What characterizes a Leading Social Entrepreneur? How does Ashoka decide which candidates to pursue and which to turn away?
Ashoka's selection process at every stage is anchored by our five criteria against which all Fellowship candidates are evaluated:
A New Idea (The Knock-out Test)
Ashoka cannot consider someone for the fellowship unless he or she is possessed by a new idea—a new solution or approach to a social problem — that will change the pattern in a field, be it Human Rights, Healthcare or any other, at the national level.
Ashoka does not invest in new schools or clinics per se. There must be a vision of reform for the Education or Healthcare system that has the potential to change schools or clinics all across the candidate’s country. We evaluate the idea with others used before and against its contemporaries in the field, looking for innovation and the potential for lasting change and greater impact.
Ashoka is looking for men and women who are possessed by an idea; and who will persevere in refining, testing, and then spreading or marketing the idea until it has become the new pattern for society as a whole. They must be both great visionaries and ultimate realists committed to the continuous pursuit of all the practical “how-to” issues that must be resolved for a new idea to fly.
Almost always, this idea has grown out of their entire life history. The interest began germinating when they were young. They then, more or less intuitively, put themselves through a long “apprenticeship” during which they mastered their field in great depth. They must know its history, people, institutions, anthropology, politics, and technology so well that they can see what the next historic step for the field is and how to bring it about. Ashoka is looking for the Andrew Carnegies, Henry Fords, and Steve Jobs' of the citizen sector.
Ashoka recognizes that problems and contexts keep changing and successful social entrepreneurs must be creative both as visionaries and as problem solvers capable of engineering their visions into reality. Creativity is not a quality that suddenly appears—it is almost always apparent from youth onward.
Among the questions we might ask: Does the individual have a track record of developing creative solutions to problems? How creative is the problem solving behind this idea? Is he or she likely to continue making creative strategies throughout his or her lifetime?
This criterion focuses on the candidate’s idea, not the candidate. Ashoka is only interested in ideas that it believes will spread widely, change the field significantly and will trigger nationwide impact.
The first question to ask in applying this criterion is: “Assuming that the entrepreneur behind this idea succeeds in demonstrating it in one place but then disappears, would people in that field look at that demonstration and perceive it to be so new, relevant, practical, feasible, and attractive that they would pick it up and bring it into their work?” In other words, would it spread on its own merits? We then proceed to ask how many people will benefit and how much will they benefit.
Social entrepreneurs introducing major structural changes to society have to ask a lot of people to change how they do things. If the entrepreneur is not trusted, the likelihood of success is significantly reduced. Ashoka asks every participant in the selection process to evaluate candidates for the quality rigorously. To do so often requires one to resort to instinct and gut feelings, not just rational analysis. The essential question is: “Do you trust this person absolutely?” If there is any doubt, a candidate will not pass.