• August 2012

Ashoka Founder Bill Drayton says, "Everyone Can Be a Changemaker"

By Bill Drayton
Founder and CEO
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public

There are small and big changes. And then, very rarely, there comes a tectonic shift so profound that everything is transformed in a historical instant.

Such transformations are as powerful as they are because they change the structure of how humans work together—including the skills everyone must master, how groups and society organize, and how we all see the world. Technological “revolutions,” for example in electronics or chemistry, do not begin to compare.

Today, after three centuries of tectonic acceleration, we are, I believe, already in the transformation zone of as big a shift as we have ever seen. The rate of change is accelerating exponentially. So is the growth in the number, the scope, and the skills of people actively causing change.

It is clear where we are headed.

In a world where everything changes, and where every change bumps many other elements causing them to change, the old social system is fast failing. Organizations in which a few people direct everyone else may have worked when the group and its members learned a skill and performed repetitive tasks year after year. This world of invisible peasantry—the Henry Ford assembly line, and the law firm—increasingly will not be able to cope.

What is needed to contribute value—and to be able to compete and survive—is instead a fluid, rapid, and often changing team of teams. The growth of the web reflects and serves this accelerating need for a flexible, kaleidoscopic, global collaboration. When a new opportunity to contribute to a valuable change arises, successful groups will pull together teams and alliances of teams, from wherever they are, to bring together the right contribution of vision and experience and skills. And those teams of teams will keep changing as the change they serve evolves.

But a team can only be a team if everyone on it is a player.

And, in a world increasingly defined by change, being a player increasingly means one must be able to imagine and contribute to change. There will still be repetitive tasks. We will still have to wash the dishes. But anyone who is not a changemaker will be able to contribute little.

We can get a glimpse of this new world by looking at islands of collaboration that already exist, for example, in the fluid interchanges of Silicon Valley (consider the free movement of people, the increase in open-sourcing, and the Valley’s rapidly evolving support structures), or the Ashoka community of leading social and allied business entrepreneurs (consider its breakthrough beyond solo entrepreneuring to collaborative entrepreneurship). These early islands are evolving and learning fast. And increasingly they rely on alliances and teamwork.

We already see the old systems failing all around us.

Threatened people reverting to backward-looking fundamentalism. Old institutions unable to deal with the new reality—both internally or in terms of their roles.

What is needed now more than anything else is for society to go through what Ashoka calls “the awareness tipping zone” very, very soon. In all major changes, awareness is the trigger that leads to action. Once many people see the change that is coming, and what it means for them, they begin to act. And when they see one another acting, it makes conversation and action safer and increasingly unavoidable.

The media then jumps in as the contagion spreads, and more and more people want to know what is happening and, in fact, urgently need a map. For example, in the American press, mentions of civil rights increased 300 percent in the 1950s and 600 percent in the first half of the 1960s as everyone focused on, talked about, and then changed how they thought and acted. Once the country had done so, its need for daily stories, the vehicle through which most learning takes place, fell sharply—with the result that media coverage declined as quickly as it earlier had grown.

The “everyone a changemaker™” age that is now upon us will change your life and those around you profoundly.

Are you ready? Will you be able to help lead the transformation?

  • If you love a 6 year old, will you help her master the complex, challenging, learned skill of empathy? To the degree she does not, she will be unable to go on to the other essential skills those involved in change must have—teamwork, leadership, and changemaking—and she risks being marginalized.
  • Are you ready to help the teens in your life master the above four skills by helping them practice being changemakers now?
  • Are you prepared to help the institutions about which you care see the challenge and become “everyone a changemaker™” organizations able to survive and flourish?
  • Will you help lead society through this historic moment?

As Charles Darwin famously observed in the mid-1800s, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

All these questions point to why this book should be valuable to you.

Social entrepreneurs are critical to this transformation. Changing the world’s systems is what defines entrepreneurship. Doing so for the good of all, which is absolutely essential now, is what defines social entrepreneurs. That is why the field has grown so very rapidly over the last 30 years. (When Ashoka was formally launched in 1980, there was not even a word to describe the field. See more about Ashoka, below.)

For more information, be sure to read Rippling, by Beverly Schwartz.

This volume will introduce you to a rich sampling of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. You will quickly intuit what defines them, which should help you sense if this is a path you might take as well.

You will also get a feel for where change is headed in each field and overall. This will help you map the directions you and those around you should be considering.

You have a great guide for this journey. Bev has been a colleague at Ashoka for six years now. Earlier she was one of the leaders of the emerging field of social marketing, smoking prevention, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Perhaps most importantly, she has long been committed to the good of all.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World, by Beverly Schwartz. ©2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

About Ashoka

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 3,000 Fellows in more than 70 countries.

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 each year and expanding its programs in Western Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East.

Along with our global network of Fellows, business entrepreneurs, policymakers, 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 enter our fourth decade of existence, 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 30 years and beyond.

For more information about Ashoka, visit www.ashoka.org.