Only 29 years old, Shannen O'Brian graduated from McGill University in International Development and went on to create the charitable organization Karma Exchange, a social enterprise that funds the development and sustainability of northern Ghana. From clean drinking water to shelter, she has helped create a better living environment for people all over Ghana, and doesn't plan on stopping any time soon. Find out more about this YP in today's feature...
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I run Karma Exchange, a social enterprise that funds the Create Change Foundation’s charitable work in Northern Ghana. With Karma Exchange’s network of partner businesses, you can get your early morning coffee, buy your favourite pair of jeans, go to that yoga class, take a friend out for dinner, and at the same time you’re sending a kid to school or providing a family with clean water. All — that’s 100% — of our profits go to projects in Ghana. To date, we’ve given 20,000 people access to clean water, renovated and equipped seven rural primary schools, and help over 1,000 girls finish high school and get to university each year.
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I wanted to set up a sustainable source of revenue for the work we do in Ghana and raise more money each year to begin expanding our programs around the world.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
I love the four months a year I spend in Ghana and seeing people's lives improved because of the work we do. When you see 2,000 people drinking out of a mud puddle and then visit again to see clean water flowing out of pipes, that feels good. Seeing our girls graduate with university degrees instead of dropping out and being forced into marriage, that feels good. The hardest part is turning people away because our funding has run out. That is seriously heartbreaking.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’d like to expand our girls’ education programs all over the world, especially in countries where they’re vulnerable to sex trafficking. Karma Exchange will have made that possible by spreading to other cities and making charity a part of people’s everyday lives.
What does success look like to you?
If you can find what you love to do so going to work everyday is a joy, that’s success. I have definitely found success.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
The launch of Karma Exchange has been the biggest milestone in my career. To be a part of that has been the biggest honour of my life.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
I hear so many complain they’d love to have more meaning in their lives and career. It’s possible! You just have to be determined and believe in something. Also: network, network, network to get you there.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Karma Exchange exists solely to fund Create Change Foundation. It’s our priority to ensure as much money as possible reaches the people we work with. And since we’re fortunate enough to have our administrative costs donated privately, 100% of any donation made goes straight to providing someone access to improved education or clean water.
What is Notable to you?
The difference that one person can make if they actually stand up and do something. It’s notable when people don’t let excuses stop them from focusing on what’s really important to them.
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