(Excerpted from the Introduction)
Just about anyone the world over who has used a cell phone, a computer, posted on Facebook or tweeted understands exactly how fast the world is changing. The old ways of doing many things, has evolved, accelerated, transformed, been re-organized and restructured. From the slums in India to the mountains of Nepal, to the farms in Kenya to the streets of New York to the pampas of Argentina - all lives have been touched in some way by recent rapid technologic and electronic advances. Simultaneously, consecutively and consequently “the times they are a-changing,” and in a large part of the world, the way we are now all living our lives is way different than it has been even 5 or 10 years ago. Along with these changes we see progress - economically, politically and socially. But at the same time, rapid growth, ironically puts stress on other overlapping systems, and though progress does mitigate a myriad of social problems, it often exacerbates others. For sustainable, positive, self perpetuating change to occur, it needs to be managed well, and meet the needs of the present without compromising the future. Change puts new demands on our creative problem solving abilities, on the way we relate to others, on systems we have come to rely upon, on our abilities as a human race to adapt to everything that both nature and nurture bestows upon us. As Darwin famously said, in the mid 1800‘s, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
As social and environmental problems keep pace with other rapid changes , the number of leading pattern-changing social entrepreneurs have been increasing as well, and as the geographic reach of their ideas has been expanding ever more rapidly, the rate of discovering new solutions to social problems has multiplied. These are the times in which social entrepreneurs thrive; they see lack of equity, access and opportunity and help ensure that balance and equality are core principles upon which their innovative solutions are based.
As a result, all manner of people, small businesses, corporations and investors who are attracted to a new idea, a novel perspective and a system changing idea. They all decide to take the collective risk of striking out in a new direction while they engage, involve and interact with each other in a new idea that can indeed change the world. These are the people and organizations that Ashoka calls changemakers - those who tackle social problems directly, or do so indirectly, by working closely with social entrepreneurs to make their ideas a reality and their programs successful. As the number of changemakers increase, momentum intensifies, social movements are created, and social systems are transformed.
This whole process is enormously contagious and more and more local changemakers are emerging. Some of these learn from and later expand the pool of leading social entrepreneurs. To the degree they succeed locally, they give wings to the entrepreneur whose idea they have taken up, they encourage neighbors to become changemakers, and they cumulatively build the institutions and attitudes that make local changemaking progressively easier and more respected... This virtuous cycle catalyzed by leading social entrepreneurs and local changemakers is the chief engine now moving the world toward an “everyone a changemaker” (™) future; a world that will be a fundamentally safer, more tolerant, empathetic and equal, happier, and more successful then the one we live in today. A world where the word “tomorrow” inspires hope for a better day to come.
Some people watch it happen
Some people say, what happened?
Some people say, did something happen?
Some people didn’t even notice that something happened
Some people just make it happen.
A number of years ago, I found out about Ashoka through a colleague of mine who applied for a job there. She called me to ask if I knew about the organization and since I did not, she proceeded to tell me about it excitedly. Her desire to be offered the job even though it represented a foray out of the corporate sector, complete with a rather large pay cut, aroused my curiosity and triggered something in my mind that I had heard a few years before:
There are three things to do if you want to do good––
1. Become and activist or an advocate
2. Become a service provider––doctor, civil rights lawyer, teacher
3. Become a professor, researcher, or academic
But now there seemed to be a fourth category: become a social entrepreneur.
I was intrigued by what seemed to be an interesting combination of words, and decided to find out more. I researched Ashoka and though they messaged themselves as the largest association of social entrepreneurs in the world, it seemed to me that what they really were was a think tank for alternative solutions to intractable social problems. And by virtue of the collective impact of their work, they appeared to be functioning in a much larger arena––more as a hybrid organization that bridged the gap between a think tank for innovation and an action accelerator for an alternative future. I was now more than intrigued; I was hooked. I needed to know more about this new breed of social solutions innovator….
What was it about Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs that so motivated me? The first thing that struck me was that they seemed to accomplish things that I always imagined I would have liked to do throughout my life. They all seemed to start out as a critic. They felt strongly or indignantly about something and they gave voice to their values by translating them into action instead of ignoring the problem or complaining about it. They took the next step and did something about it. They said YES to themselves…..
From Breakdowns to Breakthroughs
Social entrepreneurs begin by having a clear picture of the end in mind––the end being the creation of an emerging social phenomenon that cannot be reversed. They do what I always hoped I could do––confront difficult issues and actively pursue a more just, secure and sustainable world. As they refuse to accept things the way they are, they manage to break out of current paradigms to defy convention, think counterintuitively and re-think solutions.
They excel at re-framing old thinking. For example, they use their evolved consciousness and their unambiguous sense of empathy to see autism as a “positive distraction” instead of a handicap and view people with blindness as differently-abled rather than disabled––as you will see in the stories of Thorkil Sonne and Andreas Heinecke. They decipher economic structures and grasp the possibilities of microfinance––like Greg Van Kirk or Pradip Sarmah––and turn them into new means of access to housing, commercial opportunities, and financial security. Like Mary Gordon or Abdelfattah Abusrour, they see well-trodden paths leading to violence and aggression and create space for a different reality to take their place….