Poverty, especially children living in poverty, has overarching ramifications for the global economy. According to Global Issues, 1 billion children live in poverty (out of 2.2 billion children), and more than 121 million children do not receive an education. Growing up in Sri Lanka, I was exposed to poverty at a very young age. It has always been around me and a part of my life. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity for a fantastic education by my mother, who worked several jobs to make this a reality for our family, which afforded me many opportunities in my life.

My exposure to poverty didn’t stop when I grew up and joined the workforce. While traveling around the world working with various stock exchanges, it was common to travel to meetings in fancy office buildings and find children begging on the streets for money and food.

Fast forward to 20 years: I sold my first company (MilleniumIT) to the London Stock Exchange, and was focused on making it easier for stock exchanges to process trades. However, I felt something was missing. The great economic divide I had experienced while traveling stuck with me. It was this separation that fueled by my desire to disrupt the distribution of wealth in the world and empower a new generation  – all through education.

The Start of the Cainan Foundation

My wife Cindy and I are determined to provide the tools and opportunity for these children to change the future  – for themselves, the communities they live in, and the world at-large. We believe the only way for children to overcome poverty and rise above current negative circumstances is through a proper education. And the stats back it up: according to the American Prospect, a year of school raised the earnings of welfare recipients by 7 percent, and if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty – equal to a 12 percent cut in global poverty! It has been many years since a generation has witnessed this kind of prosperity alongside the kind of dire poverty that we see around the globe today, and the time to address the problem is now.

Armed with our beliefs and this information, we set out to make this dream a reality. To fund the Cainan Foundation, I leveraged the skills and knowledge I acquired throughout my career working with different stock markets and founded a for-profit company – Ustocktrade. Ustocktrade’s profits would support the Cainan Foundation’s mission so I wouldn’t have to continuously be in fundraising mode. Both organizations went live in early 2016 after more than a year of behind-the-scenes preparation, and our goal is to begin work on our first school in 2017 in Sri Lanka.

Lessons Learned

So what have I learned about social entrepreneurship and the people who make it happen? There are a number of characteristics I feel are critical for social missions to succeed.

First, I believe all social entrepreneurs must have a deep-rooted passion in their beliefs and their cause. Cindy and I are incredibly motivated in making a difference in the lives of children and that drives us to do the work we did. This internal passion will propel the change they want to bring about in society, all while also motivating others to make a difference.

Social entrepreneurs also believe that providing a resource for others is their moral duty. I feel I’ve been put on this earth for a reason – to help children – and I will stop at nothing to accomplish this.

Social entrepreneurship, like any form of entrepreneurship, doesn’t come without its challenges. Some of these difficulties, like financing, are shared with the traditional entrepreneurship community. Financing is always a challenge — it’s tough for many companies to get and maintain funding. Some organizations can generate a sufficient income through donations, government subsidies and other investments, but it’s not always enough.

There is also competition — a lot of competition. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States along with millions of others in the world. Many have similar missions and all are vying for public support.

Another challenge is communicating vision effectively. It’s important for causes to be direct, transparent and clear with the problem (or problems) they are trying to solve. Having a clear vision listed on a functioning website is a good place to start!

Overall, my journey has been full circle — I came from a place where poverty was a part of my daily life, and now, have embarked on my next career path to fight poverty by helping one child at a time. I’ve learned a great deal about social entrepreneurship — and myself! — along the way and look forward to passing this mission on for generations to come.

If you’d like to learn more about the Cainan Foundation or contribute, please visit: http://www.thecainan.org/

Tony Weeresinghe is the Founder and CEO of Ustocktrade

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