100 People Transforming The American Economy For Good

What do Al Gore, Elon Musk, and Melinda Gates have in common? They’re all on part of the Purpose Economy 100, a list of people transforming the American economy for the better.

100 People Transforming The American Economy For Good
[Image: Jade via The Pattern Library]

The late American author Jane Jacobs and entrepreneur Elon Musk make a funny pair.


Jacobs, who passed away eight years ago, fought powerful development forces in New York City in the 1950s, penning her legendary book, The Death & Life of Great American Cities in 1961, on behalf of pedestrians and everyday city dwellers. Musk is the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, and now an electric car manufacturer, who often espouses on his hopes to colonize Mars. With no small amount of irony, they are two of 100 individuals and teams featured on an inaugural list, called “The Purpose Economy 100,” released yesterday. Those included are deemed to be “transforming our innate need for meaning into the organizing principle for innovation and growth in the American economy.”

The list, which also includes the likes of best-selling author Brené Brown, philanthropist Melinda Gates, designer and high school teacher Emily Pilloton, and TED’s Chris Anderson, is pegged to a forthcoming book by Aaron Hurst, an entrepreneur in his own right. Hurst pioneered the pro bono service movement, building a multi-billion dollar marketplace in the U.S. for professionals to strategically invest their volunteer time (the Taproot Foundation), connecting them with nonprofits in need of specific expertise. In the process, he helped give countless people a renewed sense of purpose by putting their best professional skills to work on crucial social causes.

Whereas the American economy is routinely described as being “information-driven,” Hurst posits that it is more accurately and increasingly driven by people’s sense of purpose. “Forget the Fortune 500,” he muses, referring to easily the best-known list based solely on financial wealth, but one measure of success. Although there are a few overlaps between the lists, The Purpose Economy 100 focuses on pioneers–hence the inclusion of iconic grassroots organizers, like Jacobs, but also several corporate giants, such as Steve Ells, the groundbreaking founder and co-CEO of Chipotle, who has focused his company on sustainably sourced “food with integrity.”

Purpose, according to the organizers, centers around serving needs greater than one’s own as well as enabling personal growth and building community. As is the case with Ells, it echoes the triple bottom line’s focus on people and planet, but also profit.

Reportedly sourced from hundreds of nominations that came through an open call last year, The Purpose Economy 100 is comprised of 134 individuals and teams. Exactly one-quarter (33 of 134) are women, and the overwhelming majority are white males. California and New York each register 20 or more honorees, while over half of the states in the country fail to count one among their ranks. It paints a compelling, if not terribly diverse view of this new economy.

A majority are household names–Michael Bloomberg, Howard Dean, Al Gore, the well-known namesakes of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and others of the sort–while commendably introducing several fresher voices, such as Code for America’s Jennifer Pahlka and Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser. The honorees are categorized across 15 sectors, ranging from health care and hospitality, real estate to transportation. Government, interestingly, logged the highest percentage, at 16%.


Imperative, Hurst’s creative agency that produced the list, has already announced plans for an international version. If this first edition represents the well-known (if not ever as well-organized) pioneers, hopefully future versions will highlight more of the actual practitioners on the front lines of this burgeoning economy. No doubt a few of them are still reading Jane Jacob’s bold words, and a precious, privileged few may even be driving one of Musk’s electric cars.

Check out the full Purpose Economy 100 list here.

About the author

John Cary is the author of The Power of Pro Bono, founding editor of, and a strategist for the $1,000,000 TED Prize.