What: Global health-care partner. Small and nimble among giants in the international development world, PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) improves health conditions in poor countries by focusing on innovation, while relying on larger organizations to distribute its products and ideas.
Who: After practicing medicine in a refugee camp along the Thai-Cambodian border in the mid-1980s, PATH president Dr. Christopher Elias, 47, turned to public health. "I cannot imagine more engaging work than bringing the best of science and technology to some of the world's most pressing health problems," he says.
How: Instead of simply delivering services to areas in need, PATH teams up with existing public-health systems. It has helped the local government in Andhra Pradesh, India, build what it calls a "model" immunization program by developing syringes that disable themselves after a single use, reducing the risk of spreading disease from old needles. But technology isn't PATH's only weapon. The organization also runs prevention programs such as a Kenyan radio soap opera addressing sexual and reproductive health for adolescents.
Data point: Since its inception, PATH has led health programs in more than 120 countries and pioneered 30 new medical technologies designed for "low resource" areas.
-- Ryan Underwood
Room to Read
San Francisco, California
What: School builder. It's easier to raise kids who read in communities with libraries, which are hard to come by in poorer areas of the world. Room to Read works with villagers in Cambodia, Nepal, India, and Vietnam to build these precious brick-and-mortar resources.
Who: Moved by the inability of a school he visited in Nepal to afford books for its eager-to-learn students, CEO John Wood, 40, gave up his executive role at Microsoft's Asian operation to found Room to Read. "Sometimes problems can be solved simply by listening," he says. Educating children, Wood believes, can solve the developing world's biggest ills.
How: Room to Read builds in communities that invite it, ensuring commitment. Villages are required to contribute land, labor, or cash, which Room to Read matches with funds raised from donors in the United States and elsewhere. Wood keeps overhead below 6% by employing a network of nearly 600 volunteers worldwide to raise money, do marketing, and help seed projects.
Data point: Room to Read completed its 1,000th school library in Siem Reap, a rural province in Cambodia. On average, it opens 11 libraries a week, a statistic Wood jokingly compares with Starbucks' growth in the United States.
-- Anjani Sarma
Rubicon Programs Inc.
What: Community engine. Provides a one-stop shop for the homeless, offering housing, employment, and mental-health services. And it does so by running successful businesses, including a gourmet bakery with national distribution that ultimately trains the formerly homeless in jobs with upward career paths.
Who: Executive director Rick Aubry, 52, is a psychologist who worked as a therapist and clinical supervisor before joining Rubicon in 1986. His work has always focused on helping people out of homelessness and poverty: "The people on the fringe of society desire the same things as people in the mainstream."
How: Rubicon takes a comprehensive approach to solving the multiple problems that its clients face. Its Fathers at Work initiative, for example, helps men who quit jobs and lose contact with their children because they can't afford child support. It works with state agencies to negotiate each case individually and work out a repayment plan -- and it offers fatherhood classes and peer support aimed at getting dads to reconnect with their families.
Data point: Rubicon's bakery, a lawn-care service, and a health-aide business generated 43% of its $12.5 million budget in 2003.
-- Anjani Sarma
New York, New York
What: Eyewear provider. Makes affordable reading glasses available to the 1.6 billion people in the developing world whose decline in eyesight as they age prevents them from reading and sometimes costs them their work.
Who: As an optometry student on a service trip to Colombia, Jordan Kassalow, 43, saw villagers travel days to see an eye doctor. And he noticed that for every person he treated with a serious eye disease, 50 simply needed reading glasses. "How many livelihoods," he asks, "were being lost because people couldn't see well enough to work?" He called his best friend, Scott Berrie, now 39, then a recent MBA grad, and they set to work on a business plan. The result: Scojo Foundation, funded by proceeds from the pair's for-profit eyewear company.
How: Scojo sells via a network of women entrepreneurs because they're more likely to reinvest money into their families and communities -- and their entrepreneurship creates a self-sustaining platform for tackling health problems. "Unless people are given economic opportunities," Kassalow says, "all other things like health and education wouldn't follow."
Data point: In 2005, at least 100 women will start businesses with Scojo's help and will sell 30,000 pairs of reading glasses in their communities.
-- Alison Overholt
What: School innovator. Kids living in poverty have a better shot at college if their environment supports the education process 24 hours a day. So SEED is building public boarding schools in urban areas. With one campus in Washington, DC, it hopes to open a school a year in the next decade.
Who: At his first Princeton reunion, Rajiv Vinnakota, 33, was inspired by a conversation about the absence of boarding schools in urban areas. He took a two-month leave from his management-consulting work and traveled the country interviewing educators, politicians, and philanthropists. Eric Adler, 40, a former physics teacher and private-school dean who had jumped to consulting, was thinking pretty much the same thing at the same time. "Education is the solution to just about every social problem," he says. The two met and called a weekend "summit" of experts to help plan the program from Vinnakota's 500 pages of notes. The rest is SEED history.
How: SEED's holistic approach and 24-hour-a-day involvement allow it greater control over student outcomes by addressing academic and environmental issues in addition to after-school activities. "You've got to address all of those issues simultaneously," says Adler.
Data point: 100% of SEED's first graduates in 2004 went on to four-year colleges.
-- Cheryl Della Pietra
= repeat winner