Bill Drayton founded Ashoka Foundation in 1981, a non-profit foundation that tries to put in value and implement in our social model the principles that lead us to a society whose pillars are based on commitment and responsibility for a more just planet.

Today we try to learn more about this award-winning international project.

What is the Ashoka project? How would you define the work that
you develop?

Ashoka foundation has been identifying the world’s leading social entrepreneurs for over 40 years. More specifically, we encourage the leaders of social innovation to build a society capable of generating positive change on a large scale.

What unites the social entrepreneurs Ahoska selects is that they all in one way or another activate people to be part of the solution.

There are not only beneficiaries of aid, are activators of change agents through their solutions, either from the prism of rural depopulation, gender abuse or youth empowerment, ie any area, the common denominator is their ability to address the problem from the root, from the system, and not from a charitable assistance.

What do we do? We identify, connect and accompany the leaders of social innovation who are on the one hand social entrepreneurs, on the other hand young agents of change, and on the third hand referents in education issues.

We believe that these are the 3 groups or communities of reference that can help generate a deeper change in society with that objective of generating a society capable of generating positive change on a large scale.

That is, we identify them, connect them with each other, accompany them and communicate about their work or models, thus giving them greater visibility.

You include in your speech the concept “changemaker” or “agents of change” as a pillar of the social model you want to exemplify. In what this is about being a changemaker and why you consider it so important?

Being an agent of change is an attitude, it is something that really everyone has inside as a potential, it is not everyone to be a social entrepreneur nor everyone to be a reference in education but rather from the position of each person, to have the ability to make a positive change in their environment.

Be it as a mother, as a student, as a teacher, as an employee or as a civil servant, we all have that potential from our position, and what we want is to activate that potential in all people because that is how we see that we can generate great changes at a social level, and as I said before that is what the referents of social innovation manage to do.

They get to activate the others to be fixers. A clear example is that Luz Rello is a social entrepreneur whose goal is that no child is left behind because of dyslexia, providing tools so that people with a diagnosis of dyslexia or a writing problem can be detected very early and easily.

This allows these children to develop their potential 100% at school and not be left behind by something almost technical, and that can be solved, helping the person to develop their potential as empathic people, as intelligent people, and as people capable of generating change around them and lead teams. Thus, from its very concrete sector, it is activating potential agents of change.

Another example is Ana Bella, who is breaking the silence of people, women who have been survivors of gender violence, that is, she is giving them the networks and support they need to get out of the relationships they are in, and to be able to rebuild their lives themselves as survivors and not as victims, becoming themselves agents of change in their lives, so that they can have jobs and a life of dignity and contribution to others.

That is the world we imagine, that each child can learn what life is like, empathy, teamwork, shared leadership with others, and the ability to generate positive change. We see this as key to moving towards a more equal, healthier society, and with a much greater positive effect.

Ashoka tries to collaborate with companies in order to materialize a
economic-business model that revolves around social impact. How the foundation integrates and collaborates in or with the companies to achieve this goal?

In companies, we see a very large potential for social impact, of course they are one of the most influential actors in society from many points of view. From the point of view of their employees’ consumption, their brand and capacity to generate conversation, and that is why we see them as key allies.

With specific companies we generate alliances precisely in order to activate a society of agents of change, and that is what we are working on in companies such as DANONE with whom we have an alliance focused on education and how to make children responsible for their food, emotional and physical well-being.

With the project feeding the change. We also have an alliance with companies such as ARCANO, which is more focused on promoting social entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship itself, with support in developing their sustainability or potential business models.

One of the most decisive factors in the future of the planet is undoubtedly the climate crisis and its consequences on practically all socio-economic factors. From Ashoka how is it valued and in what ways does it act to try to alleviate these effects? Do you think that we need to make a stronger case for turning this problem around?

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the great global challenges and of course Ashoka puts the focus on it. In fact, Ashoka as an international organization recently decided to focus on 4 fundamental areas:

  • climate change
  • gender equality
  • aging longevity
  • technology and ethics

Some are better known or more relevant than others in the national or international discourse, but equally important for Ashoka, which works to generate value in all of them.

The challenge is how to identify more social innovators, how to connect them together knowing that they provide more systemic and deeper solutions, and how to get them to develop a larger scale collaboration among themselves that generates deeper solutions.

This sometimes involves linking these social innovators with large companies and public administrations, allowing them to think big in these four areas and generate a longer-term impact.

In fact, the results of Ashoka’s work are measured by the results obtained in 5 or 10 years, rather than by the short term results, since it requires a very systemic work and therefore requires very deep changes that usually take more time but are more effective in the long term.

About young changemakers Is it possible to “have a successful entrepreneurial experience before the age of 20”?

As for young change makers and successful entrepreneurial experience before the age of 20, this is not what we are looking for, that is, when we talk about young people we are not talking about young social entrepreneurs, but about young people who have already lived the experience of generating a change in their environment, who have identified or experienced in their own skin a problem, and have reacted to that problem in an empathic way, having managed with their attitude to inspire others, to form a team (be it their peers, parents, or teachers) that works together to develop a solution to eradicate that problem.

That’s what a young change maker is, that the attitude he has managed to develop and exercise manages to infect others, thus becoming an infectious, multiplying agent of change.

Where do these skills come from? From how they have been educated, from their families, from going to a school that promulgates such attitudes, or from seeing it in some reference in their lives. What we want to do is to spread this attitude to other young people and ensure that those elements that have helped them to be this way are available to everyone and that there is equality of opportunity, hence our work with educational centres such as schools or networks of schools and public bodies.

Considering the turbulent times we live in with pandemics, the climate challenge and its consequences, economic crises migration, questionable governance […] Do you think from Ashoka that is the society ready and willing to take on the changes that required by the planet in the future?

We may not be in a position to answer this question, but our vision and commitment is that of a society that is totally ready to take on changes in a positive way. We are talking about a new and better normality, and I think we are ready and there is enormous potential.

It is just a matter of finding the levers to activate that potential, and there are many that need to change, not only in the education system but also in the incentive to social innovation.

There has to be a demand for that kind of attitude in society, we are optimistic and we know that society is going there and that human nature is based on empathy and generating good for others. The key is to find a way to systematize it so that it is not just a privileged few but the right of all to be agents of change.

Finally, how can people who are interested in this initiative to collaborate with ASHOKA FOUNDATION?

Beginning with the most direct in the figure of scholarship or volunteer, people who want to contribute their grain of sand, collaborating in departments such as communication, operations or fundraising.

Another way to collaborate with Ashoka individually is to become a member in exchange for a monthly donation.

With the companies on the other hand, we plan to develop partnerships. For example, now in response to COVID-19 we have launched an initiative called Change Makers United in which we support 10 social entrepreneurs who are tackling the challenges caused by the crisis in a profound way, from different sectors, from rural depopulation to education to employment.

We are uniting companies and donors who want to support these initiatives that will be working to alleviate the negative effects of the pandemic.

Ashoka aims to accelerate a change in the way society thinks, helping organizations, media, schools, businesses, parents, journalists, managers, children understand that we are all responsible, and we can all be protagonists of change.

To find out more visit their website ASHOKA