Social-good rock star Jessica Jackley helps students transform themselves into problem-solvers.

The Economist honored Jackley with its 2011 No Boundaries award for cofounding the microlending site, Photo by Lynne DeLade

“Just get started,” Jessica Jackley advises students in her class, Entrepreneurial Design for Social Change. “Whether it’s something very small, or whether you have a grand vision for a huge endeavor, just start taking steps in that direction.”

She’s the perfect role model. A Barer Visiting Fellow at Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict (CRCC), Jackley is one of the country’s best-known social entrepreneurs. While still in her 20s she co-founded, the website that enables web users to make small loans to small business people all over the globe.

Jackley, 35, a 2007 graduate of Stanford Business School, eventually took her skills to the for-profit sector, facilitating crowdfunding for U.S. startups. But her personal story of making a difference in the world continues to inspire. First she worked for a nonprofit in Africa after college. Then—dreaming of alleviating poverty there and in other developing countries—she merged microfinance and the internet.

One requirement of her class is that students identify and develop a real-life project. “What I want them to do is create something that solves a problem,” she says. Students are devising plans to make Drew greener, to promote the study of science and math, to help local restaurants waste less food and to help upgrade services at a community center. “The social enterpreneurship world is nothing exclusive or far away —it’s a world students can opt into, at any time, by taking action.”

Jackley and her husband, writer and religion scholar Reza Aslan, the 2012-2013 Wallerstein Distinguished Professor at the CRCC, lecture together on global transformation in the digital age.—Mary Jo Patterson


Watch Jackley’s TED Talk, Poverty, Money and Love.