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by Aman Singh Das | April 22, 2011


There are entrepreneurs who step up to their first time at bat and hit it out of the ballpark.

I was not one of those people, especially in entrepreneurship. Like many social entrepreneurs, I had a mission and a lot of passion but no clue on what I was getting into.

Early beginnings

But I had momentum and an early interest in sustainability. I started my first nonprofit with my mother when I was five years old: A community playground built out of recycled tires in our New Jersey neighborhood.

I credit my mother for teaching me the core tenets of what comprises and sustains a community. I learnt grant writing when I was a mere teenager. Ivy League wasn't a choice. Instead I was hauled to the Evergreen State College because of its preeminent environmental studies center.

Living the dream: A global citizen

I left the U.S. when I was 22 to backpack around the world. Nice Jewish girls from the suburbs of Manhattan didn’t drop out of graduate school to do such things, much less ones with a successful track record in their career of choice.

But I needed to see the world and discover my place in it, knowing that I couldn’t truly understand this by sitting in the safe cushion of academia, learning about other cultures from Xeroxed copies of others' research.

But one year of travel turned into five years. I bartered and exchanged my way around the world. When I came upon companies I liked, I helped them with their marketing and promotions. In return, I was fed and given tips and leads to the next place on my itinerary.

The global ecosystem was alive and I navigated my way by following my intuition and giving back to whatever places and people moved me.

Return to New York—and a 9-to-5 Job

Somewhere along the way between Bangkok, Berlin and Bali, I got the idea for a business concept: Giving back and bartering through travel.

By the time I moved back to New York and got into the groove of nine-to-five nonprofit work, I became so bored with complacency that I knew I had caught the entrepreneurial bug.

Even Entrepreneurs Don't Win in a Recession

It was five years ago that my eco travel startup was born. Oddly, I didn’t end up on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine, but instead found myself sitting on my couch staring at the news of the recession and our diminishing economy.

I had failed to launch. I had isolated myself from the startup community and by not acknowledging where I needed help, I had committed an entrepreneur's worst mistake.

But failure helps.

Moving on: The Green Breakfast Club

This process taught me so much about green entrepreneurship that I decided to dedicate my time and resources to help others navigate the on- and offline world to get the resources needed to launch their ideas.

I began teaching free startup classes at the public library and the Foundation Center, and recently formed a new startup, Third Rail Ventures with the mission of seeding and supporting projects for social and ecological change.

The first venture in our portfolio is the Green Breakfast Club, a monthly networking event to grow green startups through barter and resource sharing.

Our mission is to help, share, create and innovate, and be part of the movement that is transforming business into a vehicle for real change. We are in this together and the Green Breakfast Club is the outcome of what started as a crazy idea.

We have experience, the passion and a vision. How can you help?

--By Danielle Lanyard

Danielle Lanyard is a lifelong activist and nonprofit professional. Currently, she a NYC-based serial entrepreneur who helps support and launch startups for social and ecological change.

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Filed Under: CSR