Globetrotting explorer and aspiring world changer Nathan Wang believes that even small change can make a big difference. A short time upon returning from volunteering and traveling experiences abroad, he launched Meaningful Change. Meaningful Change raises money for nonprofit organizations that are involved in education, environmentalism and humane efforts. Partnering with airports and setting up donation bins right before TSA security checkpoints, passengers can drop off any loose change they might have.
The conception of Meaningful Change started when young Nathan Wang, then an avid traveling junkie, was “standing in line, there’s a fairly long line because of the holidays.” He adds, “I’m trying to get everything organized to get through security as fast as possible, and I come across a handful of change. I’m not going to throw it away and I’m not going to leave it behind; but at the same time I think to myself, this is such a pain. As I was waiting to go through security it kind of dawned on me that there are a lot of other people that have the same experience.”
Meaningful Change is a lesson in simplicity. In today’s technology age we are often bombarded with information from all angles. This information overload has created a bias toward complex design thinking that results in complex institutions and business models. The rush for the next “big product” or “big idea” has deprived us of the simplicity that is needed when designing a business. We continually see entrepreneurs that benevolently try to be innovative and creative, but good intentions do not equal success. But where good intention met with simplicity, Nathan was able to undo the burden of loose change. “You already have to get your change, keys, wallet, and cellphone out of your pockets anyway; at this point, loose change often becomes a burden, we think that a lot of people, if given the opportunity, would choose to make contributions to some worthy causes.”
Moving forward, Nathan aims to grow the organization and reach all major US airports. With positive discussions occurring at airports such as Stockton, McClellan-Palomar, Bakersfield and Monterey, the signs are promising for this young start-up. “Over the next two years our goal is to achieve complete coverage of California.There are 20 commercial airports, ranging from really small – 10,000 or so enplanements, to LAX at 30 million enplanements. California is a really great market for us to be in with 10% of all enplanements, which is about 85 million enplanements annually.”
Renowned British Historian Paul Johnson says, “Trust what is simple and can be understood at a glance.” This is especially pertinent to Nathan since Meaningful Change works to bridge the gap between for-profit airport corporations, donors and important nonprofits. He adds, “Transparency for us is one of our greatest values; our model and how we operate is really simple: we pledge 80 percent of all the proceeds that we raise directly to the nonprofits that we work with.” Nathan works day in and day out to build a trustworthy business where different sectors can come together and each comes out on the winning end.
“The two players that we play a lot with are the airports, they are for-profit, but there a lot of politics involved as most are municipally owned. There’s federal grant money coming in, they have board members and supervisors that are on the county or city level, so they are interesting organizations to work with. It’s been a real learning experience learning how to interact and do business with them. On the nonprofit side, we want to allow them to focus on what they do best, and not have to worry about obtaining grants, or hiring fundraising managers to meet fundraising goals. It felt like a perfect opportunity to step in.”
These are some lofty goals, but Nathan has the mantle to back them up. While in high school, he co-founded Chess for Kids, a free afterschool program that taught K-8 students how to play chess. Nathan also tutored for four years, helping fellow students excel in academics and preparing them for college. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Nathan founded the California Volleyball Club; as club director, Nathan mentored dozens of youth and shared with them the positive impact that sports can have in one’s life. In 2010, Nathan left to travel throughout the Asia-Pacific and volunteer in Vietnam. Upon his return to the US, he joined BetterWorks, a Los Angeles-based startup with the mission to “make work rewarding,” before branching out on his own to work on Meaningful Change. “There wasn’t that mission that really resonated with me within another company. That got me thinking, if there is no other company that I really want to work for right now what’s really holding me back from pursuing the idea of stating my own company?”
Coming to terms with the risks of branching out on his own, Nathan realized that he didn’t want to see a bin at an airport in the future and regret not having taken the leap. It was then when he met someone with a perfectly complementary skill set, his soon to be co-founder, Sarah Prochaska. The team was assembled and timing felt right. Meaningful Change was born.
By identifying a problem and simplifying the experience, Nathan has found a way to give back. Meaningful Change is improving the airport experience and expediting the most frustrating aspect of boarding your plane, the security screening process. With Meaningful Change the experience of donating is convenient and hassle-free, making a more enjoyable airport experience for everyone.
Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and are driven by unique sets of beliefs. The beliefs themselves are often times not what make entrepreneurs successful, but rather the intense passion with which these entrepreneurs are willing to pursue these beliefs. Nathan’s love of travel and unrelenting passion for actualizing social good show us how it’s done. “Get out there and do it. I think that fear of failure at least for myself held me back for a while. Now I’m all about taking the risk and going for what it is that you are passionate about.”
Javier Noris is an economist by training and an aspiring social entrepreneur by practice. He is fascinated with technology as a tool for development and its potential as a catalyst for change. He is currently an IDEX Fellow working in the social enterprise sector in India. You can follow him on Twitter @Javier_Noris.