Skoll Foundation


Uncommon Heroes

What does it mean when we say one person can change the world? In the Skoll Foundation’s compelling Uncommon Heroes film series, we follow some of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs creating impact through innovative solutions to some of the most pressing problems in society today.

These films are free to anyone for non-commercial use and have been used in past to showcase the work of social entrepreneurs in schools, conferences, film festivals and more. If you would like to download one of the films, we simply ask that you complete the form at the bottom of the page to let us know more about your proposed use. Upon completion of the form you will be taken to a download page where you can access all of the films in hi-res Quicktime format.

#34 Global Witness

Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch, and Simon Taylor know that many of the world’s poorest people live in the most resource-rich countries in the world. Natural resources can incentivize corruption, destabilize governments, and lead to conflict and the looting of entire states. From 2002 to 2011, illicit money flows from corrupt deals in the developing world totaled nearly $6 trillion. Global Witness investigates and exposes the shadow networks underlying these deals that fuel conflict, corruption, and environmental destruction. They collect evidence and launch hard-hitting campaigns to find global solutions and end the “resource curse” by tackling corruption, protecting the environment, preventing conflict, and defending human rights.

#33 Slum Dwellers International

In 2008—for the first time in history—more people were living in urban than in rural areas. Today, more than one billion people live in slums. Founded by a collective of slum dwellers and concerned professionals headed by Jockin Arputham, a community organizer in India, Slum Dwellers International works to have slums recognized as vibrant, resourceful, and dignified communities. SDI organizes slum dwellers to take control of their futures; improve their living conditions; and gain recognition as equal partners with governments and international organizations in the creation of inclusive cities. With programs in nearly 500 cities, including more than 15,000 slum dweller-managed savings groups reaching one million people; 20 agreements with national governments; and nearly 130,000 families who have secured land rights, SDI has been a driving force for change for slum dwellers around the world.

#32 Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor

Every five seconds, the world’s urban population increases by 10 people. Everyone needs access to clean water and sanitation, putting a huge pressure on city service agencies. In response, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor has turned the traditional charity model on its head by developing commercially-viable models to bring water and sanitation to nearly two million people in urban slums in six countries. Sam Parker, a former business manager, has led the organization since 2006. Offering a creative package of private-sector, nongovernmental-organization, and academic expertise, WSUP equips public and private service agencies with the capacity and incentives to serve all citizens in their city.

#31 Medic Mobile

One billion people will never see a health professional in their lives. Yet 95 percent of the world’s population has access to a mobile signal. Josh Nesbit’s Medic Mobile was created to improve health in underserved and disconnected communities using communication tools. Medic Mobile builds mobile applications for community health workers, caregivers, and patients to increase life-saving health care coverage. Across 20 countries, its tools support 8,000 frontline health workers and benefit approximately six million people with plans to double these numbers annually for a total of 200,000 health workers serving 100 million people by 2018.

#30 Girls Not Brides

Every year 14 million girls are married as children, denied their rights to health, education, and opportunity, and robbed of their childhood. Mabel van Oranje has an inspiring vision of what the world could look like if there were no child brides, and initiated Girls Not Brides with the bold goal of ending child marriage in one generation. Child marriage traps girls and their communities in poverty. By ending the practice, the global community can start to address some of the most difficult challenges in development. Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 300 civil society organizations working across 50 countries. By joining forces and working at all levels—from grassroots to international—members of the global community can tackle this harmful social norm and end child marriage.

#29 Fundacion Capital

Half of the world’s adult population—2.5 billion people—are “unbanked,” lacking access to financial services. Founded by Belgian-born Yves Moury, Fundación Capital is a pioneer in inclusive finance innovation to help the poor save; grow and invest their assets; insure their families against risk; and chart a permanent path out of poverty. Already reaching three million people, Fundación Capital is working to reach eight million more in the next few years by expanding access to training, capital, and opportunity. Fundación Capital’s efforts to align advances in public policy, market mechanisms, and technology are building momentum and poised to reach 100 million poor families across three continents by 2030, enabling them to make their own financial decisions and live their ambitions.

#28 B Lab

Co-founded by longtime friends and colleagues, Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy, B Lab is fueling a global movement to redefine “success” in business, so that all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world. B Lab is challenging the status quo by building a new sector, legal structure, and standards; empowering a community of certified B Corporations; and advancing public policies that enable companies to create financial, social, and environmental value for both its shareholders and for society. With 20 states having passed Benefit Corporation legislation, nearly 1,000 B Corporations certified, and 16,000 companies using its tools, B Lab is focused on accelerating the global adoption of this new model.

#27 Independent Diplomat

Independent Diplomat (ID) helps marginalized countries and groups have a say in international negotiations about their own future. An experienced team of former diplomats, international lawyers and experts in international relations, ID provides advice on diplomatic strategy to break open the closed doors of international diplomacy. ID’s work ensures that those most affected are included in diplomatic discussions, making resulting agreements fairer and more likely to last.

#26 Khan Academy

Khan Academy strives to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere – through online content delivered directly to independent learners worldwide and through a blended learning model that includes direct implementations and its freely available online teacher toolkit. Its resources allow students to learn at their own pace to truly master a subject.

#25 World Health Partners

By taking an innovative market-based approach to health care delivery, World Health Partners improves the quality of rural health care at a large scale by creating a complete service delivery ecosystem. Among its services, it connects informal rural health providers to qualified doctors through telemedicine, thereby providing access to a wide range of critical health services and products.

#24 Crisis Action

Remaining entirely behind-the-scenes as a catalyst and coordinator, Crisis Action brings human rights and humanitarian organizations together across continents to protect civilians from armed conflict. By enabling civil society to speak as one at moments of crisis, it spurs the world’s most powerful decision makers into action.

#23 Basic Needs

BasicNeeds raises awareness and drives more effective treatment of mental health problems that impact millions in developing countries, but are often misunderstood, underfunded and considered taboo. BasicNeeds works with mentally ill people across 12 countries through a holistic model to address community mental health, poverty and stigma.

#22 The Citizens Foundation

The Citizens Foundation provides affordable primary and secondary private education to low-income students, with a focus on girls. The organization works in urban slums and rural areas in Pakistan, where 25 million children do not attend school and the female literacy rate is 45 percent.

#21 Hanging In The Balance: The Future Of A Forest

As the largest tropical forest on earth, the Amazon plays a critical role in regulating global climate, storing massive amounts of carbon and emitting 20 percent of the world’s life-giving oxygen. But rapid deforestation has destroyed nearly a fifth of the rain forest and has brought it to a tipping point: if we lose much more of the Amazon, the damage will become irreversible. Hanging in the Balance tells the story of several social entrepreneurs who have been working to save the rainforest, with remarkable results. In Columbia, Gaia Amazonas has helped protect indigenous lands encompassing one-fifth of the entire country. And in Brazil, Amazon Conservation Team, Imazon and Forest trends have contributed to efforts that reduced deforestation by 80% since 2004– the single greatest reduction of carbon emissions ever achieved by humankind.

#20 Visayan Forum Foundation

Cecilia spent her childhood as a child laborer, selling fish and scavenging garbage to help her family survive. After fighting against the Marcos dictatorship as an insurgent, she was imprisoned with her husband for 4 years and separated from her oldest son for 12 years while her 2 other children were born in captivity. When the democracy that she fought for was finally achieved, Cecilia founded the Visayan Forum Foundation (VF) in 1991 to help people achieve the freedom to live a decent life.

#19 Riders For Health

Andrea and Barry Coleman share a passion for motorcycles. Andrea is a former racer and Barry is a successful journalist and author. Through the racing world, they became involved in fundraising for children in Africa. In 1988, on a visit to Somalia, Barry was unable to reach his destination because his car broke down. That day, he noticed broken vehicles everywhere. On a later trip, he and Andrea saw women in childbirth being carried to the hospital in wheelbarrows. Frustrated that aid agencies abandoned vehicles rather than making basic repairs, the Colemans remortgaged their house and founded Riders for Health (Riders) in 1996 to provide practical solutions to transportation problems in Africa.

#18 Ceres (part 2)

As a teenager on Long Island, New York, Mindy Lubber became frustrated that the town’s civic leadership did not have a recycling plan, so she started one herself. Today, the town recycles nearly 4,000 tons of material per year. After earning both an M.B.A. and J.D., Mindy became executive director of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group and later started the National Environmental Law Center. In 1991, she launched Green Century Capital Management, the first U.S. mutual fund company to be wholly owned by nonprofit public interest groups. A founding board member of Ceres, Inc., Mindy became the organization’s president in 2003.

#17 Gram Vikas

Joe Madiath has spent 30 years working in development among the poorest communities in Orissa, India. Drawn there in 1971 to help communities that had been ravaged by a cyclone, Joe stayed on as an activist focused on sustainable development projects. He founded Gram Vikas in 1979 and has served as executive director ever since, growing Gram Vikas into one of the largest non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Orissa. Gram Vikas originally focused on providing renewable energy for rural communities, building more than 54,000 biogas units. Over time, Gram Vikas developed its more holistic model of development, based on Joe’s conviction that every family in a village must have healthy living practices and an improved quality of life before total development can occur. This model has transformed at least 289 villages and has successfully proven that the rural poor can and will pay for better sanitation and water facilities.

#16 FairTrade USA

After working for more than a decade in Central America and helping Nicaraguan coffee farmers improve their livelihoods through an organic coffee export cooperative, Paul Rice founded FairTrade USA (also known as TransFair USA) in 1998 to bring the fair trade movement to the United States. FairTrade USA promotes a market model that guarantees small-family agricultural producers a fair price for their products, direct trade and access to credit and support for sustainable agriculture.

#15 Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL)

Born in Herat, Afghanistan, Sakena Yacoobi came to the United States in the 1970s to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health. In the 1980s, she worked as a health consultant at D’Etre University in Michigan. From 1992 to 1995, she worked for the International Rescue Committee in Pakistan, increasing the number of Afghan refugee girls enrolled in IRC-supported schools from 3,000 to 15,000. During that time, she also served on the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief delegation of the United Nations, as well as on the United Nations Rehabilitation Plan for Afghanistan. During the mid-1990s, funding for education and health programs in Afghanistan was cut dramatically as a result of the Taliban’s grip on power. Sakena was determined to keep education and health programs going, despite the Taliban’s opposition, and thus she founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995.

#14 Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI)

Rodrigo Baggio had his first contact with computers at the age of 12 by his father, an information management specialist. During his adolescent years, he volunteered helping street children and mobilizing workers for a day nursery in the slums. At that time, the technology revolution was having a tremendous impact on Brazil, yet, instead of creating opportunities for all, it was creating another social divide. Rodrigo dreamed of how he might combine his desire to improve the lives of the poor with his passion for technology. In 1995, with a collection of secondhand computers and volunteer teachers, Rodrigo founded the Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI) to teach people how to use technology to improve their communities and their lives.

#13 Institute for OneWorld Health

Working for the Food and Drug Administration in the early 1990s, Victoria Hale saw many promising new medicines abandoned or not developed to their full market potential. Diseases such as visceral leishmaniasis, long ignored and often fatal, needed special and urgent attention. In 2000 she founded the Institute for OneWorld Health to address the gap between global infectious diseases and pharmaceutical opportunities. Victoria has since left and founded a new nonprofit pharmaceutical company, Medicines360, focusing on unmet needs of the world’s women and children. It is a self-sustaining social enterprise, founded with philanthropy, driven by global health inequity, and sustained by revenues. Initial focus areas are contraception and neglected/orphan diseases.

#12 Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED)

Ann Cotton is a professional educator, who was inspired by a trip to Zimbabwe, to do something about the many girls kept out of school. Her research led her to conclude that gender inequality in education was not, as donor agencies assumed, driven by cultural factors, but rather by families’ poverty and inability to pay fees. She started Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) in 1993 by raising money through bake sales to pay 32 girls’ fees.

#11 Ceres (part 1)

As a teenager on Long Island, New York, Mindy Lubber became frustrated that the town’s civic leadership did not have a recycling plan, so she started one herself. Today, the town recycles nearly 4,000 tons of material per year. After earning both an M.B.A. and J.D., Mindy became executive director of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group and later started the National Environmental Law Center. In 1991, she launched Green Century Capital Management, the first U.S. mutual fund company to be wholly owned by nonprofit public interest groups. A founding board member of Ceres, Inc., Mindy became the organization’s president in 2003.

#10 Fundación Paraguaya

Martin Burt founded Fundación Paraguaya in 1985, offering microcredit and entrepreneurship education — a daring enterprise, because Paraguay was still under the rule of a dictator. The foundation’s self-help groups provided real benefits, and Fundación Paraguaya survived to support thousands of small businesses and become a leader in microenterprise development as Paraguay transitioned to democracy. In addition to microlending and Junior Achievement for youth, the organization is developing a self-sustaining, productive agricultural school that offers credit upon graduation to put learning into practice. All of these innovations have had systems-changing influence.

#09 International Bridges To Justice

A former public defender and ordained minister, Karen Tse moved to Cambodia in 1994 to train public defenders. “I remember peering through a prison cell and talking with a boy who had been detained and tortured,” she recalls. “He was just a boy who had tried to steal a bicycle and he had no one to defend him.” At that time, there was little Karen or others could do. Governments throughout Asia, now under pressure from human rights activists, have passed laws outlawing torture and providing citizens with basic rights. By helping countries develop criminal justice systems to implement these laws, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) is dramatically improving and even saving the lives of everyday citizens.

#08 International Development Enterprises India (IDE-India)

Amitabha Sadangi is the architect of International Development Enterprises India’s (IDE-India) “market creation” approach to development, focused on sustainable local industries producing and selling irrigation technologies that even the poorest farmers can afford. He has directed IDE (India) since it became independent of its international parent organization. Every product is designed to produce a net return on investment more than 100% of the purchase price every year, allowing farmers to move up the ladder of development.

#07 Community and Individual Development Association

Taddy Blecher, a “hardened capitalist and qualified actuary,” had packed all his belongings and was on the verge of emigrating from South Africa when he paused to take a good look around him. “I saw aching poverty but also the greatest and most valuable resource: human potential,” he said. At that moment, he made a life-changing decision to do something to help his country. Taddy has been CEO of the Community and Individual Development Association since 1995. In 1999, he and his colleagues opened CIDA City Campus, South Africa’s first free university, dedicated to providing disadvantaged youth the chance to earn a four-year business degree. He has been a pioneer of the free education movement in South Africa, serving as Group CEO of CIDA City Campus until 2007, and, after leaving CIDA City Campus, launching a new urban campus, the Maharishi Institute, and a rural campus under development, the Ezemvelo Eco-Campus, as models to replicate world-wide.

#06 Marine Stewardship Council

From an early age, Rupert Howes was passionate about nature. Influenced by conservationists like David Attenborough, he was determined to make the world more sustainable. Although he ultimately became an economist instead of a marine biologist, he never strayed from his childhood passion. He worked with environmental organizations, wrote a book on motivating industries to improve environmental performance and championed corporate responsibility. In 2004, he became CEO of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) because, he said, his economic training and general pragmatism “convinced me that we have to work with the grain of the market if we are to shift our economic system to a more sustainable footing. Markets are not perfect, but they can work better.” When Rupert arrived, MSC was not thriving. He revitalized the organization by hiring new staff, improving finances and developing a strategic plan. Since then, the number of fisheries undergoing certification has tripled, and the number of MSC-branded products has doubled.

#05 Associação Saúde Criança

In her work as a physician in a public hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Vera Cordeiro felt helpless and frustrated when children who were successfully treated for an infectious disease returned to the hospital and died from the same disease after being reinfected at home. Vera realized that to save these children, she must help their entire family. She raffled off her own belongings to start Associação Saúde Criança Renascer (Brazil Child Health Association) in 1991. Despite early resistance from social workers who felt she was interfering, Vera persevered, recruiting and providing intensive training to volunteers who, together with the staff of Saúde Criança, worked one-on-one with poor families in order to give them dignity and self-sustainability.

#04 VillageReach

Born in Cameroon, Blaise Judja-Sato was a successful U.S. businessman until a devastating flood in Mozambique prompted his return to Africa. While helping with relief efforts, he saw both the suffering of the rural poor and the frustration of nongovernmental organizations that could not get medicines across the “last mile” of remote country to those in need. Judja-Sato founded VillageReach (VR) because he recognized that the solution involved building a reliable “pipeline” infrastructure. He also realized that these last-mile barriers affected industries and others who might be willing to pay into a shared system that benefited everyone. Blaise remains on the board of VillageReach however, over the past few years, he has increasingly been dedicating resources to the development of innovative, scalable solutions to help: (1) raise awareness on the world’s most pressing challenges; and (2) enable donors, and the advisors and institutions serving them, to become more strategic and effective in reaching their philanthropic objectives.

#03 Root Capital

William Foote was an investment banker during the Latin American growth years of the early 1990s. After the 1994 peso devaluation in Mexico, he spent 2 years in the rural areas of that country, studying and writing about the financial crisis and its effects on people and the environment. He realized that farmers could adopt sustainable practices only if they had resources to sustain themselves during transition periods and could acquire skills, equipment and market knowledge to launch a viable new enterprise. They needed more than microcredit, but were still too small to be bankable by commercial lenders. This realization inspired him to develop a lending model to meet those needs.

#02 Health Care Without Harm

Gary Cohen was a travel writer whose life was changed by an assignment to draft a community guidebook about toxic chemicals. After meeting mothers working to protect their families from toxic dumps and other chemical threats, he devoted his life to the field of environmental health. He was first co-director of the National Toxics Campaign and cofounder of the Military Toxics Project, then helped launch a free clinic serving survivors of a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. When he returned home, he co-founded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) in 1996. Since then, HCWH has become a worldwide phenomenon, moving markets and changing practices through partnerships with major hospital systems and their institutional buyers.

#01 YouthBuild USA

Dorothy Stoneman joined the civil rights movement after graduating from Harvard University in 1964. She lived in Harlem for more than 20 years. As an educator, she saw young men left behind, unemployed and sent to prison in large numbers. Living in the community, she saw boarded-up buildings and people without affordable, decent homes. She began YouthBuild to bring young people into productive engagement by constructing homes. She also led a movement to improve community conditions. First in Harlem, then throughout New York and nationwide with support from YouthBuild USA, the organization pioneered a program that reaches disconnected young adults — those with the most strikes against them, including those already engaged with the drug culture and criminal justice system. It offers them immediately productive roles in their communities, leadership training, education toward a diploma and skills that lead them to well-paying jobs.


© 2015 Skoll Foundation.