We are often advised to do as Robert Frost once wrote, to “follow the road less traveled,” but as with many things, this is easier said than done. To drop a million dollar salary job at JP Morgan in order to start a nonprofit takes courage. To live on the streets while training for a marathon and raising money for others on the streets instead of yourself might take even more.
Here, with help from the eco-friendly Swedish snus brand General, we introduce you to six inspiring people who carved their own pathway, but not for selfish reasons or personal success. They faced challenges and experienced personal growth–both of which General supports, encourages and likens to climbing mountains–although they took their personal growth and turned it toward humanity. The climbed the mountain and brought others to the top with them. They are people who we would like to call Rebels with a Cause.
We will never forget Kony 2012, one of the most viral videos in recent history. Produced by Invisible Children, Inc. in March 2012, video received over 40 million views and was tweeted by celebrities, including Rihanna and Oprah, in just three days. Little did we know, however, that one of the men behind the production team left jobs at JP Morgan & Associates, Deloitte and Touche LLP, and Brentwood Associates to join Invisible Children. This man is Ben Keesey.
Keesey graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Applied Mathematics, Management and Accounting. In other words, he was set on a straight path toward making large amounts of money in finance or a directly related field. Although in 2005, the emotional response he experienced during a trip to Africa following his senior year at UCLA overshadowed the world of finance. Leaving behind banks and stacks of money, Keesey became CFO of Invisible Children and began to help combat the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Africa. He is now CEO and Executive Director for the organization, which uses media, mobilization, protection and recovery to assist African communities with immediate needs as well as create long-term impacts.
After losing a bet to his roommate, a self-proclaimed 33-year-old womanizer and man who suffered from fear of commitment pledged to be celibate for a year. Rather than break his end of the bet, the Australian man dedicated his time and energy to raising funds for the nonprofit Free to Shine, which uses education to help prevent sex trafficking in Cambodia.
Pete Lynagh thought this would be a yearlong treacherous journey, but on January 1, 2013 he began saving children’s lives and learning much about himself. “I had to fill that void with self love rather than external validation from women,” Lynagh told us. Throughout the year, he raised over $50,000 and visited Cambodia to meet the children he was helping. On December 31, 2013, he wrote on his Facebook, “Contrary to my original plan [of] waking up in the Playboy mansion high ‘5’ing Hugh Heffner and a dozen of his play bunnies…. What really happened wasn’t eventful at all.” Lynagh spent New Years with friends and was asleep by 10:30. The year of chastity changed the way in which he appreciates himself, his role in society, and his views toward women. This year, Lynagh is working with The Big Umbrella, a foundation working locally in Australia and overseas. He is also part of a program that teaches low-income secondary school students in Melbourne about social justice, fundraising, and leadership skills.
She was an all around, self-proclaimed power woman who lived the life of a bi-coastal, high-power executive consultant. She was writing her first business book and in talks for a television gig, but now she’s nearly broke because of a $20,000 fertility preservation procedure.
In 2008, Alice Crisci was diagnosed with breast cancer, meaning that if she survived, she had a 50/50 chance of becoming infertile. Instead of leaving it to chance, she froze 14 embryos created with a sperm donor before undergoing chemo treatments. Within weeks of her diagnoses and charging upwards of $20,000 to her Amex for this prodecure, Crisci also founded the non-profit Fertile Action to help other women with breast cancer afford fertility preservation. Despite Fertile Action’s successes, Crisci struggled. In 2011, she faced two miscarriages from natural procreation, had to restart PTSD treatments as if they had never begun, and declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Referring to this situation, she wrote, “I can either struggle like a champ or struggle like a little bitch. So I’m gonna struggle like a champ.” Her struggling like a champ prevailed and after two more miscarriages from natural procreation, Crisci gave birth earlier this year to her fertility preservation son, Dante.
During the Vietnam War, the United States was responsible for turning Laos into the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. Americans carried out secret bombings in the impoverished country, totaling an amount that equates to the country being bombed every eight minutes, 24-hours a day for nine years. Out of the 270 million cluster bombs dropped, over 75 million failed to detonate, leaving the country littered in potential explosions.
In 2010, Elizabeth Suda traveled to Laos, heard and experienced these stories firsthand, and left behind her comfortable life working with Coach in New York to work with the Swiss NGO, Helvetas. Inspired by local artisans who crafted spoons from the excess bomb metal and driven to educated Americans about the circumstances, Suda launched her PeaceBomb Project, which employs 30 Laotian farmer-artisans. The local artisans craft jewelry from recycled bomb materials and for each piece sold, 3 square-meters of bomb-littered land is cleared. For Suda, the PeaceBomb Project—now part of her jewelry line ARTICLE22 and sold in over 39 countries—is just the beginning. “Our plan is to expand our footprint globally in places where impact is needed,” she says.
He runs between five and 15 miles every day and last year ran in the San Francisco half-marathon. The 53-year-old is now training for the full-length, 26-mile event. Sounds like your average runner, right? Wrong.
After his daily runs, Ronnie Gooman showers at a friend’s apartment on Haight Street and lies down to sleep every night in a San Franciscan homeless camp underneath a Highway 101 overpass. The homeless artist’s childhood was wrought with drugs and alcohol; he spent six years in prison for burglary. Although, five years ago his life changed directions, as he conquered his addictions, enrolled in classes at the City College of San Francisco, devoted his life to art, and began completing odd jobs. Yet despite these efforts, Goodman has been on the streets for the past two years. Now, with the help of fans and friends pooling money for his $120 entry fee, Goodman will run the San Francisco Marathon later this month, raising money for the organization Hospitality House. Hospitality House has helped Goodman, providing him with art supplies and support, but rather than raising money solely for himself, he’s helping the entire homeless population. “This is my chance to give back,” Goodman told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That makes me happy.”
Tanner Wendell Stewart
Born and raised in the small town of Enterprise, Oregon, a young photographer’s visions of the world were confined. He knew about human trafficking, but to him—like most of us—it was just a statistic. In 2012, however, his photographic vision expanded from concerts to incorporate the global arena when a Bulgarian man offered to sell him a baby for $50.
When Seattle-based photographer Tanner Stewart went to Bulgaria volunteering with the A21 campaign, a human trafficking nonprofit, the group visited a small village where Stewart approached a man, asking to photograph his baby. The translator began tugging Stewart away from the situation. According to Stewart, the translator said, “The man just said, ‘You can buy my baby for $50.’” This single sentence altered the course of Stewart’s career. Upon his return to the U.S., Stewart veered from concert photography and launched a yearlong project to raise money and awareness surrounding human trafficking. In 2013, Stewart posted one photograph everyday, and earlier this year he raised $70,000 via Indiegogo to turn his photographs into a book, donating 100 percent of profits to A21. Following the $50 Bulgarian offer, he successfully donated $50,000 to combat human trafficking. “I don’t think generosity is about money,” Stewart says in a video about his campaign. “Generosity is about your heart.”
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