In our new series, The World at Work, Mashable interviews the people behind the startups and projects that are working to make a global impact.
It’s not easy to dedicate a business to a social cause. The challenges these companies have faced, whether it’s developing services for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq or creating sustainable energy solutions in developing countries, have only made those involved hungry to affect more change. Fortunately, helping others — stateside and abroad — has become much more effective with the aid of technology and the digital community.
Here’s a roundup of featured programs from the last week, including exclusive video interviews. To read more and watch the videos, click through to the full story, and follow the series to learn about more breakthrough companies.
Big Idea: MassChallenge.org is the largest startup accelerator in the world, working with 125 companies each year in an effort to catalyze a startup renaissance.
Why It’s Working: Boston native John Harthorne was heavily involved with startups during his undergrad years at MIT — and he’d been itching to get back to the startup world ever since — but debt, family and a new baby deterred him from doing so. At the height of the recession, he founded MassChallenge with a co-worker. MassChallenge is mission-driven and works with “high-impact” startups. The accelerator doesn’t take equity in the companies it works with and it’s helped the startups raise more than $100 million and create 500 jobs.
2. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
Big Idea: IAVA is the first and largest non-profit for returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why It’s Working: When Paul Rieckhoff came home after a tour of duty in Iraq, he realized that services for recent veterans didn’t meet his needs or the needs of his military peers. He launched IAVA, which provides more than 2.3 million men and women returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with education, job, health care and community-building opportunities — an immensely valuable tool for soldiers readjusting to civilian life.
Big Idea: The WeTopia social game on Facebook turns players’ points into monetary donations for children’s charity projects.
Why It’s Working: WeTopia takes popular social gaming fundamentals proven enormously successful on Facebook and introduces an element of philanthropy to help users game for good. The company has also donated 50% of its profits to charities for children. The game capitalizes on the enormous social gaming population — which is expected to reach 68.7 million players by year’s end, according to a report by analysis firm eMarketer — to democratize philanthropy.
4. New York Tech Meetup
Big Idea: New York Tech Meetup brings together entrepreneurs, investors, developers and tech nerds. Their goal is to level the playing field and change the way the world is run.
Why It’s Working: New York Tech Meetup mobilizes Silicon Alley’s eco-system into a powerful social and political force. “The Internet is much more mature than it was ten years ago,” says Andrew Rasiej, chairman of New York Tech Meetup. “The systems that were designed in the 20th century are now being challenged by networks, and those networks don’t really care for top-down hierarchy, they don’t really care about nation-state borders, they don’t really care about diplomatic channels — they care about connectivity, they care about openness, they care about trust.”
5. Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF)
Big Idea: SELF is spreading access to solar power across the developing world to fight energy poverty.
Why It’s Working: More than one billion people live without access to electricity, according to World Watch. But SELF’s sustainable energy solutions help people bring themselves out of poverty, granting them access to safe drinking water, a secure food supply, vaccinations from diseases, home and office lighting, and computers.