4 Business Leaders Changing The World Through Their Passion Projects

Sometimes businesses can make change themselves, but sometimes it just takes a business leader devoting a little time to make a difference.

For a boost of faith in the power of business leaders to solve pressing social problems, look no further than this year’s finalists for the $100,000 John P. McNulty Prize, an annual competition given to one Fellow of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (the growing network of over 1,600 Aspen Institute fellows who have participated in one of the organization’s values-based leadership programs and are committed to taking on society’s problems) who comes from the private sector for their leadership in a project that’s making a lasting change in the world. While at the Aspen Institute for the Aspen Leaders Action Forum, I saw most of these impressive entrepreneurs speak about their projects. Below, the finalists.



Adam Lowry, the co-founder of green cleaning product company Method, snagged a finalist spot for his work on the Ocean Plastic Project, an initiative inspired by his experience at the Aspen Institute’s Catto Fellowship. In 2011, Method announced a plan to turn ocean plastic into dish and hand soap bottles–and the company has followed through, creating an entire supply chain that makes it possible to recycle the stuff into useful products. Method’s ocean plastic material, dubbed Ocean PCR, is made out of 25% ocean plastic (and 100% post-consumer high-density polyethylene) 10% ocean plastic (and 90% post-consumer high-density polyethylene). Lowry is a Catto Fellow for the environment.


Even before his Araku Originals project, former banker Manoj Kumar’s leadership was apparent as the head of India’s Naandi Foundation, which tackles many of the sources of poverty–including safe drinking water and malnutrition–in the country. Araku Originals is Kumar’s passion project–a social enterprise (he serves as CEO) that has created a large co-op of coffee farmers in the Araku Valley. The farmers, who produce coffee on organic plantations, receive fair market prices for their product, no matter what the international economy looks like. Kumar is an India Leadership Initiative Fellow.


Fundwell was founded in San Francisco when Onyeagoro–a management consultant–and cofounder Sharon E. Jones discovered that inner city businesses were having trouble tapping into affordable financing because of a lack of information. The online platform connects entrepreneurs with referrals to both potential funding sources and financial advice that’s difficult to find elsewhere–they just need to fill out a relatively simple form to get a personal report on funding options and introductions to potential funders. Onyeagoro is a Henry Crown Fellow.


Bill Bynum, a veteran of U.S. development finance programs, created Hope Community Credit Union to give quality financial services to Southerners living in underbanked areas. The organizations offers financing, technical help, and mortgage loans to individuals and businesses. Sample products include credit cards, checking accounts, money market accounts, and consumer loans. Today, the credit union has 28,000 members. Bynum is a Henry Crown Fellow.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more