- Sunny Wang
- May 30, 2019
“I am passionate about the intersections of business and social change.”For many business students, the notion of using our coursework to impart real, tangible impact on the world is incredibly enticing. I sat down with Chris Janssen, Ivey HBA ‘13 alumni and Founder of Textbooks for Change and eLengo, to gain a candid picture of the social impact space.
Let’s begin with your experience as a Western and Ivey student.
I started at Ivey in 2011. I had been enrolled in political science in the years prior, but realized that it really wasn’t for me. I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I had an older brother who had attended Ivey, so I kind of followed in his footsteps. At the time, I had also been involved in the London community through sophing, Terry Fox, and volunteering for other nonprofits, so I knew that I wanted to give back in some way. Looking back, my original goal was always to work for a nonprofit; which may be why I ended up with the more unconventional path of entrepreneurship and impact.
Describe your first experience within the social impact space. What would you say was a defining moment for you?
My first internship out of Ivey was with the United Way, where I worked on community impact projects in the London area. Through Ivey, I also conducted research on the donation habits of the millennial generation. I had always thought about mixing business acumen with social entrepreneurship, so in HBA2, I pursued certificates in both sustainability and entrepreneurship. I also enrolled myself in some of Ivey’s new venture and social entrepreneurship classes, which taught me a lot.
If I could highlight a specific defining moment, I would say that the one thing that pushed me to where I am now was a class trip to rural Honduras. The team that I worked on for the service project developed a solution for coffee farmers who were being taken advantage of by middlemen. By organizing cooperatives, they were able to cut out the supply chain’s middlemen and save a lot of money. This was a pretty pivotal experience for me.
How did Textbooks for Change start?
I didn’t land a full-time job after Ivey. In fact, I didn’t even go through the traditional recruiting process because there were no jobs that I was interested in. After graduation, I packed my bags and left for Rwanda on a service learning trip, where I spent most of my time working with students in local libraries. The empty bookshelves and tattered material got the wheels turning in my head. Back home, lots of peers had excess textbooks that were just sitting in their rooms, collecting dust ― why not put them to good use? Upon returning to Canada, I took on a number of side ventures to generate capital, bought a used station Wagon for $1,000, and started Textbooks for Change in Southwestern Ontario.
Give us a quick rundown of T4C.
It works like this: we’ll collect textbooks from Canadian universities and colleges. Fifty percent of the books are sent to our partner universities in East Africa, and there is a lot of impact research that is conducted to make sure that they are used properly. We then resell twenty percent of the books across North America. We’ve donated nearly 300,000 textbooks to date and contributed nearly $300,000 to student clubs and non-profits. I am still involved as a strategic advisor and Chairman of the Board.
What are you up to now in the social impact space?
I am currently working on a startup called eLengo, which helps entrepreneurs and farmers reach their full potential in the agriculture space. It’s a digital community where people can sign up for access to forums, educational resources, a dynamic marketplace, and online courses in various areas of agriculture. With over 25,000 farmers signed up, we are now looking at expanding our course offerings and increasing our impact across East Africa.
Finally, what advice would you give to students who are interested in social impact, but feel compelled to pursue more traditional fields of business?
I would say this: as an Ivey student, many of my peers were the type to don suits and work in fields such as strategy consulting or investment banking. That was never for me, and I still don’t love suits ― even if it gave me all the money in the world. Only about twenty percent of those who started in those jobs are still there. At the end of the day, it’s important to 'run your own race' and do what ignites the fire inside you. Look to create a lasting impact for all the stakeholders you are involved with, not just the shareholders – it's the new way of doing business and it's here to stay.