Rose Broome of HandUp

The seed for HandUp, a crowdfunding site that solicits donations to help the homeless, was planted in early 2012 when Rose Broome passed a shivering woman huddling in the doorway of a real estate office in San Francisco. “On a cold night, I was walking down the street and saw a woman sleeping on the sidewalk,” recalls Broome. “She didn’t have a jacket, she didn’t have a sweater — just a thin blanket protecting her from the cold ground.” That night, Broome says, “I made a commitment to myself to do one thing to make a difference, and that one thing turned into HandUp.”
The platform for HandUp allows those battling homelessness to appeal directly to donors to fund their particular needs. Since 2013, more than 2,000 people have raised nearly $1.6 million. By sharing their stories on the site, those in need are able to fundraise for housing assistance — security deposits, moving costs, help paying back rent, and so on — as well as for food, education, medical care and technological access. “Having a phone, the Internet, the ability to text is extremely important for everyone, especially for the most vulnerable people,” says Broome, who, besides cofounding HandUp, acts as its CEO.
The need for funding is enormous. Nationwide, 3.5 million people struggle with homelessness every year, and 50 million people live below the poverty line. But there’s a misconception about what being homeless looks like, says Broome, pointing out that the image of a person sleeping on the street, wrestling with mental health issues or drug addictions (or both), tends to capture the public’s imagination. In reality, however, 30 percent of those who are homeless are part of families. As Broome puts it, “You could walk right past 80 percent of people experiencing homelessness and not know any different.”
HandUp works by partnering with organizations that serve homeless populations. These organizations help their clients sign up and create profiles on the site (to date, they’ve launched more than 5,800 campaigns in 29 cities). When donors give, the money goes to the organization, which will pay for the items requested. Donors get an email update when their money has been put to use. HandUp also helps homeless people create donation request cards, which they can hand out to people they meet on the street, and donors in San Francisco can buy HandUp gift cards in $25 increments and distribute them when they meet someone in need (the cards can be used for groceries, clothes and other goods at HandUp’s nonprofit partners).

Join the cause! Help those experiencing poverty or homelessness. Read their stories, then post a message or make a donation here.

Broome and her cofounder, Sammie Rayner, are passionate about using technology to solve problems and create change. “It’s surprising, but right now, only 8 percent of charitable giving happens online,” Broome says. And unfortunately, the nonprofit sector tends to lag far behind the private sector in adopting new technologies. “So often, nonprofits are the last to get some of the best technology to do their work,” adds Rayner.
For the nonprofits that work with HandUp, the platform allows them to fund needs that wouldn’t otherwise be met, filling in the gaps left by restrictive government and foundation grant funding. SF Cares, a collaborative project of several Lutheran churches working to serve low-income and homeless individuals in San Francisco, has used HandUp to raise $18,000 for the needy they work with, plus another $20,000 toward their general operating costs. “They’re funds our organization never would have gotten before,” says the Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer, the executive director of SF Cares and pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. And the people doing the giving through HandUp are new donors that SF Cares might not have reached on its own, she adds.
Rohrer says she loves the way HandUp lets people combatting homelessness “speak in their own voice.” And she likes that the site lets people decide for themselves what they need to improve their lives. “Plus,” she says, “any time that I don’t have to spend fundraising means I get to eat with the homeless, and I get to sing songs with them too.”
Creating human connections is as much a part of HandUp’s purpose as developing innovative technological solutions. “On HandUp, you can read the stories of thousands of people who need help with very specific goals,” Rayner says. “As soon as people read the human story and have that connection through our platform, it’s harder to have the same stereotypes, and it’s harder to judge.” When donors give on HandUp, they can also post words of encouragement. The people who receive money through the site often say those kind words mean more than the donation, adds Broome. “A lot of people who are homeless feel invisible,” she says. HandUp helps them feel seen.


The 2016 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from November 1 to 15 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.

Zakiya Harris of Hack the Hood

For Zakiya Harris, growing up in East Oakland, Calif., meant navigating between two acutely different worlds every day. “I grew up in the hood, but I went to a very affluent school,” she says. “So I spent my days being one of few black people, and I spent my nights being in a predominantly black neighborhood. I believe that really shapes the work that I do, because I’ve always been a bridge-builder.”
Today, Harris is building bridges in the Bay Area as the co-founder of Hack the Hood, an Oakland-based nonprofit that introduces young people of color to careers in technology by training them to design and build free websites for small businesses. The participants, who range in age from 16 to 25, learn crucial skills for the 21st-century economy, and the local businesses establish an online presence that they otherwise might not have had the time, resources or know-how to build themselves. “Hack the Hood is able to level-up the skills of young people and also provide a huge economic development boost for small businesses in their community,” Harris says.
Since 2014, Hack the Hood has sponsored 16 boot camps in eight cities across Northern California. The six-week programs have attracted a total of 234 young minorities from low-income neighborhoods, 92 percent of whom have completed the course. Boot camps begin with an intensive two-week focus on technical skills like website design, coding and social media promotion. “After that, the program transitions into an office,” says Harris, when the young participants are paired with small-business clients and are responsible for self-managing their Web projects. “We want them to feel like freelancers and like a design firm,” she says. The goal is to broaden their relationship to technology. “They start to see their place in tech,” adds Harris. “They don’t just have to be consumers, they can be creatives.”
The local businesses that sign on also reap enormous benefits. Hack the Hood typically works with mom-and-pop shops whose owners aren’t necessarily comfortable online or on social media. “A lot of these folks are small, and they don’t want to be thinking about their website,” Harris says. And because of the rapidly shifting demographics of Bay Area neighborhoods, businesses that lack an online presence aren’t reaching the new residents moving in. “We want our local owners to be more visible,” she says. “When people are Googling the new coffee shop or the closest tax preparer, we want those people who’ve been the backbone of our city to show up in the search results.”

Join the cause! Use your talents to help open doors for low-income, high-potential youth. Volunteer your time as a mentor in the Bay Area or elsewhere in the US.

Hack the Hood participants don’t just gain valuable experience working in tech, they also develop soft skills, like project management, public speaking, networking, perseverance and more. And besides learning to write CSS and HTML code, they’re given a chance to explore the more creative aspects of maintaining a Web presence through site design, photography and videography. Realizing their true passions and talents helps them find their niche in technology, says Max Gibson, a lead instructor and creative strategist at Hack the Hood. “At first, they might not have an idea of what they want to do with their lives, or what their real strengths and skills are,” Gibson says. “So for me, it’s really about allowing them to discover what those things are, and then pointing them in the right direction.”

For her part, Harris sees Hack the Hood as addressing a new kind of gulf between the technological haves and have-nots. “People typically think of the digital divide as those who have Internet access versus those who don’t,” she says. But that idea is quickly becoming outdated. “The issue now is the knowledge divide. Do you know how to pull up the hood and understand the code beneath it? Do you understand what your digital footprint is going to look like?”
Closing that knowledge gap has the potential to impact communities far beyond the Bay Area. “Young people of color are going to create platforms and opportunities in tech that no one else has,” Harris says, pointing to the apps — such as those tackling police brutality, immigrant rights and other issues affecting communities of color — produced at recent hackathons attended by minorities. “My generation is passing on a planet that has many, many problems. Having a diversity of voices in the decision-making process is going to allow a diversity of solutions to come through.” Technology provides important tools for solving today’s problems, Harris says. “It’s imperative that we make sure every young person has access to these tools so they can address the problems of our future.”


The 2016 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from November 1 to 15 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.

Raj Karmani of Zero Percent

It started with a simple question. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012, Raj Karmani, the founder of Zero Percent, was a regular at a neighborhood bakery. The store was always fully stocked with more than a dozen different bagel flavors, and that got Karmani thinking. “I wondered, ‘When all those beautiful bagels are made fresh each day, what happens to the ones that don’t sell?’” So Karmani asked the bakery’s owner, and learned that he did his best to donate what he could to area nonprofits. Still, many of those bagels were thrown out at closing time. Karmani vowed to change that.
Then a computer science student, Karmani first built the app that would become Zero Percent during a hackathon. “Technology is going to be the core of this solution,” he says. Zero Percent’s app allows restaurants, schools and other institutions that sign on to easily note what kinds of food they have available and in what quantity, and when they would like to have it picked up. The system then notifies a local nonprofit, giving them the option to pick up the food. In Chicago, where the startup is based, Zero Percent also hires drivers to make daily, pre-scheduled pickup and drop-off runs.
That a city like Chicago would have such a need for surplus food initially surprised Karmani, who grew up in Pakistan. “Coming to the United States, I felt I came to a country that is the richest and most powerful country in the world, and that I had left poverty and hunger behind,” he says. But his conversation with the bakery owner opened his eyes to two huge problems in the U.S.: the dual issues of hunger and food waste. “Forty percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste,” Karmani says. That translates to more than $22 billion worth of prepared and perishable food every year. “That’s why we named the company Zero Percent,” he explains. “We wanted to bring that statistic down to zero percent.”

Join the cause! Commit to reducing food waste in your community. See how to donate unspoiled food here.

Restaurants and other businesses pay a fee to participate in the program. In return, Zero Percent streamlines the process of donating excess food. “It’s just a great way to know that we’re feeding others who need it,” says Jon Naylor, a managing partner at Blackwood BBQ in Chicago. It’s a morale-booster for staff, and they mention it during interviews with new potential hires, Naylor says. Customers also like to hear that the restaurant is giving back to the community, he adds.
The participating institutions can also gain financial benefits. Zero Percent’s functionality includes a dashboard that shows them exactly what they’ve donated and where their donations have gone. This makes it easy for them to document donations for tax purposes. It also helps them track how much excess food they’re ordering and making, so they can make their operations more efficient. “We had a lot of lettuce leftover at the beginning,” says Timothy Muellemann, a manager at Sopraffina in Chicago. “Since we began using Zero Percent, we’ve been able to see the items that we had been ordering too much of, and it’s helped us keep that in check,” he says.
The benefits for local nonprofits are obvious — fresh, healthy, prepared food they can serve to those who need it most. Besides going to soup kitchens and food pantries, Zero Percent provides surplus food to after-school programs and organizations that serve underprivileged populations. “What’s amazing is that we get so much fresh, nutritious food from Zero Percent,” says Kylon Hooks, a program manager at Chicago’s Broadway Youth Center, which primarily serves homeless LGBTQ youth. Hooks says that getting healthy food from a high-quality source has an emotional benefit too. “It gets young people to think, ‘I’m worth eating this way,’” he says. “Zero Percent is an invaluable resource.”
Since its launch in 2013, Zero Percent has distributed more than 1 million meals to almost 150 nonprofits in the Chicago area. But Karmani has his sights set on bigger goals. “I firmly believe that food waste can be entirely eliminated,” he says. “I’m still striving to reach that utopia of zero food waste. I’m not going to congratulate myself until we have, step by step, shown that we can move the needle on food waste, first in Chicago, and then elsewhere.”


The 2016 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from November 1 to 15 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.

Billy Parish of Mosaic

Billy Parish studied climate change as a student at Yale, but it wasn’t until a summer trip to India after his sophomore year that the reality of the problem hit home. It was 2002 when Parish traveled to the source of the Ganges River, in the Himalayas, and met with scientists who were studying a glacier there. “They told me that the glacier had melted and was much further upriver than it was the year before, and that it was melting faster than anyone had been predicting,” he says. “The source of water for millions of people was at risk.” The experience had a huge impact on Parish. “Seeing the glacier was the first time I saw climate change face-to-face,” he says. “That for me was the moment of no turning back, when I said, ‘I need to do something about this.’”
That urge to do something eventually led Parish to create Mosaic, a company that provides financing for homeowners who want to go solar, in 2011. It’s a Certified B Corporation, meaning that in addition to turning a profit, Mosaic aims to have a positive impact on the world. Today, it’s the largest residential solar lender in the country. Mosaic works with roughly 250 solar installers, equipping them with software and financing products that they can offer to their customers. “There are now over 50,000 people who are prospering from clean energy through Mosaic,” Parish says, including not just those who own homes, but salespeople and installation crews too.
The typical Mosaic customer is a homeowner who wants to save money while doing something positive for the environment. Larry Allen and Heather Crelling, for example, recently had solar panels installed on their home in Cortlandt Manor, New York. They expect to save $100 a month initially, and twice that once they’ve paid off their loan. The installer they worked with, Sungevity, also guarantees them a minimum amount of savings; if they don’t realize those savings, they’ll get a check for the difference. “It’s very straightforward,” says Parish. “Our borrowers save money from day one.”
Mosaic is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the growing interest in solar technology. “There was a time where most analysts thought wind was going to be the dominant renewable energy,” notes Parish. But since 2009, the cost of solar panels has fallen 80 percent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the price is expected to continue to drop. Solar is also readily accessible to most everyone, leading Parish to predict that it “will be the dominant renewable energy technology of the future.”

Join the cause! Help the environment by signing up for renewable energy with your local provider. Need convincing? See 5 advantages of solar energy here.

The business opportunities in clean energy are enormous. Ultimately, Mosaic aims to move beyond providing loans for just solar panels. “Our plan for the coming years is to help homeowners finance everything they need to take their home to 100 percent clean energy,” says Parish. That could include updating HVAC systems; replacing windows, doors, and lighting; and purchasing a home automation system that helps conserve energy. For Parish, Mosaic is a unique opportunity to make a career out of making a difference. “What I love about coming to work every day is that I get to do something that overlaps completely with my personal mission, and do something that represents a big business opportunity,” he says.
That profit motive isn’t incidental. Getting people invested, literally, in the transition to clean energy is a key piece of Mosaic’s mission. “We started Mosaic because we believe that the more people who are participating in and benefiting from the transition to clean energy, the faster that transition will occur,” Parish says. People care about climate change, he notes, but it can be tough motivating them to make big changes. “We needed to tap into people’s interests in making money and saving money, and use that power to help drive this transition faster.”
Allen and Crelling agree that the financial benefits are partly why they decided to go solar. They expect to not only save money right away but add to the value of their home. They’re also excited about reducing their carbon footprint and doing something to help the environment. “It’s one of the motivating factors we had for doing this,” Crelling says. “It’s a big lesson we’re teaching our kids.” The couple have also noticed more and more homeowners in their area installing the panels. “I definitely feel like it’s a trend, at least in our area,” says Allen.
The solar movement is gaining momentum in a lot of communities around the country and around the globe. “The transition to clean energy will happen faster than people think,” predicts Parish. “I believe we can get to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.” The statistics are encouraging: Today, the solar-energy industry in California employs more people than does all of the state’s electric utilities, he says, and nationally, more people work in solar than in coal, oil and gas exploration, and mining combined. “The clean-energy forces are growing stronger, we are accelerating this transition, and I’m focused on getting us there faster by getting more people involved.”


The 2016 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from November 1 to 15 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.

Elisabeth Stock of PowerMyLearning

Elisabeth Stock has always been driven to work toward a more just world. It was what led her to volunteer as a teacher for the Peace Corps in West Africa in her early 20s, and it’s what ultimately motivated her to found PowerMyLearning, an educational technology nonprofit, in 1999. “I wanted to join the Peace Corps because I felt like there was this deep unfairness in society,” she says. “Is it just and fair that where you are born predicts whether you can reach your human potential?”
The key to providing equal opportunity for everyone, says Stock, is through education. To that end, PowerMyLearning uses technology to improve the relationships that are crucial to the learning process — namely, the impact that teachers and parents have on a student’s promise to excel. “What we’re really about is empowering all of them — the kids and the adults — to learn together,” she says. That empowerment is translating to real, measurable results. There is at least one teacher, parent or student registered with PowerMyLearning in 40 percent of the nation’s schools, and since 2012, partner schools have seen an impressive 6.9 percent increase in math proficiency.
Technology is a crucial part of this process, but the company approaches it in a decidedly different way than most ed-tech outfits do. A lot of people in the field try to essentially replace educators with fancy apps and platforms, says Stock. “They think, ‘Oh my goodness, I can build the most amazing code to do what the teacher does!’ But we’ve realized that that’s a mistake, that what you really need to do with technology is focus on the learning relationships.”
PowerMyLearning uses a combination of services and tools to reach everyone involved in a child’s education. The organization’s online platform, called PowerMyLearning Connect, curates the best available videos, interactive games and other online resources to help students master complex topics. PowerMyLearning also provides coaching to teachers, especially those who are early in their careers, and conducts workshops where families can learn about what their kids are doing.

Join the cause! Speak up for family engagement across the country.

Teachers rely on PowerMyLearning Connect for its “playlists” of materials to use in the classroom. They can also customize these playlists for different groups of students or even for just one student at a time. “Imagine that you’re a teacher and you are in a classroom, and you have a couple of students who are really behind,” Stock says. “How do you help them practice without their peers noticing that they’re so far behind, and teasing them?” But if a student is playing a fun game that enables him to catch up at the same time, his classmates will focus on the game, not the fact that the student might have a deficit of knowledge.
The platform is also used to engage families in the learning process and will soon roll out a texting feature that lets parents know what their kids are learning. After a student works through a particular playlist, they’ll be prompted to teach the material to an adult family member. The adult can then text back to the teacher to share how well the child understands the concepts. “So many families want to be helping their students and continuing to improve their learning, but a lot of people just don’t know where to begin,” Stock says. “PowerMyLearning Connect really gives them that starting point.” The platform, along with the workshops, further collaborative relationships between students, teachers and parents.
Azlynn Cornish, a special education math teacher at South Bronx Preparatory school in New York City, uses the platform in her classroom, and she has also received coaching. “Self-motivation is a huge thing with PowerMyLearning Connect,” Cornish says. “It brings students so much choice, and they’re able to really create their own learning environment, both inside and outside of the classroom.” Involving families also helps give kids the feeling that they’re in control of their own education, she adds. “It just creates that kind of cycle of learning that continues daily, and creates genuine lifelong learners.”
For parents, PowerMyLearning provides a window into what their kids are up to at school. Lisnel Rivera, a parent from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx, recently attended a Saturday workshop to learn more about the program. “I think it’s very important for schools to include parents in their child’s education, because while they go to school to learn, the majority of their time is spent at home,” Rivera says. “If I’m up to date on the assignments, and the essence of what my daughter is learning at school, I can help her at home.” It’s facilitating those learning relationships that is exactly what Elisabeth Stock — and PowerMyLearning — has been about from the beginning.


The 2016 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from November 1 to 15 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.