Ashoka – an international organization based outside of Washington, D.C. – supports social entrepreneurs around the world who are making positive impacts in their communities. Ashoka has a variety of programs, including some that work with children and youth (www.startempathy.org). But today, I’d like to tell you about the Ashoka Fellowship program.
There are a number of ways to define social entrepreneurship, but Ashoka sees social entrepreneurs as people who are changing systems in their communities to tackle a social or environmental problem. They are creative problem-solvers whose ideas have the potential to impact entire systems. It doesn’t mean they have to start a business (though it could) – rather, Ashoka focuses on people who use the entrepreneurial skillset to solve intractable problems at a regional or national scale. Once selected according to Ashoka’s selection criteria, elected Fellows become part of a lifetime community of peers, and Ashoka supports them as they expand their vision & grow their work.
There are fantastic examples of Ashoka Fellows doing amazing work across the country.
Bren Smith, a lifelong commercial fisherman, is re-inventing the fishing profession in New England and beyond by developing a 3-D ocean farming method that will restore oceans and create jobs (http://greenwave.org/). Watch a wonderful video about his work here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MoBDoiQa58
Stacy Epperson, who founded Next Step Housing in Louisville, Ky. (http://nextstepus.org/), has a renewed vision to make manufactured houses energy efficient and eligible for bank financing. The homes are built to meet or exceed ENERGY STAR standards and are placed on a permanent foundation so they qualify for fixed-rate home financing. Epperson’s organization is redefining the factory-built housing industry.
Alex Bernadotte of Beyond 12 (http://beyond12.org/) is bridging the data gap between K-12 schools and colleges, so that high schools can better match their priorities and teaching practices to the skills students need to succeed in college & beyond. This work matters because nearly half of students enrolled in college never graduate, with 30 percent dropping out in their first year. With high schools focusing on getting students into college, and universities focusing on retention, there is no system that’s closing the feedback loop between the two – meaning we don’t actually know what best helps prepare students for a successful college career.
There are over 3,300 Ashoka Fellows around the world and 215 across the U.S.
Ashoka is eager to learn more about the work being done in Central Appalachia, and we want to help aspiring Central Appalachian entrepreneurs connect with Ashoka’s resources, community, and maybe even nominate the first Ashoka Fellow based in Central Appalachia! We know the possibilities are endless for Appalachian entrepreneurs because we know how amazing they are, and we’re excited to work with Ashoka so that the broader ecosystem knows about them, too!
The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development is a nominating organization for Ashoka. If you know of anyone that is working to solve problems in the region by making lasting, systemic changes, please send an email to Ketaki Bhattacharyya at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Ashoka Fellows program, visit https://www.ashoka.org/en/program/venture-and-fellowship.
Also, check out Ashoka’s Changemaker Schools program (https://startempathy.org/changemaker-schools/) and the AshokaU initiative’s Changemaker Campus (http://ashokau.org/programs/changemaker-campus/) program! The Changemaker Schools Network is a global community of elementary, middle and high schools that emphasize empathy, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and changemaking with students, and the Changemaker Campus program recognizes colleges and universities that build in social innovation throughout the institution.