Aihui Ong combined her passions for food and technology to build a platform called LovewithFood that connects food producers and consumers. It’s a subscription service that delivers healthy organic snacks to customers each month and then donates a healthy meal at a food shelter for every box shipped. Her business is thriving, and creates a win–win–win for consumers, producers, and those who can’t afford healthy food. But Aihui didn’t stop there: she also built a revenue stream from corporations. For big brands that want to move into healthier snacks, LovewithFood customers provide a ready-made focus group whose insights these corporations are willing to pay for. I first heard about LovewithFood from Freada Kapor Klein, who’s well-known for her impact investing and her belief that any business can have social impact. She invests only in businesses that actively close gaps, including achievement gaps in education, health-disparity gaps, and access-to-capital gaps.
Aihui and Freada are examples of SheEO Principle 1—that everything is broken and so it’s a great time to be alive—meaning that it’s precisely because we face enormous challenges that we have equally enormous opportunities for making a meaningful impact. Almost everything—from government to schools to businesses—needs to be fixed, redesigned, and rethought completely. And we aren’t talking about little tweaks. We’re talking about fundamental redesign. Quantum change. And that requires a new mindset and a new way of thinking. Sounds tragic? Terrifying?
If you, like Aihui and Freada, are a creator, maker, or entrepreneur, this is our nirvana. This is our moment. The world needs us—our fresh thinking, our disruptive ideas, our not just out-of-the-box but smash-the-box thinking. That’s why it’s such a great time to be alive! What we have to contribute has never mattered more. We need to stop listening to those voices that tell us “This is the way it should be” and just get on with experimenting with what feels right. Research on entrepreneurs reveals that we have seven common core traits: passion, tenacity, self-belief, flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, rule breaking, and vision. This last quality—the ability to spot opportunities and imagine something that hasn’t existed before—is what this chapter is all about. I believe that it’s a mindset you can cultivate—and when you do, the world as it exists now goes from scary to thrilling.
I was recently at a talk given by Neil Turok of the Perimeter Institute, one of the preeminent centers for the study of theoretical physics. Neil remarked that, with all the data coming in from the Large Hadron Collider and the Planck Telescope, this is one of the most exciting times to be in physics. What physicists are finding is that there’s an incongruity between the complexity of their theories and the simplicity of the emerging data. Our science needs to be every bit as beautiful as the evidence it points to, and the universe is revealing itself to us in new ways. It’s telling us that our old theories need to be revised. Our computers are based on 1s and 0s, but that’s not really how nature works. As humans we haven’t evolved, yet, to experience things at the quantum level. But with these new tools available to physicists around the world, we’re becoming able to simulate how the world works in order to help us see things differently.
How cool is that? And physics isn’t the only realm returning information that reveals our lack of understanding and the need for innovation.
Take education, for instance. Richard Elmore, the Harvard education guru, says that the classroom and the public school are designed point by point to be exactly the opposite of what the latest neuroscience research is uncovering about how humans learn. Considering how much money is spent on education in each country, this spells huge business opportunities.