Social entrepreneurship is on the rise among twentysomethings. Though many may associate the term with a one-for-one company like TOMS or Warby Parker, social entrepreneurship is simply (or not so simply) the pursuit of innovative solutions for social problems. With the amount of social problems to address in the world today, the possibilities for social entrepreneurs are endless. However, resources and networks for twentysomething social entrepreneurs can be hard to find or navigate.
Madelle, 24, is passionate about gathering and equipping her generation to be leaders and social entrepreneurs. Born and raised in Bamenda, a small town in Cameroon, Madelle’s love for leadership development and social entrepreneurship began with her education.
Her surname Kangha, meaning “go-getter,” is an accurate description of Madelle’s “can do” attitude. This was most evident in her secondary schooling, when she won the highest national exam score of any female in Cameroon, as well as prizes in Biology, Accounting, History, Economics and Chemistry, despite never being top of her class.
“When I heard my name as the top female performer in Cameroon…In that moment I embraced my love for learning. I owned my ‘nerdity,” and I said, ‘No’ to the enemy of self doubt and I said, ‘Yes’ to self confidence and belief, even in the seemingly impossible,” Madelle said.
In light of those scores and prizes, she was urged to pursue medicine as a career, but chose to pursue arts and entrepreneurship instead.
After high school, she chose to be a part of the inaugural class of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) over a full scholarship to the University College of London (UCL) to study Law. While she loved the idea of going to UCL to study Law, ALA represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in her leadership and entrepreneurial journey. ALA is a Pan African educational institution dedicated to creating lasting social impact across the African continent by cultivating and providing lifelong support to the next generation of African leaders. Deciding to attend ALA was a decision that has changed the course of Madelle’s life.
Beginning Madelle’s journey into entrepreneurship, a core part of the curriculum at ALA is the Culminating Community Service Project (CSP). This requires students to design and implement a project in a local community in South Africa. As a teenager, Madelle learned how to excel in unfamiliar grounds; work with peers from different countries and backgrounds, enabling her to learn invaluable communication and team work skills; and open to new ways of thinking and to sail through language and cultural barriers to achieve a common goal.
After ALA, Madelle moved to London to study Law and Anthropology at the London School of Economics, the world’s leading dedicated social science institution. Madelle received a BA in law and anthropology, a unique degree which combines traditional law courses with the social, economic and political dynamics that lawyers encounter. In today’s globalized and interconnected world, such an interdisciplinary degree is an important asset.
Throughout her university studies Madelle had opportunities to undertake highly challenging internships and work experience programs with leading organizations, as well as volunteering with law clinics and London public schools, tutoring and raising students’ aspirations for higher education.
“These experiences taught me that making a difference is much more difficult and valuable than making a buck. Thus upon graduating from university, I had not only acquired the necessary knowledge and experience for a law career; I had also developed the grit and leadership skills I needed to pursue my goal of being a change agent,” Madelle said.
To further pursue those social entrepreneurship dreams of change, Madelle most recently attended Watson University in Boulder, Colorado, which is a special semester-long accelerator program for student innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs. Watson provided exceptional mentorship and training in social entrepreneurship, the hosting of a TEDx conference, and Madelle’s most valuable takeaway – the theory of “Finding Your Bliss.”
“In today’s world, we are often too busy and spend time following conventional cultural and societal norms. Bliss is all about putting aside the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us,” Madelle explained.
Since Watson, Madelle has moved back to Cameroon to spearhead several projects. She founded Youths4Change, a movement that mentors and empowers youth of all abilities across Cameroon. Their mission is to cultivate the next generation of Cameroonian youth who are passionate and committed to creating lasting positive change across Cameroon. She also co-founded & is currently President of Jumpstart Academy Africa, a for impact venture that works across Cameroon and Nigeria, creating a wave of entrepreneurial leaders by pioneering a world class Leadership and Entrepreneurship curriculum across educational institutions. Their vision is to cultivate ethical leaders and entrepreneurs across Africa. She is also currently the Director of OneWorld Summit for the African continent, a rising global event which started in Australia and is now run by young change makers around the world.
“It is not naïve to want to change the world and it’s not arrogant to believe you can do it, Someone has to,” Madelle advises her twentysomething peers. “Only the badly informed think the status quo is acceptable. Don’t accept the status-quo, and don’t just challenge it. Uproot the Status-quo!”
Madelle believes what the world needs most is more people who specialize in the impossible, and she believes the key to doing so is to dream really, really big.
Social Entrepreneur • 24 • Bamenda, Cameroon
What originally sparked the idea to start LSTN?
We actually started the company to fund Starkey Hearing Foundation. It wasn’t an afterthought. I had been interested in social enterprise for a while, buying products like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes. One day I saw a video on YouTube about a woman my age hearing for the first time. I found out there are 360 million people just like this with hearing loss. My life has always revolved around music, so I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. It made me wonder if there was an organization out there supporting hearing restoration, so I did some research and found Starkey. At the time, I was working at a record label and did not personally have money to give to them. So I started a company to contribute to their goal of changing the world through sound. Music is the greatest thing in the world – everyone should be able to experience it. In order to change the world, our product had to be cool, and people had to want it – and what’s cooler than headphones right now? We made them out of reclaimed wood because not only does it make them stand out from the pack, they sound amazing as well.
Was becoming an entrepreneur always a part of your life plan?
Being an entrepreneur was always in my DNA. When I was a kid, I’d sit in my room for hours and think about ideas and inventions. However, music was my biggest passion so I jumped right into that industry at 16, working at music venues, retailers and record labels for over 10 years. I never really bothered with school, rather putting my time into reading as many business books as possible, watching as many videos, following as many entrepreneur blogs as I could, researching how to start and run companies, learning how to build websites.
How has LSTN grown since its beginning in 2012?
From idea to company, from apartment to office, from a dream to helping 10,000+ people hear for the first time. At the end of 2012, LSTN was still just prototypes being sold on our site. Now our products are in retailers that I love such as Nordstrom and Whole Foods. We’ve been able to partner with brands that we’re fans of such as TOMS, Movember, Hudson and Spotify. It’s been an incredible learning experience. We’ve been able to travel all over the States, to Asia, South America, and are leaving for the UK and Africa in a week. Very proud of what we’ve built in a small amount of time.
What’s been your number one tool or strategy for growing your company to this point?
Hiring great people who share the desire to build a better life for themselves and others.
Where do you get inspiration from personally and professionally?
Personally I look up to entrepreneurs and companies with forward thinking ideas to make the world a more connected and better place, such as Tesla, Virgin, Facebook, charity:water. LSTN’s mission is to change the world through the power of music. We’re not just another headphone company, we are permanently changing lives with every product we sell. That inspires us every day to do better and grow bigger, so we can help more people connect with others.
Do you find that your age (being a twentysomething) helps, hinders or doesn’t affect you being a successful business owner?
Definitely helps. We may not be as experienced as others, as no one at our company has ever worked in electronics. However it allows us to go in and look at things from a fresh perspective than if we had known everything about the industry. We aren’t jaded, we’re excited to go to work every day and learn new things, travel to new places, meet new people.
What does the future look like for you and for LSTN?
Growing our U.S. distribution and launching internationally are our core focuses. This year we are launching in Japan, South Korea, Australia, and working on deals for a few other territories. We want to be a global brand. For me, I want to gain as many amazing life experiences as I can through music, giving back and entrepreneurship.
At the end of every interview, we ask the same question: If you had a big group of your peers (twentysomethings) in a room, what is one piece of advice you would to give them?
Stop doing what others want you to do. Stop being afraid of whatever you are apprehensive about and take the steps to follow your dreams. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.
Check out LSTN Headphones at lstnheadphones.com
Founder of LSTN Headphones • 28 • Los Angeles, CA
Q. How did you get involved with Nisolo Shoes? What was the journey like getting there?
With my liberal arts undergraduate degree in Economics & Spanish and a minor in Math, I wasn’t exactly sure of my career path. I worked at UCSB for a bit with international students, I moved to Italy and worked for a small marketing firm and then moved back to Santa Barbara where I worked for a school in their business office and coached volleyball. That’s when I started a handmade swimsuit company on the side, working with small scale seamstresses in Mexico and my interest in the fashion industry peaked. I decided to move to NYC in order to gain as much experience as I could working in the heart of the industry and going to graduate school at night. After spending 3 years in NYC, the corporate world that I had been working in lost it’s appeal to me and I realized that my ideal work would combine my love of fashion and my passion for work in developing countries.
I began researching fashion brands that had a social cause behind them. While I was interviewing for some of those organizations, a friend who I met in NYC sent an email introducing me to her friend, Patrick, who was in Peru and was working on starting a shoe company. Our first Skype call was 3 hours long and we quickly realized that our interests and vision were very aligned. A few weeks later, I flew down to Peru to check it all out. In Trujillo, Patrick showed me a town full of amazingly talented and gifted shoemakers. After seeing this, I decided to quit my job in NYC, sell all of my furniture, ship most of my belongings home to California and head to Peru, this time on a one way ticket. That was in June 2011.
Q. Your background is in the fashion industry- what was the transition like from high-end corporate fashion to a start-up? How did it affect you personally and professionally?
This was a transition I always wanted and hoped would happen. I moved to NYC to gain experience working in corporate fashion, but knew that it was not where my passion lay. I relate to and get more excited by the contributions to fashion that handmade products and more boutique type brands and manufacturers bring.
Q. Tell me about Nisolo currently- how has the company transitioned from what it was in the beginning until now?
We’ve moved Nisolo from a garage in Oxford, MS, to working out of my house in the 12th South neighborhood in Nashville to now a beautiful and spacious showroom and office space in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville. As I type this, I’m currently in Peru also moving production to a larger space so that we can scale in order to meet our projections for the coming years. Stateside, we now have an amazing team of more than the 3 co-founders, which includes 2 staff members and 5 interns. It’s an ongoing journey – with exciting changes every day. Last week, Patrick and I organized a retreat with all of the shoemakers in “el campo”- the countryside outside of Trujillo – where together we played soccer, BBQ’d and talked about our Nisolo vision and future and their part in it. It was an incredible time with over 40 people and their families, people who in some way are involved with Nisolo: from leather suppliers to shoemakers to shoebag seamstresses.
Q. What does the future hold for Nisolo? Where are you guys going in the next year or two?
We’ve started introducing more accessories to our line – including hand bags that strike a balance between high quality, rugged leathers and bright-colored, Peruvian woven fabrics. This Fall we are also coming out with some more dress styles for men and women. I hope one day to create a knee high riding boot modeled off a vintage pair that has been passed down to me from my mother.
Over the next few years, we plan to continue to develop our line of shoes and accessories while creating more jobs in Peru in this sector. In addition, we plan to empower more artisans by developing further high-quality handmade products – we have some ideas in mind but nothing concrete yet.
Q. Any other projects you are working on? Any projects you are excited about?
We are very excited to be working on a new website for Nisolo. We won a prize to work with a top branding agency out of NYC for 3 months and amongst other things, they are going to help us re-do our website, which will be huge for us. Our website was launched when we first started with very minimum funds in October 2011 and has not been updated since – it is long overdue for an overhaul!
Q. Since you are at the end of your 20′s, looking back, is there any advice you would give to those just starting out? Any lessons you’ve learned the past 10 years that you want to pass on?
Working experience was invaluable in helping me figure out what I like to do and what I don’t like to do. I moved to NYC when I was 23 after already having several years of an established, well salaried job. In New York, I took various non-paying and paying internships and jobs ranging from small 3 person teams to designers in the Meat Packing district to a luxury department store and then finally working for a world wide brand with annual sales of over 2 billion dollars. From there I was able to piece together and really figure out what direction I wanted to head and what I was passionate about. It was definitely a journey that was not easy at times and took a while, and not only helped me to understand myself better but also led me to a place professionally that I’m very proud of as well as stimulated and challenged every day.