Ashoka: Innovators for the Public

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Ashoka: Innovators for the Public is an international non-profit organization (with US IRS 501(c)(3) status) with twenty years of experience seeking out and supporting the world's leading social entrepreneurs. To date, Ashoka has selected over 1,100 Fellows working in positive social, environmental and economic change in 38 countries world wide, in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Central Europe, and most recently, in the United States as well. Most Ashoka Fellows have started their own NGOs or are working to support existing ones in their field. These organizations play a critical role in defining and promoting citizen interests in the fields of health, education, the environment, and economic and community development. Ashoka's participation as a Virtual Foundation Consortium Member allows them to provide additional opportunities to Ashoka Fellows to strengthen civil society and the spread of innovative ideas. For the many Fellows who are engaged in building community-based organizations and supporting local initiatives to improve community sustainability, access to the Virtual Foundation and its network of private philanthropists gives them an important new source of support.

Ashoka Fellows are "social entrepreneurs"
Ashoka Fellows are leading social entrepreneurs who are recognized to have innovative solutions and the potential to change patterns across society. Individuals selected as Ashoka Fellows have undergone a rigorous search and selection process in which they demonstrate the following attributes:

  • A big new idea
  • Creativity
  • Entrepreneurial quality
  • Social impact of the idea
  • Ethical fiber

Ashoka Fellows are as interested in the practical or "how-to" (strategic and tactical) questions as they are in the vision itself. How will they transform an idea into society's new norm? How will the pieces fit together? How will they deal with the many challenges they will certainly encounter? True entrepreneurs are the ultimate realists. They do not seek to make political statements, nor do they want to be burned at the stake. Entrepreneurs want their ideas to work; that is what counts. This means that, even if they are immature in other ways, when it comes to working on their ideas, they absorb the realities around them with great sensitivity and fidelity. If there is a flaw in their design, they will change the design. They are not ideological about their ideas. And they are certainly not ideological in any broader sense: ideology closes the mind to absorbing reality sensitively. True entrepreneurs must be both great visionaries and extraordinarily detailed engineers committed to the persistent pursuit of all the practical "how-to" issues that must be resolved for a new idea to fly.

The Environmental Innovations (EI) Initiative was launched in 1998 to advance the work of the more than 200 Ashoka Fellows dedicated to sustainable development worldwide. The goals of the EI Initiative are to:

  • Foster a powerful network for creative collaboration among Environmental Ashoka Fellows and others around the world working in the areas of environmental conservation and sustainable development.
  • Distill critical principles and innovative implementation strategies for environmental change.
  • Deliver the principles and strategies into the hands of key change agents worldwide and build coalitions for environmental change that accelerate society's progress towards sustainable development.

Examples of Ashoka Fellows currently working on Environmental Innovations:

  • Victor Ananias (Turkey) - Promotion of organic farming and local products
  • Jacek Bozek (Poland) - River conservation through a community based cultural movement
  • Edison Carvalho (Brazil) - Corporate social and environmental responsibility
  • Lucas Chiappe (Argentina) - Forest conservation through the creation of protected areas
  • Anil Chitrakar (Nepal) - Urban planning and rural development
  • Marcos Dá-Ré (Brazil) - Habitat conservation through community development and sustainable business
  • Victoria Dunmade (Nigeria) - Putting control of food production into the hands of women
  • Marie Haisova (Czech) - Empowerment of women to improve the urban environment
  • Dinesh Kumar Mishra (India) - Traditional flood control and river conservation
  • Jabar Lahadji (Indonesia) - Indigenous rights and conservation
  • Jadwiga Lopata (Poland) - Supporting rural organic farmers through agro-tourism
  • Rodolfo Lopez (Mexico) - Community based sustainable forestry
  • Dr. Miklos Persanyi (Hungary) - Shifting environmental values through the National Zoo
  • Sabina Pieruzek-Nowak (Poland) - Conservation of wolves and their habitats

Ashoka Fellows will not be the scientists seeking cures in the laboratories, or even the clinical practitioners seeking to deliver inoculations and care. Rather, Ashoka Fellows will identify and develop low-cost yet high-impact strategies to deliver health care, educate populations to prevent the spread of disease, and incorporate into society populations previously excluded by the shame associated with their disability. The overlap between poverty and poor public health is well-established. Many Ashoka Fellows have not only recognized that their region cannot afford an individual-care models, but have launched alternative models of self- and community-care.

Economic Development
Throughout much of the world, the scarcity of locally-controlled financial resources undermines community efforts to raise their children to be engaged citizens. On all continents, communities that lack access to resources struggle against environmental degradation, poor public health, and disheartened citizenship. In 2000, protests accompanied the Seattle meetings of the World Trade Organization, and the Washington, D.C. gathering of the World Bank, drawing international attention to issues of corporate globalization, the costs of economic growth in the developing world, and trends of income stratification. While protesters and economists glare from across police barriers, Ashoka Fellows focus on practical, innovative strategies for the co-existence of social justice and economic development. They are attuned to the real need for the resources that keep a region politically and socially healthy.

From among a broad range of strategies, multiple Ashoka Fellows focus in economic development to help small-scale producers compete in the global economy. To the extent that local communities can develop and sustain resources, Ashoka Fellows are helping them to avoid the impossible pulls between the poverty associated with isolation from the global economy, versus submission to the dictates of corporate globalization.

Civic Participation
Although innovative in every instance, Ashoka Fellows provide many common themes of civic participation. They bring disenfranchised members of society, such as slum communities in Thailand and rural communities in Poland, into areas of decision making and authority. Ashoka Fellows' strategies also ride the cutting edge of social change. Sunil Abraham, for instance, is providing the Indian citizen sector with web services and technological products that are affordable and effective. The effectiveness of Ashoka Fellows in mobilizing the citizen sector in their region and beyond ensures that individuals throughout the world are engaged in decision making and acquire a voice. By mobilizing their communities and shifting resources to citizens, Ashoka Fellows strengthen the power of the civil sector.

For more information about Ashoka Fellows, the selection process, and their achievements to date, see Ashoka's web site, from which this information was excerpted: