Today the company buys the coffee, tea, rooibos, cocoa, sugar, almonds and pecans from over 30 co-operatives in 19 countries on 4 continents. More than 90% of the crops are certified organic, and for coffee farmers alone the higher Fair Trade prices paid by Equal Exchange translated into $8 million in extra income between 2000 and 2006."

For more about its pioneering work, Lichenology 18:21, 23 January 2009 (UTC)jay