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Creating Sustainable Social Change: The Ashoka Model

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Creating Sustainable Social Change: The Ashoka Model

by Kate Vandeveld

For those who are looking to get involved in the world of social entrepreneurship, there are plenty of potential issues to consider – funding, the existence of an adequate support network, and how to build a team that can help you turn your ideas into impact, just to name a few.

It can be difficult to create sustainable social change on your own – but luckily, you don’t necessarily have to. Organizations like Ashoka exist to provide creative social entrepreneurs with the support they need to implement their ideas for social change. Ashoka is a global non-profit organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs across thirteen focus areas, including Venture and Fellowship, Empathy, Nutrients for All, Youth Venture, Changemakers, and Social Investment Entrepreneurs. 

To ensure that the social impact ideas they support are both fully developed and sustainable, Ashoka offers ‘critical intervention’ on three levels – the individual, the group, and the sector: 

Supporting Social Entrepreneurs

One of the many things that sets Ashoka apart as a leader in social change is its strong emphasis on the individual social entrepreneur, rather than on specific projects. Each Ashoka entrepreneur, or Fellow, must have a new idea that is focused on social impact and changes the pattern in a field. Their vision is to “advance an ‘Everyone a Changemaker’ world, where anyone can apply the skills of changemaking to solve complex social problems.”

This approach empowers individuals to create substantive and sustainable change, and evolve their ideas as they learn, rather than implement pre-determined programs and systems. Once selected, Ashoka Fellows are given a stipend for three years, and connected to a global network to support them as they put their ideas to work. 

Promoting Group Entrepreneurship

The next level of support involves connecting Fellows to a global network of peers, as well as partnerships with professional consultants. If an individual Ashoka Fellow is able to create social impact, imagine what happens when a team collaborates. Ashoka refers to this as a “network of incalculable power,” and supports it by connecting fellows all over the world so that they can share insights with one another. Through these connections, fellows are able to identify global trends and best practices, and use this knowledge to be even more effective in implementing their ideas for social impact.

Building Infrastructure for the Sector

In order to best support the social entrepreneurs they’ve invested in, Ashoka also works to build sector infrastructure that helps their ideas become more sustainable. This supporting infrastructure includes “seed financing and capital, bridges to the business and academic sectors, and strategic partnerships that deliver social and financial value.” Ashoka recognizes that social entrepreneurs need capital and partnerships in order to succeed, and this level of Ashoka’s support ensures that entrepreneurs have access to them as they’re implementing their world-changing ideas. 

Ashoka’s multi-level approach to supporting the social entrepreneurs is both effective and sustainable, due in part to the fact that each year, Ashoka measures the impact their Fellows have on creating substantive systemic change.  Their annual Measuring Effectiveness study surveys Fellows that were elected 5 and 10 years prior, with a goal of determining whether or not they have revolutionized the fields in which they work. They do that by identifying 5 paths to social system change:

  1. Market dynamics and value chains
  2. Public policy and industry norms
  3. Full inclusion and empathy
  4. Business-social congruence
  5. Culture of changemaking

Each path asks questions designed to determine the effectiveness of the Fellow. Ashoka is then able to apply this data towards improving their approach, going forward.

Whether or not you want to work with an organization like Ashoka to achieve your social entrepreneurship goals, you can apply their principles to your own plan: start with a social impact idea that changes the pattern in a field, develop and utilize a strong support network, and evolve based on consistent assessment of your progress.

Do you know of other similar organizations that are making sustainable social impact? Let us know in the comments below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter.

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