From their About Us page:
Ashoka is leading a profound transformation in society. In the past three decades, the global citizen sector, led by social entrepreneurs, has grown exponentially. Just as the business sector experienced a tremendous spurt in productivity over the last century, the citizen sector is experiencing a similar revolution, with the number and sophistication of citizen organizations increasing dramatically.
Rather than leaving societal needs for the government or business sectors to address, social entrepreneurs are creating innovative solutions, delivering extraordinary results, and improving the lives of millions of people.
It is this insight into the power of social entrepreneurs that led Bill Drayton to found Ashoka in 1980 and that continues to guide Ashoka today.
Beginning with the first Ashoka Fellows elected in India in 1981, Ashoka has grown to an association of over 2,000 Fellows in over 60 countries on the world’s five main continents.
During its first decade in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Central Europe, Ashoka focused exclusively on launching leading social entrepreneurs and helping them succeed. But in the 1990s as the citizen sector evolved and grew, Ashoka responded with a wider range of programs and initiatives to deal with the sector’s growing needs. Ashoka grew as well, tripling in size from 1988 to 1990, and again from 1999 to 2002.
Today Ashoka is in its third period of rapid growth, electing record numbers of Fellows in 2006 and expanding its programs in Western Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East.
Along with our global network of Fellows, business entrepreneurs, policy makers, investors, academics, and journalists, Ashoka is now working collectively to ensure that social entrepreneurs and their innovations continue to inspire a new generation of local changemakers to create positive social change.
As we celebrate our 25th anniversary year, we are constantly innovating new programs that advance our field, using our long history and broad geographic reach to lead the transformation of the citizen sector and shape it over the next 25 years and beyond.
- We are in the midst of a rare, fundamental structural change in society: citizens and citizen groups are beginning to operate with the same entrepreneurial and competitive skill that has driven business ahead over the last three centuries. People all around the world are no longer sitting passively idle; they are beginning to see that change can happen and that they can make it happen.
- The result of this transformation will ultimately be a world where all individuals will be able to spot challenges, address them, and improve their lives. Rather than a tiny percentage of the world controlling the wealth and making the decisions that effect our lives, every individual will be empowered to determine his or her own future.
- Through our Fellows and our programs, we are providing the framework from which the world can fully participate in the tranformation of the citizen sector. The implications this has for the world’s citizens and their capacity to improve their lives are boundless.
- We are in a unique position to communicate the significance and relevance of this historical transformation so individuals, organizations, governments, and businesses can understand how this transformation is relevant to them and how they might contribute to it and benefit.
- As the largest association of leading social entrepreneurs in the world, we know how to bring about change, and we understand what individuals need to make change happen. We have been engaged in learning from and serving this historical movement across the globe for 25 years.
The story of Ashoka is told in David Bornstein’s How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2004; updated edition, 2007), and it is indeed an impressive one. In many ways our own Social Enterprise Catalyst project parallels his methodology. The proposal itself is very simple: it is to identify, train, support, and fund sustainability-oriented social entrepreneurs in some of the least-developed nations, beginning in the Western hemisphere with Haiti. This approach replicates some of the most successful methods of Ashoka and other social-enterprise initiatives implemented over the years, and updates it to focus on enterprises that contribute to the social, ecological, and economic sustainability of communities and nations.
Ashoka is many ways about investing in superheroes; but most of us aren’t superheroes, so it’s important to recognize that, as David Bornstein writes,
All of this is intended to serve Ashoka’s overarching vision of building an “Everyone a Changemaker” world, a vision that Drayton sees both as a practical necessity and a major evolutionary step forward. “As the world changes faster and faster, the half-life of any particular solution gets shorter and shorter,” he explains, “We need new solutions all the time. So the most important factor to focus on is the percentage of the world’s population that are changemakers. When you have “Everyone a Changemaker,” you have a constant subtle adjustment going on at every point all the time. If we’re going to have a world that works, where people are full citizens, people need the knowledge that they can cause change, and the skill. You need to know how to work with others and you need to live in a society that respects and supports you in doing that. If you think about it, this is a world with a brain-like structure, where everyone knows how to initiate and pull together teams and networks of teams, to accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished, and everyone else knows how to play too—and they get tremendous satisfaction from playing together.”