At the age of 19, Charlie Javice has already been called “one of the most creative people in business” by Fast Company magazine. A sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, Charlie is the founder of PoverUP, a non-profit organization that allows like-minded students to learn, connect, and invest in microfinance and social businesses. The organization is already up and running in 50 schools, and has been profiled in Forbes.
Charlie has accomplished more in her teens than most adults do their whole lives. We were fortunate to catch her for a moment to discuss how she founded PoverUP, and how she hopes to make a difference.
You’re only a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, which makes what you’re doing with PoverUP especially impressive. I wonder when you first became interested in giving back to the community?
Even though I grew up in Westchester, my dad is French. For most of my childhood, we traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and South America. I’ve always been interested in helping out people, ever since a young age. Even in Westchester, I saw first hand that people are reliant on organizations to help them survive. For 7 or 8 years, I helped out at a soup kitchen in Mamaroneck, where about 900 families are completely reliant on food stamps to survive. I noticed that every year, the same faces were coming in. I thought that was totally astounding, and it made me ask myself: “How do we break the cycle of poverty?”
When did you first start volunteering abroad?
At the end of 10th grade in high school, I had the opportunity to teach English on the border between Thailand and Burma. Everyone told me that I was crazy for going there, but I wanted to make a difference. In the area, tourism is the main industry, so by teaching people to speak English, I was enabling them to get steady, well-paid jobs.
While I was there, I became very interested in microfinance, which I didn’t know anything about. It seemed incongruous to me that $200 could lift someone out of poverty, so I wanted to learn how that system worked, and how you could build a sustainable infrastructure to support it.
When I came back to the United States, I realized that there weren’t many programs in place for students to give back. I could have made a bake sale, but that wasn’t a viable option unless you wanted me to poison someone. [laughs]. So I decided to create a movement that could really have an impact.
What was the main idea that founded PoverUP?
I saw PoverUP as having three arms—to learn, to connect, and to invest in order to alleviate poverty. With PoverUP, we are bringing Web 2.0 to social innovation.
On the learning side, it’s an interactive approach to research and education. We focus on bringing together some of the top research institutes worldwide with personal work — articles, news and research alike. We take social research and high impact philanthropy, and put it all in one place. Our idea is that if you know nothing about social impact, you can still access and contribute to build collective knowledge. For further engagement, we’re helping people find internships and career opportunities in many different types of environments, from top Wall Street CSR and social impact funds, to consulting at non-profits in Swaziland.
On the connection side, we want to help members of our generation to build a profile and broadcast themselves. We facilitate their connections based on their passions and interests.
And on the investment side, we’re focusing on five main themes. First traditional microcredit, then education, in terms of what we could do with educational loans. Finally, we’re focusing on low-income housing, healthcare, and clean energy.
How do you balance work and school?
Well, one of the best things about PoverUp is that it is by students for students. My brother is the co-founder with me, and he’s a freshman at University of Pennsylvania. Being in school allows us to take what we learn in the classroom and apply the theories to real life. It’s a lot of fun, and a little bit of sleep. We fit it in.
You’ve been really successful at raising money, and managing the organization. Where did your financial education come from?
From asking a lot of questions and being really curious. I’ve also been really lucky—if I have a question, my dad is usually able to answer it. And I go to professors at Wharton all of the time. Even when I was 17, I was going to social impact conferences, which doesn’t come without a few embarrassing moments, so it’s taught me how to be really brave.
How did you come up with the name “PoverUP”?
My brother and I were bouncing around ideas, and we thought “what’s the point of our business plan.” We realized it was to alleviate poverty by lifting people up. So we combined “poverty” and “up.”
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
Working for sure, and hopefully inspiring more people. Doing good on a daily basis and not as an afterthought.