Sunday, 29 April 2007

Changemakers Ashoka Network Meeting

meeting in Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre, Said Business School
Tuesday 27th March 2007

• The next morning there was another pre-conference session from Bill Drayton and the Ashoka Network. Bill Drayton is considered the “elder statesman” of the social entrepreneurship field, and is credited with popularising the term itself. He has a remarkable track record of 30 years of supporting social entrepreneurs through the Ashoka Network, as well as establishing and leading many innovative projects himself.

• Most of you will know that, in New Zealand, The Jobs Research Trust (of which I am a trustee) has launched a new initiative which is also called Changemakers. There are many groups around the world calling themselves changemakers ... so it is probably just as well that there is plenty of opportunities for change to go around! Our New Zealand group is based around a 5-10-5-10 strategy to foster more active citizenship in our communities. (For more information see

This Jobs Research Trust project was partly inspired by Bill Drayton’s speech at last year’s Skoll World Forum. At that time, Drayton remarked that until recently, Ashoka has been stating its mission chiefly in terms of “building a more entrepreneurial and competitive not-for-profit sector”. But more recently, he has come to re-assess this goal:
“ The most important contribution any of us can make now is not to solve any particular problem, no matter how urgent energy or environmental or financial regulation is. What we must do now is increase the proportion of humans who know that they can cause change. And who, like smart white blood cells coursing through society, will stop with pleasure whenever they see that something is stuck or that an opportunity is ripe to be seized. Multiplying society's capacity to adapt and change intelligently and constructively and building the necessary underlying collaborative architecture, is the world's most critical opportunity now. Pattern-changing social entrepreneurs are the most critical single factor in catalysing and engineering this transformation ...” — from “Everyone a Changemaker”, by Bill Drayton (2006)
•In his opening speech at this Ashoka Changemakers session, Bill Drayton re-iterated many of the key points of his “everyone a changemaker” world-view. He believes that the next big step in the field of social entrepreneurship is tackling the question of how we do entrepreneurship together. He sees this as complementary to the fostering of an elite leadership model that so many of the Fellowships (like his own Ashoka) are focussing on.

The Ashoka team then went on to outline their latest initiative in “open-sourcing” innovations in various fields of social change. Their Changemakers approach is a strategy of sharing ideas for innovation as they are happening, and in a way that entrepreneurs can easily adapt them to their own local conditions.

Changemakers sets up thematic “collaborative competitions” between local groups from all around the world which are asked to present their ideas and projects for change on complex social areas. These ideas and projects for change are all placed on an open website at A panel of key decisionmakers and investors (from the leading philanthropic foundations) then assesses the applications, and picks the 10-12 finalists which they then bring together to collaborate on an overall plan for the whole social area.

An interesting tool being used in this collaborative process is the use of a “Changemakers Mosaic” of the innovative solutions generated by each competition. The Mosaic serves as an intellectual framework which maps at a glance the most powerful emerging principles of innovation against the underlying factors that drive a problem. It helps social innovators see how their work fits into a larger picture and demonstrates that the collective impact of their solutions is greater than the sum of the individual projects. It also gives you a great overview of the challenges in a particular field ... as well as a sense of how systemic change can really take place.

At this workshop, the finalists in two recent competitions on “Health for All” and “Entrepreneuring Peace” gave summaries of their various projects, and then talked about how the collaborative process was helping them accelerate innovation and improve impact.

The Said Business School at Oxford — photo Hutchinson

• There is much we can learn from this approach which applies to the process of fostering innovation in New Zealand. The Ashoka Changemakers model spells out many processes which could be used by the various grantmakers and foundations in fostering a common and systemic approach in specific social sectors.

It’s certainly got me thinking: What if there was a source of philanthropic funding in New Zealand aimed at fostering innovations, and all the project applications were open-sourced on a website in this way ... and the finalists challenged to work together on a common approach. That would be something completely different from the current approach to grant-making. And it would be a way to blast through the whole concept of “patch protection” — and to focus on how we might improve each other’s work for the common good.

“Health for All” Mosaic
“Innovating Peace” Mosaic

“Everyone a Changemaker” by Bill Drayton (2006)
published in Innovations (MIT Press) Winter 2006