Ashoka social innovators at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum
"Everyone a Changemaker" is the vision being driven by Ashoka, an organization championing social innovation and entrepreneurship. Founded in 1982 by Bill Drayton in Washington, D.C., Ashoka has grown into a global force, with regional offices in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
Michael Vollmann of the German chapter is co-director of the Ashoka Globalizer program. Keith Hammonds of the United States is the director of the organization's News and Knowledge program.
System Changing Social Innovations
Ashoka has developed a fellowship program that has supported more than 3,000 individuals in 70 countries. But obtaining the prestigious status of Ashoka Fellow isn't easy. "The nominees are social entrepreneurs who share the goal of finding and implementing innovative solutions to serious social problems," says Vollmann. They must fulfill certain criteria, explains Hammonds. "The idea must be new, innovative and replicable with wide-scale impact. To win us over it must demonstrate a way of changing the system at the root of the problem. Ultimately it is also very important that we can trust the person behind the idea not to have a hidden agenda and that they are truly committed to solving a social problem and nothing else."
Ashoka has supported social entrepreneurship in this way for 30 years. Previous Fellows include Muhammad Yunus, Founder of The Grameen Bank, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who according to Vollmann "transformed an entire industry". He and Hammonds say that the organization's people-oriented approach is key. "We want to contribute to a society in which every individual has not only the knowledge, but also the skill and the tools to take social entrepreneurial action around them."
Media in transition
Ashoka will host a workshop at this year's Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum called "News for Social Change: Media’s Emerging Value". Its core message is that "publishers must turn readers into changemakers". Panelist Hammonds says, "Journalists’ role today has to be about more than just delivering news. News, in itself, is a commodity. The media delivers true value by producing content that helps citizens confront an uncertain, ever-changing future – and to help that audience act on this urgent information. News must be a conversation in which journalists and citizens together assess, reflect on, and act in their community and society.”
Many of Ashoka's social entrepreneurs come from the media industry. They are trained on the basis of Ashoka's Globalizer program and teamed up with media executives from Germany and other European countries. "These are very powerful encounters," says Vollmann, "because they bring together for one topic two very practically thinking people who otherwise wouldn't have met." The Ashoka Globalizer on Media Innovation will take place in Bonn on June 16, a day before the Global Media Forum.
Vollmann and Hammonds believe that the Ashoka principle shows how business acumen and public interest can comfortably go hand-in-hand. "We think that social entrepreneurship has reached a tipping point. Like microfinance, the term has taken root. Even if Ashoka were to cease to exist tomorrow, the phenomenon would live on. So we think it's something that moves people very much, especially younger generations, who want more out of their jobs than just a career and money. That can grow, and the green movement will be joined by a social one."