Theaster Gates, a Chicago-based potter turned conceptual artist with a background in urban planning, is using culture as a strategy to improve poor neighborhoods. He's turned vacant homes into cultural spaces and transformed a former housing project into a mixed-income residential and arts hub. And there's more in the works.
With Girl Scout membership dropping, Anna Maria Chávez is working to lead the organization into the future. Girl Scouts now offers programs and badges in STEM–related fields, and in March, she teamed up with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to launch the provocative "Ban Bossy" campaign, which encourages the development of young leaders.
Dismayed by the lack of available school options for his young children, Max Ventilla developed two goals: grow a network of excellent tiny elementary schools, and use the schools as labs to learn, iterate, and improve on the model. Launching its first one-room school last year, AltSchool is now building a network of schools in the Bay Area and around the country.
Charmian Gooch's latest campaign is to end corporate secrecy laws that Gooch says enable drug dealers, mafia groups, and dictators to launder money. In March, Gooch was awarded the $1 million TED Prize. She pledged to use the money to create an online registry that will include company ownership information.
Much of the conventional wisdom about addiction is wrong, according to Carl Hart. His recent memoir, High Price, draws on his experience growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood to examine the links between what he says is incorrect drug science and policies that damage under-privileged communities.
Izzie Lerer is turning online cat videos into something beneficial. Launched in January, The Dodo mixes silly content with serious stories about animal-rights issues. "The readership is there," says Lerer. Apparently so: The site quickly hit more than 1 million uniques a month.
Hugh Evans founded the Global Poverty Project, an insanely optimistic effort to help the world's needy. It's an innovative cocktail of entertainment, social media, and gamification, and has rallied millions of people worldwide, including celebrity supporters like Ben Affleck and corporate backers such as Hewlett-Packard and FedEx. "It is possible for us to see an end to extreme poverty in our lifetime," he says.
"Most of us engineers want to create cool stuff without guilt that our creations have brought about harm," says Le-Marie Thompson. She's combatting the problem with the Conflict-Free Electronics platform, a source for companies to get information about suppliers worldwide.
Through film, Joy Howard is turning crunchy environmentalism into effective branded content for Patagonia. Worn Wear encourages consumers to repair clothes rather than buy new (this increased sales by 43%). DamNation, which encourages river restoration, won an audience choice award at SXSW.
"You often see a cause tacked on to a movie just as it's being released," says Rebecca Goldman, who heads up the philanthropic arm of Bad Robot, a film and TV company. Her mission is the opposite: building causes directly into TV shows and movies. One example: She's connected writers on Bad Robot's NBC show Revolution with the United Nations to raise awareness about the one-fifth of the world's population who live without electricity.
Roger Norris Gordon refuses to let good food go to waste. He helped found Food Cowboy, a web-based application that matches truckers and shelters. Now, finding a grateful home for bruised tomatoes is as simple as sending a text.