05/08/2015 08:31 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT

The Next 10 Years Will Offer Limitless Options to Change the World for the Better

JOHN MACDOUGALL via Getty Images
A craftsman paints water pots at his workshop on the banks of the river Bani, a branch of the river Niger, at the commercial port of the northern city of Mopti on March 15, 2013. The commercial port of Mopti, which supplies goods and tourists up the river Niger to the northern cities of Timbuktu and Gao, has suffered greatly from the current conflict which saw those two cities being overrun by armed Islamic militants, and cut off from the rest of the country for months. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

When we set out in 1995 to end child labour, we stood on a straight road with just two directions to choose from: donate to a charity, or start one.

It's incredible how much has changed in the world of "doing good" since then.

So we started a mostly traditional charity (apart from being run by teens) and we raised money in the traditional way -- by convincing donors to give us cheques.

Sierra Leone changed the game for us. Early in the new millennium, the African country -- freshly emerged from a decade of civil war -- was in tatters. But because it was no longer in the headlines, the world had forgotten Sierra Leone. No one wanted to donate funds to rebuild there.

Desperate to not abandon the country, we were willing to try any possible solution. In small communities and at local markets throughout Africa, we saw women making exquisite hand-beaded traditional jewelry. Why not buy their items and sell them back home? We'd create employment for women desperate to support their families, and raise funds for our humanitarian work.

What started as a temporary measure in 2008 expanded into a full-time social enterprise sourcing and selling socially-conscious products. Today, Me to We helps fund Free The Children's work around the world by donating half of its annual profits, and reinvesting the other half to grow the social mission.

Me to We is a social enterprise, and the sector is just exploding.

Social enterprises are filling every available niche when it comes to social and environmental action. Two examples are The Carrot -- a co-op grocery store that offers accessible and affordable food for low-income seniors in Halifax -- and the Plastic Bank, an international entity that turns discarded plastic into currency, and impoverished waste pickers into recycling entrepreneurs in countries like Peru.

While smart philanthropists are discovering the power of business to change the world, smart business leaders are cluing in to the reality that doing good is profitable.

Look at Unilever, one of the world's largest consumer goods manufacturers.

Under the direction of chief executive officer, Paul Polman, Unilever set an ambitious target to halve its production waste by 2020. In 2013, the company's facilities had produced 97,000 fewer tonnes of waste than five years previously, and reduced its water use by enough to fill 5,600 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

In January, Unilever had achieved its goal of sending zero hazardous waste to landfills. And some of Unilever's brands, like the iconic Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Dove beauty products, have built a massive following from championing causes.

Through it all, Unilever's profits are rising massively, despite the tepid global economic climate.

Realizing that giving back is good for the bottom line, leading-edge businesses are baking responsibility right into the DNA of their corporations, setting social and environmental goals alongside their profit targets.

It's been thrilling to see the growth of social enterprise and corporate citizenship over the last 10 years. Even more thrilling is what these changes will mean for the average consumer over the next decade.

In the 1990s, if you had $100 to do good, you had pretty much one choice: donate to a charity. Now you can make a donation, invest in a social enterprise, or choose to spend a bit more of your consumer dollars on products and services from socially responsible corporations.

Twenty years ago, socially-minded youth could volunteer or work for a charity. Now youth who want to make a difference have more options. They can also become social entrepreneurs, or chose to work for businesses that uphold ideals they believe in.

For the do-gooders of the future, the options are limitless.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day.


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