Famous Activists in Their Own Words: It Takes a Simple Spark to Make a Difference

How and why three driven people made a huge impact

All it takes is a spark to further a cause. A tiny orange fleck can become a full-fledged wildfire with the right inspiration, drive, and methodology behind it. Activism and activists come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Sometimes, the most influential are those who have access to the biggest platforms to spread their messages. But people other than politicians and celebrities can make a difference too. Any individual with outstanding goals and the drive to achieve them can pave the path to a better society.

Here are three of the best of the best: activists of different backgrounds who have made a big impact, just by lighting that simple spark:

Scott Harrison – Charity: Water

Charity: Water is a nonprofit with one goal: bringing clean water to those in need. It’s something that we often take for granted, but when Scott Harrison traveled to Africa, he soon saw how harsh the reality is for many people living in the developing world. Clean water doesn’t simply run from every faucet in homes down any given street. In some cases, villagers had to go to a nearby swamp and collect dirty water to drink. Their filtration system? Pouring it through the women’s clothing.

Scott was inspired to make a difference. And he soon learned that sometimes your dedication doesn’t always come in the form of an emotional investment. Sometimes, the real capital is also mental, physical, and financial.

“We would pay for the cement and the PVC and the pump [to build wells] and … train them how to do this,” he explained in a vimeo interview. “And then, I would go back a couple months later and I could drink the clean water, right next to the swamp, coming out of the well.”

Although the labor was demanding, his dedication was well worth it in the end.

“I wanted to do two things before I died. Make sure everybody on Earth had access to clean water – therefore impacting health to a great degree – and I wanted to give people a charity they could believe in.”

Paul Newman – Newman’s Own Foundation

Paul Newman, the famous actor, race car driver, and philanthropist, had the amazing idea to create a foundation to which the general public could easily donate, while still receiving something in return. And that’s how Newman’s Own Foundation was born. The rationale behind it? According to Newman, “I want to acknowledge luck. The benevolence of it in my life and the brutality of it in the lives of others.”

His business model selling natural food took a unique turn. “Let’s give it all away!” he proclaimed about the profit of his company. He found a new way to launch a brand that helps others and left a powerful legacy of philanthropy that still inspires others to continue making a difference today, years after his passing.

A simple idea in the 1980s has since turned into one of the most recognizable nonprofits, donating over $450 million worldwide.

Blake Mycoskie – TOMS Shoes

It’s also possible to make a difference with a for-profit business model, like Blake Mycoskie. In Entrepreneur, Blake describes how the idea for TOMS shoes came to him when he was traveling in Argentina:

“I saw this incredibly versatile shoe everywhere: in the cities, on the farms, and in the nightclubs … Toward the end of my trip, I met an American woman [who] explained that many kids lacked shoes, even in relatively well-developed countries like Argentina, an absence that didn't just complicate every aspect of their lives, but also exposed them to a wide range of diseases.”

Then, the spark: He would build a philanthropic business that was, according to the company, “sustainable and not reliant on donations.” Thus, his passionate drive turned into a unique and successful business model: when a customer buys a pair of shoes, another pair is donated to someone in need.

You can make a difference too, no matter where you come from.

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