It’s never been easier to be aware of the world’s biggest problems. But you can’t tackle every problem on the planet. So, how do you choose which one to take on?
I visited Haiti in 2014, four years after the earthquake displaced 1.5 million people. It looked like it had been four months.
People lacked every basic need — water, food, and safe shelter. In the heat of Haiti, families were living in overcrowded tents. And when it rained, the water ruined their few possessions. Children couldn’t consider school because they were too focused on surviving. I remember seeing one newborn baby in a crib, which was basically a garbage can on a dirt floor with blankets, and thinking nobody should have to live like this.
My heart was captured. And I believed things could and should be better.
When I left Haiti, I looked for housing nonprofits I could support. But here was the problem: I wasn’t excited about partnering with any of them.
Nonprofits felt outdated, like they were stuck in tradition. They lacked technology and they weren’t transparent enough to trust. Overall, I was frustrated by the lack of innovation.
Since I didn’t feel good about partnering with anyone, I thought I would try something myself. I serendipitously found two more ambitious twentysomethings who wanted to make an impact: Alexandria Lafci and Matthew Marshall. We co-founded New Story and started with a small goal of raising enough money to fund one house for a family in Haiti. We weren’t qualified to work on a massive and complex problem like global homelessness, but we thought we could help build one home. We’d rather start small than do nothing.
With a talented team and generous donors, we eventually funded one home, then one hundred homes, and now more than 3,000. But as I look back on that first home, I know that was the beginning of New Story’s innovative spirit. Because innovation starts by identifying what could and should be better, then creating a solution.
Our biggest problems need pioneers, those committed to bringing innovation to people who need it most.
Over the past few years, more leaders have been asking if the brightest minds are working on the biggest problems. Bill Gates has said, “The allocation of IQ to Wall Street is higher than it should be.” Many organizations attract and distract top talent that could be focusing on more important issues. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Social impact teams can and should attract the world’s best talent. Because our biggest problems demand and deserve our best.
About a dozen problems harm a significant portion of the human population — poverty, food insecurity, and gender inequality to name a few. At New Story, we focus on housing because it’s the foundation of human well-being. With adequate housing, kids can stay healthy and reach their potential. Families can stay safe together and build the generational wealth needed to exit poverty. Safe shelter changes everything.
Housing arguably leads to the greatest ROI for humans compared to any other intervention.
Prasoon Kumar is the founder of BillionBricks, a company using innovation to build affordable homes that house low-income families and combat climate change. He’s an example of one of our brightest minds solving one of our biggest problems. In Prasoon’s TED Talk in 2017, he said, “When we look for solutions for the poor, we look for poor solutions.” I saw this firsthand in Haiti and still see it today with a lot of social impact work.
Historically, the affordable housing industry has lacked innovation, energy, and the best talent. When I co-founded New Story, I didn’t think I brought everything missing in the affordable housing industry. But I did believe I could form a team that could make a difference. I co-founded New Story to do things differently — to build a team of remarkable talent focused on global homelessness.
After farming, construction is the least innovative industry in the world. The lack of innovation contributes to the rapid growth of the housing crisis. Right now, more than 1.6 billion people live without adequate shelter. The United Nations predicts it’ll be 3 billion by the end of the decade. We have to build differently – from sourcing talent to deploying smart capital — if we’re going to solve our most pressing problems. We have to innovate.
The greatest innovations first benefit the most wealthy populations and then trickle down to vulnerable populations — or never reach them. From day one at New Story, we’ve been obsessed with flipping that narrative. We want to bring the best innovation to people who need it most. It’s what led us to build the world’s first community of 3D-printed homes — all for families living on less than $10 per day.
Fear of risk keeps us back from solving some of the world’s biggest problems. But innovating and creating impact at scale demand risk. We can’t continue expecting traditional solutions to solve complex and growing problems like global homelessness.
The world’s biggest problems are evolving; our solutions should too.
You won’t have a deep passion for every problem our world faces. But I encourage you to pursue the problem that captures your heart. That’s where you’ll bring the passion needed to stick with a problem that will take longer than a lifetime to solve. That’s where you’ll innovate.
There’s no question whether you have what it takes to help humanity solve one of the world’s biggest problems. The question is this: what can and should be better?