With tears in his eyes, Jim Ziolkowski spoke about his near-death experience with malaria to Ohio State students, and how this experience opened his eyes to the global issue of poverty.
Twenty years ago, he was in Africa with his youth organization building its first of 700 schools. After a friend of his contracted malaria, which Ziolkowski said had a death rate of more than 1 million that year, he started experiencing symptoms. The doctor had told him that if he stayed away from the hospital for two more hours, he would have died. While Ziolkowski had a near-death experience, the people around him were dying. To him, their death was because of extreme poverty.
Ziolkowski is the founder, president and CEO of buildOn, a nonprofit organization that has a mission to break the cycle of poverty through building schools in the world’s poorest countries and by providing service-learning programs in some of the nation’s toughest high schools. He and other social entrepreneurs gathered in the Mershon Auditorium on Saturday for the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit.
The summit, which invites people from around the globe to explore sustainable solutions to poverty, was started by OSU students in 2009 and is sponsored by several businesses.
Joe DeLoss, founder of Hot Chicken Takeover, which is currently located at the North Market, said at the event that his company believes poverty can be alleviated through employment.
Hot Chicken, a fried chicken eatery which began as a pop-up restaurant on the streets of Columbus in June 2014, employs 25 people and offers second-chance employment and skills training to the residents of Columbus, such as those formerly incarcerated, DeLoss said.
He added that the company invests in its employees differently by building long-term relationships with them so they can see long-term change, whether they stay in the food industry or keep moving forward with their lives.
“We just want to be the foundation for them to constantly move forward,” DeLoss said. “If someone is not dedicated to personal growth, they do not belong at Hot Chicken.”
Other speakers included Quijano Flores, co-founder of NextDrop, a company that alerts the citizens living in urban India via text when the water is on, off and has a delay, Demetri Patitsas, the founder of Exela Ventures LLC, which leads expeditions of university students, professors and organizations to Guatemala to encourage entrepreneurship and outreach, and Jennifer Jin, a former KIVA fellow and current MIT Sloan fellow.
KIVA fellows are individuals who volunteer their time to work directly with international microfinance institutions, according to the KIVA website. MIT Sloan fellows are participants in a 12-month full-time executive MBA program, according to the MIT Sloan website.
“What I really think is the core, is that we build communities, and we support communities,” Patitsas said of Exela Ventures LLC’s mission. “The real geniuses and pioneers are the Guatemalan people. I went there thinking, ‘I’m going to save Guatemala, I’m going to open the gate and pass them through’, and then I realized, that’s not true at all. They were saving me.”
Bita Diomande, an MIT Sloan fellow and an entrepreneur focused on online platforms and social enterprise, said as a child, she didn’t like being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now, at age 29, she has an answer.
“I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be a doctor, because I wasn’t that good at science. I couldn’t debate like a lawyer, and I didn’t think I’d make a very good teacher. I did know two things though: I wanted to be my own boss, and I wanted to change the world,” Diomande said in her speech. “I think what I wanted to say back then is I wanted to be a social entrepreneur, I just didn’t know that terminology at age nine.”
The final speaker was Christian Nicolas Desrosiers, co-founder of Qorax Energy, a renewable energy product distribution company that works in Somalia. He said he thinks the deepest causes of poverty and inequality are tied to the emotional content of capitalism.
“The virtue of capitalism is that it incentivises us to be inventive, and to continually think about new and better ways to allocate resources, and to serve people most efficiently,” Desrosiers said.
Diomande said she thinks people from a variety of careers have the ability to make a difference in the world.
“Not all of us are going to be social entrepreneurs, and I don’t think social entrepreneurship is the only way to go. It’s one of many solutions,” she said. “What I would like to leave you with is, don’t underestimate your ability to change someone’s life.”