Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.
A Traveler’s Guide To World Peace, with Aziz Abu Sarah, MEJDI Tours
NOTE: For extended show notes, see https://tonyloyd.com/aziz-abu-sarah
MEJDI Tours sees tourism as an opportunity to transform lives through dual narratives and by strengthening local communities.
Aziz Abu Sarah is a peace-builder, social entrepreneur, cultural educator, and author of Crossing Boundaries: A Traveler’s Guide To World Peace.
But Aziz wasn’t always a peacemaker.
“I grew up very angry,” Aziz says. “I didn’t have any Jewish or Israeli friends growing up until I was 18 years old.
“In Jerusalem, if you don’t speak Hebrew, you’re not going to go to college. You’re not going to work. Your chances of success in life are minimal. In my high school, it was mandatory to learn Hebrew. But I went through three years of high school refusing to learn even a word of Hebrew.
“I escaped from that class. I told my teachers that I was not willing to come to class because Hebrew was the language of the enemy - the people who killed my brother. I was seven or eight years old the first time I was shot at. I had a lot of trauma to deal with. I still have to deal with it.
“And so when I was 18, I realized that if I don’t learn Hebrew, I will not have any chance of success in my life. So I went to study Hebrew. I studied Hebrew in a class where I was the only Palestinian, and almost all of the people in the class were Jewish immigrants to Israel.
“I remember thinking I’m here to learn the language. I’m not here to make friends. I’m not going to talk to anyone. Apparently, that doesn’t work if you want to learn a language. They force you to sit together, ask questions. ‘Hey, how are you? Where are you from? What kind of music you like?’
“And that’s how we became friends. It wasn’t over political things. It was over simple things like what coffee you drink and what music you like. I love Western country music, which most Palestinians do not agree with me. In that class, I found a couple of people who love country music.
“So we would sit down and talk about Johnny Cash. It started with that and eventually got to deeper conversations and political issues. But we had this space of ‘Wait a second. We have other identities that we can connect.’ And it’s not only ‘You’re Arab or a Jew, and therefore I have to hate you because of that.’
“And in that classroom, I made my first Jewish friends. From that point on, I understood that what divides us is a wall of ignorance, fear, and hatred. I wanted to put cracks in that wall. That became my mission in life.”
Today, Aziz runs MEJDI Tours. “MEJDI means honor and respect,” Aziz says. “We start with that for the local communities, those we work with, and all our travelers.”
MEJDI originated the Dual Narrative™ method that brings both sides of a conflict together as travel guides presenting their respective narrative. This approach was first introduced in the Holy Land and reaped remarkable results there and throughout the world.
MEJDI Tours goes against the grain by rejecting the model of traditional consumer tourism—a highly commercialized experience that supports big business and often damages local communities. Also, as peace-builders, we are tackling the challenge of a divided and polarized world.
Learn More About Aziz Abu Sarah and MEJDI Tours:
Book: Crossing Boundaries: A Traveler’s Guide To World Peace: https://amzn.to/3bPvGDb
MEJDI Tours: https://www.mejditours.com
Tap into the Strengths of Neurodiversity, with Isabella He
NOTE: For full show notes, see https://tonyloyd.com/isabella-he.
High school students work on behalf of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In the United States, 1 in 54 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Unemployment rates for individuals with ASD are approximately 85%. More than half a million individuals with ASD will enter the workforce in the next decade. The need for specialized vocational training is growing by the minute.
A CDC study found that 50 percent of children with severe ASD only have access to school-based treatment services. And 17 percent of children with ASD do not have access to occupational, speech, or language therapy whatsoever.
At-home therapy is difficult for those with special needs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With most in-person therapy sessions closed, many parents of children with ASD don’t have the proper material and guidance to provide effective at-home therapy.
Meet Isabella He
Isabella He is a high school junior at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, CA, and the founder and President of SN Inclusion. SN Inclusion is a nonprofit organization that provides career-technical education to neurodiverse individuals. She is also a co-founder of AUesome, a social enterprise that offers at-home therapy kits to children with autism.
Isabella is also an intern at the Stanford Neurodiversity Project and a dedicated volunteer and program coordinator at Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN).
Other AUesome co-founders include fellow high school students Anshul Gupta, Andrew Kim, and Arnav Gurudatt.
Learn More About Isabella He, SN Inclusion and AUesome:
SN Inclusion: https://sninclusion.org AUesome: https://auesome.co SN Inclusion on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sninclusion SN Inclusion on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SN-Inclusion-102768024862916 AUesome on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/auesome.co Isabella He on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/isabella-kai-he/Isabella He on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iisabellahe Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN): https://fcsn1996.org Stanford Neurodiversity Project: https://med.stanford.edu/neurodiversity.html
A Sense of Justice for Women and Girls, with Judith Martinez, InHerShoes
What would you do if you were 1% more courageous?
Judith Martinez is a leader at the intersection of social justice and the future of human capital. She is the CEO of InHerShoes, the modern woman’s community for courage.
When Judith was in the fifth grade, she witnessed a scene that changed her life direction. “I’m a first-generation Filipino-American,” Judith explains. “I grew up with Filipino as my first language. My grandparents raised me.
“I remember we were at the LAX airport. My grandmother was trying to explain in her broken English to a man that she needed help. And he just cast her aside. It was like she was nothing. ‘Oh, you’re no one. You’re nothing.’ For me, as a fifth-grader, it was two humans interacting, but one human didn’t feel like the other one was a human.
“That ingrained in me a sense of justice. That has evolved in a variety of ways. That is part of why I chose to take on InHerShoes.”
Today, Judith is the CEO of InHerShoes. InHerShoes is a non-profit committed to catalyzing courage for girls and women of all ages. They do that through an annual summit, workshops, and leadership training.
The foundation of everything they do begins and ends with one question: What would you do if you were 1% more courageous?
Judith was named a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee, has been featured in NASDAQ and Forbes. She is a Vital Voices and a TRESemme Global Leadership Fellow. She was recently selected to be a United States of Women Ambassador representing the state of California.
Learn More About Judith Martinez and InHerShoes:
InHerShoes: https://www.inhershoesmvmt.org InHerShoes on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/inhershoesmvmt InHerShoes on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InHerShoesMVMT
Eliminate Plastic from Your Oral Care, with Kathy Ku, Juni Essentials
Helping bamboo farmers and women in impoverished regions become self-reliant while eliminating plastic waste.
If Kathy Ku’s name is familiar to you, you might have heard about her previous social venture in Uganda, Spouts of Water. I interviewed Kathy in December 2016. Kathy and her co-founder John Kye left Spouts of Water, but it continues to thrive.
Around the same time that Kathy and John were in Uganda working on clean water, Dr. Noah Park was volunteering in low-income countries.
“One of our Korean co-founders visited our production site in Uganda seven years ago or so, but we had never met each other,” Kathy explains.
“He traveled to the less developed areas of developing countries and noted that a lot of bamboo was being grown in these areas and wanted to do something about it. He calculated by developing the bamboo industry in Vietnam, he could triple or quadruple the average yearly earnings in an area with 150,000 inhabitants. He’s also a dentist, so he naturally came upon bamboo toothbrushes.”
In the United States alone, over 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year. These toothbrushes are not recycled. They end up in the landfill or floating in the environment.
To deal with these two problems – plastic waste and helping poor bamboo farmers, Dr. Park launched his bamboo toothbrush company in Korea under the Dr. Noah brand. In 2020, Dr. Noah raised Series A capital to move into the US market. That is when Kathy Ku and John Kye joined the team.
About Kathy Ku
“I grew up in an immigrant family and community that always stressed this idea of giving back,” Kathy says. “My mom would tell me, ‘you should run an orphanage when you grow up.’ Now, I look back and think we definitely should have been worrying about our roof over our heads. But this idea of looking to do good and doing well always stuck with me.
“By the time I joined Juni Essentials, they were still trying to figure out the production process. We’re talking like 50 toothbrushes being made a day. I had a manufacturing background and helped ramp it up. We’re now making more than 50,000 toothbrushes a month. We’ll get to 100,000 soon.
“Not a lot of people know about bamboo toothbrushes, and of the people who’ve tried them, I think a lot of people have been turned off by them. They feel different from plastic toothbrushes. And I think this is where we come in.
“Our product is fundamentally made differently from other products out there. That’s why we chose to make it ourselves. Our surface is heat-treated using patented technology that provides this smooth surface - the toothbrushing experience is comparable to that of plastic toothbrushes, so why not switch?
“I think I generally have good intentions, but the execution has been difficult. For example, I want to be good to the environment, and my husband and I compost and try to use compostable Ziploc bags. But I still drive my high school car, a Cadillac, which probably contributes to 50% of California’s carbon emissions. I think bamboo toothbrushes make me happy because it’s an active decision I make every morning and evening when I brush my teeth.”
Learn More About Kathy Ku, Juni Essentials:
Juni Essentials: https://juniessentials.com Juni Essentials on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/juniessentials Juni Essentials on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juniessentials Kathy Ku on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/seulkathyku Kathy’s 2016 interview about Spouts of Water: https://tonyloyd.com/podcast/143-kathy-ku-and-john-kye-spouts-of-water-safe-drinking-water-for-all-ugandans/
Screen Printing with a Social Mission, with Sara Weihmann, New Avenues INK
Offering paid job training for youth.
Sara Hart Weihmann is the Director of Social Enterprise at New Avenues for Youth in Portland. She oversees a portfolio of workforce development social enterprises that offer goods and services to the local community. This provides paid work experiences and job training for youth experiencing housing instability. These enterprises include a Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop and a screen-printing business, New Avenues INK.
“I have always had a strong sense of environmental justice since I was a young kid,” Sara explains. “My parents would tell you that I was constantly giving them feedback about lights being left on in rooms. I had these little tickets I would issue to them if they left the lights on.
“So I’ve always been Type A do the right thing. You fall into line. We owe the environment everything. So I really took that environmental view forward into my life.
“In my younger years, I even thought that environmental justice needed to come first before social justice was addressed.
“After graduating college, I found a unique MBA graduate program in the Bay Area with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and social justice. I started a business specializing in installing edible gardens and urban farms throughout the Bay Area.
“What started as a passion for ecological sustainability and horticulture quickly evolved into a passion for food sovereignty, social justice, and elevating the voices of indigenous, black, and people of color to advocate for the resources they needed to thrive in the community.
“I started participating on non-profit boards, coalitions, and councils focusing on food system equity. I found myself passionate about working with young people living in excluded neighborhoods and mentoring them in agriculture and business strategy.
“There is nothing more fulfilling to me than seeing young people recognize their inherent value in an entrepreneurial setting where they get the freedom to brainstorm and take risks with their peers with guidance from mentors.
“When I moved back to my hometown of Portland, I noticed this opportunity at New Avenues for Youth as Director of Social Enterprise. It seemed like an excellent fit for my skills and passion. It was a combination of business strategy and management to serve young people experiencing housing insecurity.
“That was over seven years ago, and I still feel inspired every day by the impacts our workforce development social enterprises have on participants and the community.”
About New Avenues INK:
New Avenues INK is a screen-printing social enterprise owned and operated by non-profit New Avenues for Youth. Since its establishment in 2013, New Avenues INK has specialized in providing high-quality, cost-competitive decorated apparel items to customers while delivering paid work experiences and job training to youth experiencing homelessness in the community.
New Avenues for Youth’s social enterprise portfolio has provided hundreds of paid internships over the years to young people who have little-to-no traditional work experience. Young people receive an hourly wage to learn necessary job skills and participate in career exploration and career coaching. Interns can build confidence in businesses, experience being a part of a team, practice receiving and providing feedback, and ultimately learn about the world of work in a trauma-informed environment.
Learn More About Sara Weihmann and New Avenues INK:
New Avenues INK: https://www.newavenuesink.org
Changing Lives through a Second Chance, with Karen Lee, Pioneer Human Services
People who were involved in the criminal justice system are more than their labels.
Karen Lee is the Chief Executive Officer of Pioneer Human Services.
She was born during the 1960s civil rights era. “During my lifetime, I’ve seen quite a bit of discrimination. I’ve always wanted to do something about that in a way that was true to me.”
Karen graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. She served our country until the 1990s.
After her military service ended, she attended the University of Washington School of Law, where she received her JD degree. “I wanted to be a civil rights attorney,” Karen explains, “but I found that I liked working with people and leading organizations.”
She took several middle management positions. In 2005, she was asked to serve as the Commissioner for the Washington State Employment Security Division.
“We would get these reports on employment and wages from the labor economists that work there. That’s when I saw the disparity that exists in society today.
“I got a good look at the income gap. What was troubling was that the income gap was most apparent with people who had a negative interaction with the justice system. Black people, indigenous people, and people of color were all at the labor market’s bottom. I wanted to do something about that.”
Karen used her position in the labor department to try several programs. But then, the governor’s term was coming to an end. That’s when she noticed that Pioneer Human Services was looking for a new CEO.
“This particular segment of the population is one that I have often been concerned about because of my race and because I know people that have been involved with the justice system. I have family members that have been involved with the justice system, and they’ve struggled to find employment. And so I’ve wanted to do something about that.”
About Pioneer Human Services
Pioneer Human Services provides counseling, treatment, housing, job skills training, and employment for those involved in the criminal justice system. Pioneer provides career paths and living wage jobs for a population many disregard. Pioneer is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit social-enterprises. Pioneer serves over 10,000 people a year through its diversion, treatment, housing, and job training programs.
Under Karen’s leadership, Pioneer successfully operates several revenue-generating businesses that provide living-wage jobs and help fund its mission.
Learn More About Karen Lee and Pioneer Human Services:
Pioneer Human Services: https://pioneerhumanservices.org