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8 Recommended Reads for Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer book cover

Launching a business on its own is an act of bravery, often fueled by a drive to pursue a personal passion while making a living doing it. But what if that motivation is outside of ourselves? Meet the changemakers. They’re a unique breed of self-starters risking stability and jumping into the unknown with the goal of helping others.

When I speak to founders about the books that inspired them in business, many of the same titles surface—those tried-and-true bibles penned by startup trailblazers. But what books inspire acts of doing good and propel some of us to fight for social causes?

1. Aubry Walch, Co-Founder, The Herbivorous Butcher and Herbivorous Acres

Aubry and her brother, Kale, produce plant-based meats by hand in their Minneapolis “butcher shop,” sharing their vegan way of life through delicious products and a culture of acceptance. They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to start a nonprofit farm sanctuary.

Aubry’s reading pick: Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

“When I read Animal Liberation, I decided that I wanted to do something someday that had to do with animal rights. It was about the Animal Liberation Front and what they did, which a lot of people don’t like or agree with, but it showed how far they went to save animals’ lives. I was 15 or 16, so it’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’ I think that was the beginning of the end of anything else I was possibly going to do for a living.” —Aubry

2. Adelene Tan, Co-Founder, Sophia Rose Intimates

Sophia Rose Intimates was created by sister team Adelene and Carolyn Tan after their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. They built a design-minded and feminine wireless supportive bra for survivors.

Adelene’s reading pick: #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso

#Girlboss, a book by Sophia Amoruso, surrounded by pink rose petals.
Matthew Wiebe/Burst by Shopify

#GirlBoss, a bestselling book penned by the founder of Nasty Gal clothing, is part autobiography and part playbook for women in business.

Though Amoruso filed for bankruptcy after publication of the book, Adelene says she “still liked #GirlBoss in terms of a female figure who managed to make something out of her dolls, and it was completely unexpected. I also like stories about women doing other really amazing things, like in the tech industry, that don’t necessarily hit the headlines. I find those quiet entrepreneurs who are incredibly successful to be very inspiring.”

3. Mandy Multerer, Founder, My Sister

Mandy and her partner launched My Sister to bring awareness to sex trafficking. Profits from the sale of their shirts supported nonprofit work in education, prevention, and victim support. The business has since merged with The Outrage.

Mandy’s reading pick: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

“The title initially caught my attention because I’m so driven to travel. I can definitely get caught up in daydreams of new, interesting places to visit, so I love reading about others’ adventures and living vicariously through them. Plus, learning about the history of women’s rights and more about the people who fought so hard to get us to today is extremely humbling and motivating. Gloria introduces readers to many women we may not hear about but who were integral in human-rights movements. History, trailblazing women, and travels make My Life on the Road a go-to, inspiring read.” —Mandy

4. Sadaf Siddique, Co-Founder, KitaabWorld

Sadaf and her partner, Gauri Manglik, started KitaabWorld to address the diversity gaps in children’s books. The site curates and sells South Asian titles in their online store, while working with teachers to bring diverse voices to classrooms in America.

Sadaf’s reading pick: Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists by Michael Hamilton Morgan

“We always think that globalization is such a recent phenomenon. But conversations that we’re having now that we think are so new and contemporary can be traced back to struggles people have had in the past. Lost History was really eye-opening in that sense. It talks about this intertwined history between the east and the west and how much of today is because of yesterday.” —Sadaf

5. Gabriella Morrison, Tiny House Build

The Morrison family’s American dream didn’t deliver, so they sold most of their possessions and moved into a 150-foot trailer. The move was life-changing and spawned a business that teaches people how to build tiny houses and live (happily) with less. The couple’s most meaningful work, though, is advocacy—they work with government officials to help amend building codes because, Gabriella says, tiny houses could be a solution to the global housing crisis.

Gabriella’s reading pick: The Small House Book by Jay Shafer

The Small House Book, by Jay Shafer, sits on a wood surface, surrounded by tools.
Matthew Wiebe/Burst by Shopify

“The book that started the whole [tiny house] thing for us was The Small House Book by Jay Shafer, whom, really, we credit as being the father of the tiny house movement. That, to us, is our little bible. I bought the book, it showed up three days later and that was it. We were like, ‘OK, we’re getting rid of everything. We’re going to create a new life for ourselves.’ ” —Gabriella

6. Ashley Nell Tipton, Fashion Designer

Ashley was the first plus designer to win Project Runway. After her TV debut, she worked with JCPenney to develop a fashion-forward plus line—and even inspired the company to increase its topmost size—before launching her first namesake collection in November 2017. She has become a symbol of body positivity, using her social influence to inspire plus women to feel beautiful.

Ashley’s reading pick: Creating by Robert Fritz

“[The book] allowed me to really find out who I am as a creative individual. [It helped] change the way that I think about myself and the type of work that I put out there. Is there a response that I’m looking for? A reaction? Why am I doing the things that I do?”—Ashley

7. Dana Donofree, Founder, AnaOno

After receiving her breast cancer diagnosis at 28, Dana realized that there were limited bras for survivors, and most were matronly. AnaOno is a destination for post-op lingerie that isn’t designed for your grandmother.

Dana’s reading pick: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“I associated with [the story’s heroine, Katniss,] a lot because of my relationship with my little sister and her edge and her drive to never give up on anything. I was reading that during my cancer journey and when I launched my business, and I was always taking inspiration from her, like, ‘If Katniss can do it, if she can survive the Hunger Games, I can survive this.’ ” —Dana

8. Roz Campbell, Founder, Tsuno

When Roz discovered that girls in parts of Africa were missing a week of school each month because of their periods, she sidetracked from a career in industrial design to build Tsuno. The sustainable tampon company donates profits and product to support nonprofit One Girl.

Roz’s reading pick: Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky was the first book I read when I started learning about women’s empowerment and the horrific things that go on around the world. It shocked me, uplifted me, made me cry, and brought me joy. It didn’t just focus on the bad, but showed real-life situations and people who were doing something to create positive change, no matter how small. It was perfect timing because, at the time, I was just about to embark on my journey with Tsuno, and the stories told are so, so motivating.” —Roz

Feature image by Matthew Wiebe/Burst by Shopify