10 feel-good stories to inspire your work in the new year

From a four-day workweek to a young person’s dream of a clean ocean, here are some positive stories to feel good about.

10 feel-good stories to inspire your work in the new year

Hiring anyone who wants a job. Giving people more time off. Building something utterly novel–be it contraption, app, VC firm, or social movement–that radically impacts the world. These are the types of goals that business leaders and entrepreneurs often dream about. And while much of 2018 was environmentally, socially, and geopolitically turbulent, the good news is that many people are still finding ways to accomplish them–sometimes to directly counteract the darkness they see around them.


These people don’t just think differently, they’re different from each other, representing a mix of ages, gender, race, and walks of life. Here are 10 of the most inspiring efforts from 2018. Together, they continue to show how anyone interested in using business as a force for good can make a difference.

[Photo: Greyston]

This company hired anyone who applied. Now it’s starting a movement

Millions of people who want a job can’t find one, especially if they’ve been formerly incarcerated. Greyston Bakery CEO Mike Brady challenged that through open hiring: giving anyone from any background a chance to shine. Now the company is teaching others how to do the same.

[Photo: Emma Yang]

A 14-year-old made an app to help Alzheimer’s patients recognize their loved ones

The most remarkable part of Timeless, a new Alzheimer’s assistance app, is the person behind it: Emma Yang wanted to make something special for her suffering grandmother. The result applies facial recognition to photos, and might be the future of fixing forgetfulness.

[Photo: Tom Kubik]

Every employee at this grilled cheese restaurant has a criminal record

Only former felons work at All Square, a nonprofit eatery whose name and square-shaped food signals that owner Emily Turner is building a place for people who have paid their debt to society and are ready to start again. It’s a unique social experiment, and one that’s evolving as the employees grow and take more responsibility for running the business.

[Source Image: wacomka/iStock]

This basic income program will give $1,000 a month to black mothers

In Jackson, Mississippi, the nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities started a trust to provide no-strings-attached stipends to moms in need. Springboard CEO Aisha Nyandoro’s bet: As the most oppressed lift themselves out of poverty, the entire community will gain.

[Photo: WN/iStock]

Is tech finally realizing that contractors need benefits, too?

At least 20% of employed Americans are contract workers and lack the benefits afforded full-time employees. That’s standard Silicon Valley practice, but Becky Cantieri, the chief people officer at SurveyMonkey, has found more bottom-line gains from going the other way.

[Image: Ocean Cleanup]

The Ocean Cleanup vessel is on its way to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

It’s been six years since 18-year-old Boyan Slat dreamed up a futuristic machine that might rid the ocean of its horrible plastic problem. He’s since raised millions and founded a nonprofit that constructed a 2,000-foot structure that’s on its maiden voyage. And sort of working.

[Photo: courtesy Goodr]

This app delivers leftover food to the hungry, instead of to the trash

Jasmine Crowe bootstrapped her way from living with food insecurity to founding Goodr, an Atlanta-based food-waste management company. She’s since redirected about a million pounds of surplus food from landfills to nonprofits that ensure more people get fed.

[Source Image: JuliarStudio/iStock]

The four-day workweek is good for business

What happened when Andrew Barnes, the head of a trust and estate planning firm, decided to give his employees 20% more time off? Employees reported being happier, more focused, and were actually more productive, doing the same amount of work in less time.

[Photo: João Canziani; Hair: Shendra Coleman; makeup: Ashley Kucich; photographed at Contra Studios]

Memo to the Silicon Valley boys’ club: Arlan Hamilton has no time for your BS

The sad truth is that venture capital firms regularly ignore startups run by women and people of color. Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton is outspokenly different: After bootstrapping her own success, she’s launched a $36 million fund for black female founders.

[Photo: Jessie English]

The Parkland, Florida, students led the U.S. beyond thoughts and prayers–and they’re just getting started

The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shooting survivors Cameron Kasky, Emma González, David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, and Alex Wind cofounded March for Our Lives. The gun safety group has since pressured politicians, changed how companies do business, and given more young people a voice.


About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.