Can One Person Really Make an Impact? The Answer Is Yes — Here’s How

Every success story starts with one person who had an idea or a passion that led to a creative spark.  Rarely did their first efforts produce the desired results; but they persevered, rising from failure to try again and again. Think Thomas Edison in pursuit of proving electricity; Marie Curie’s discoveries in radioactivity and its medical uses; Renee Fleming’s start as a jazz singer before segueing to opera and crossover stardom. In “The Light We Carry,” Michelle Obama emphasizes the importance of thinking small as a good way to ignite your own internal light. Here are a few of the trailblazers Better has profiled through the years whose small sparks ignited to create powerful impact, helping make the world a better place.

Rohini Dey

As the owner of Chicago’s Vermillion restaurant, Rohini Dey understands that female restaurateurs face even greater challenges than their male counterparts. So, when Covid hit, she founded Let’s Talk Womxn (LTW), bringing together female independent restaurant operators to share concerns and best practices, collaborate to build economic group power, and provide emotional support. The Chicago initiative was so successful, LTW has expanded to 13 other cities, with more lined up to join soon. Dey was named MenuMasters Innovator of the Year for 2022 by Nation’s Restaurant News and one of Better’s 2022 Most Powerful Women.

Rohini Dey

Cristina Mittermeier

A marine biologist and photographer born in Mexico, Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, “Mitty,” developed a profound love of nature and indigenous communities in her home country. Her skills and passion vaulted her to international acclaim as a writer, conservationist and photographer. Cristina has been profiled and her work has been highlighted in hundreds of publications, including National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, CNN, McLean’s Magazine, TIME and Better. She’s also received many prestigious awards, including the Smithsonian Conservation Photographer of the Year Award and the Imaging Award for Photographers Who Give Back. In 2021 alone, she earned the Seattle Aquarium’s Sylvia Earle Medal and Travel + Leisure’s Global Vision Award.

Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier
Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier

Her determination to make the greatest possible impact trying to save the world’s oceans led her, along with her partner Paul Nicklen to cofound the nonprofit, SeaLegacy – harnessing the visual storytelling of a global network of renowned photographers, filmmakers and storytellers whose powerful media sparks conversations, instills hope, and inspires action. SeaLegacy also collaborates with local nonprofits and advocacy groups around the world. Christina and SeaLegacy are well on their way to accomplishing their goal of one billion committed ocean conservationists inspired by their vision of hope for the future too.

Ed Wehmer

Ed Wehmer grew up in a large family, working in the grocery store that his father owned in Wilmette, Illinois. The store ultimately failed, but Wehmer built on the hard lessons he learned from that experience and as an accountant working with banks, to develop his vision for a community bank that would thrive.  He embedded philanthropy and community outreach, as well as a family-centric lifestyle for employees in the model he launched with Lake Forest Bank & Trust, in the town where he and his wife were raising six children.

That first bank was so successful that Wehmer soon launched new banks or bought existing ones in other communities holding them under the Wintrust umbrella. One of his proudest moments was buying and improving the Wilmette location of his family’s grocery store to serve as North Shore Community Bank headquarters. With over 175 locations in at least four states, Wintrust recently announced an international purchase too.

José Andrés

José Andrés, born in Spain, learned cooking at home before he started working in the kitchen of Ferran Andria’s El Bulli, proclaimed by many to be the “greatest restaurant in the world.”

After immigrating to the United States with this family in the 1990s, Andrés became a citizen. As a chef, Andrés was recognized with a James Beard award in 2003, earning the title Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic; later, in 2018, he won for Humanitarian of the Year. TIME Magazine listed him as one of 100 Most Influential people in 2012 and 2018; in 2015, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal.

executive club holiday party
José Andres on stage at the Dec. 9 Executives Club Event.

Andrés is internationally known as the visionary humanitarian behind the founding of the World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit that uses the power of food to nourish communities in crisis, especially after natural disasters. His ThinkFoodGroup has the mission of changing the world through the food served at a diverse array of restaurants, including several in Chicago — JaleoPigtailCafé by the River, and Bazaar Meat — that aim to create thoughtful, ingredient-driven and innovative dishes that reflect authenticity and tradition.

Alicia Garza

When Alicia Garza wrote what she called, “a love letter to Black people,” in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin, her statement, “Black people, I love you. I love us. Our lives matter,” helped set the stage for what would become the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She, along with co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, would one day grace the cover of Time when they were listed in the 2020 100 Women of the Year list.

Her achievements since then are innumerable: she is Principal of the Black Futures Lab, whose mission is to make Black communities powerful in politics, a founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which is an international organizing project to end state violence and oppression against Black people, as well as the Strategy & Partnerships Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance — the nation’s premier voice for millions of domestic workers — and the co-founder of Supermajority, a home for women’s activism. She also hosts her own podcast, Lady Don’t Take No, from Oakland, CA, where speaks with activists, entertainers, and discusses current events.

Wherever she brings her talents, her message is always clear: that Black communities deserve to be powerful like all others, that women’s voices should be elevated, and that building a movement takes a lot more than just a hashtag — it takes people. Delving into the history of the country, the movements she has supported and her own story, her first book, The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart, is a fascinating look into how change is created.

Sylvia Earle

At 86 years old, world-renowned marine biologist, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, conservationist and author Dr. Sylvia Earle continues to be one of our most inspiring advocates for the protection of the world’s oceans. Named the first-ever Time magazine “Hero for the Planet,” and called “Her Deepness” by the New York Times and the New Yorker, Earle is also former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, founder of SEAlliance, and president and chairman of Mission Blue.

Sylvia Earle diving
Photo by Amos Nachoum

Having spent more than 7,000 hours underwater, led more than 100 expeditions, and authored countless publications, she knows all too well the threats our oceans face — but, she believes there is still room for optimism, and she’s on a mission to spread the message that while time is running out to save our oceans, it hasn’t yet.

Rick Bayless

In the 1980s, Rick and Deann Bayless entered Chicago’s restaurant scene with Frontera Grill; then came the high-end Topolobampo and street-food focused Xoco. Additional restaurants followed in Chicago and other cities. But creating and serving innovative takes on traditional Mexican food is only part of what Bayless is doing for Chicago and — at the risk of sounding a bit grandiose — the world. 

Chef Rick Bayless

Along the way, Bayless has given back to many local communities to an extent almost unheard of in the restaurant, or any other, industry. And he’s done so through organizations like the Frontera Farmer Foundation, the Bayless Family Foundation, and the IMPACT Culinary Training Program. In addition to these initiatives, he’s supported legislation to help restaurant workers, and he’s offered financial assistance and expert guidance to organizations like S.A.C.R.E.D. (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development). 

Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu’s life’s work is advancing women and girls. Previously, she ran The White House Project, she was on the launch team for Lean In and she was Chief Leadership Officer to Levo. Throughout her career, she’s had a crew supporting her and holding her accountable to achieve her goals. In 2018, she founded The Cru, a service designed to match women in accountability circles to support them in achieving their personal and professional goals.

Tiffany Dufu The Cru
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Lippman

In addition to running The Cru, Tiffany supports movements for equal pay for the unseen labor of caretaking including the Marshall Plan for Moms and PL+US. She also published her book “Drop the Ball” in 2017 which encourages women to release the unrealistic expectations of having to do it all, figure out what matters most to them and learn to get help from other people. Tiffany calls it her “love letter to women.”

For women struggling with juggling caregiving responsibilities, full-time jobs and other obligations, Tiffany has a piece of advice inspired by Cicely Tyson’s memoir. 

“Grant yourself the grace,” she says. “Every day, you’re just getting up, doing the best that you can, and doing right by yourself, your family, your community and the world. Just give yourself a hug.”


Invariably, the most inspiring stories showcase individuals who haven’t just overcome failure, they’ve also used their success to elevate others. Renee Fleming is beloved not simply for being a great soprano, but because she always looked to help students, entrepreneurs and others in creative fields, while staying close to her family. These types of stories create community and connect you to the inspiring stories of others. 

Such stories are at the heart of Make It Better Media Group’s publishing strategy too — locally, as well as globally. Who doesn’t love celebrating how a family member, neighbor or other community member pursued a passion, overcame challenges and succeeded? Who doesn’t want to be inspired by or learn from them too?

Our “Best Of” contest is a success because community members authentically vote for the businesses and that overcame the challenges every local business faces and have used their success to elevate others too. The content which flowed from our sponsorships of film festivals like the Chicago International Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festivals are great examples too.

We’re especially proud of our “You Said It” articles. They reflect advice from well-qualified authorities and are similar to op eds, but offer evergreen, helpful advice more often than political commentary. Here are a few of our favorites:

We’re similarly proud of the content developed from our live and virtual events and media sponsorships of events by others. You can watch our virtual events on MIB TV. See a few of our favorites here.

Like the trailblazers profiles in this article, your stories and ideas have the power to ignite a spark and start a tidal wave of change, and we want to help amplify that impact.

Share your story with us here


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