Every day, social entrepreneurs from around the world are seizing opportunities others miss to improve broken systems, innovate and develop solutions to change society for the better. Over the past few months, I've traveled to India, Brazil, Southeast Asia, East Africa, Western Europe and the U.S. to visit 50 NGOs and social enterprises with my team at Epic Foundation.
These organizations were selected from more than 1,400 applications we received across 85 countries. They are working hard to enhance education, health, economic empowerment, rights and protection for children and youth around the world.
During my journey, I've had the fortune of meeting a number of ambitious and persistent social entrepreneurs along the way. In this story series, you will hear from some of these indomitable leaders.
Alexandre: What is a great story you can share about one of your beneficiaries?
There are so many great stories about Gastromotiva's students, but I always like to share the story of the first beneficiary of Gastromotiva: Urideia Andrade.
Urideia is a young girl who was born in poverty in the northeast of Brazil. For many years she was starving to death and came to São Paulo to find a better life. When she arrived she ended up living in a "favela" where she was frightened by the violence, drugs and also the lack of opportunities. She tried to commit suicide three times, but an angel always came to rescue her. When I met her in 2006, she was my inspiration to do something. And for her, Gastromotiva was born -- in my house. I told her that I would teach her how to cook and how to find a dignified job. Today Urideia is 29 years old, married, mother of one child and has her own food business -- a catering company that serves her community and high society clients. She employs more than 20 people a month from her community with good wages. Now she is the provider of her house and also an example for the whole community. Today, she is grateful for her life and wants to help others to find their way, that's why she doesn't leave her community, even knowing that she could live in a better place.
Alexandre: What was a life changing moment for you?
I had two life changing moments -
First, when I understood that I couldn't work and lead my family business. I left home and went traveling around the world for seven years, on a personal search to discover my true potential. I was inspired to build something of my own and I had an intuition I would find a work with a purpose. Those years of travelling changed the way I saw and perceive the world forever.
After being a cook and studying to become a chef, I lead a few teams in different kitchens, but I wasn't completely satisfied with the career I was building. I was 30 years old and I could definitely take the road to success and security. But I left the restaurant I was working in and visited a favela for the first time in my life. That day completely changed me again because I felt I could share all my knowledge with the people who live there, who are talented, but lack life and work opportunities, especially youth. That day I found my mission, which is to use food to create bridges for people to connect with themselves and the world around them.
Alexandre: When you were 15, what did you want to do?
I wanted to be an architect or a doctor, but I never trusted that I was competent enough. I had very low self-esteem in that time.
Alexandre: How do you want people to remember you?
I want people to remember me as someone who trusted in the individual, in society, in the values of humanity and helped them "taste" an inclusive and transformative world, respectful and that emanated joy.
Alexandre: What are the three most important things for you to successfully run your organization?
- Team work
I will be posting stories of incredible social entrepreneurs we are working with all summer. For more photos and stories, follow me on Facebook, Instagram and via Twitter @alexandremars.