A NEW IDEA (THE KNOCK-OUT TEST)
Ashoka cannot elect someone to 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, the environment, or any other. We evaluate the idea historically and against its contemporaries in the field, looking for innovation and the potential for lasting change.
This criterion focuses on the candidate’s idea rather than the candidate. Ashoka is only interested in ideas that it believes will change the field significantly and that will trigger nationwide impact or, for smaller countries, broader regional change. For example, Ashoka will not support the launch of a new school or clinic unless it is part of a broader strategy to reform the education or health system at the national level or beyond.
Successful social entrepreneurs must be creative both as goal-setting 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 this individual have a vision of how he or she can meet some human need better than it has been addressed before? Does the candidate have a history of creating other new visions?
Perhaps our most important criterion, entrepreneurial quality is the defining characteristic of first class entrepreneurs. It defines leaders who see opportunities for change and innovation and devote themselves entirely and forever how long it takes to make their historical vision the new pattern. Because they cannot be satisfied in life until this happens, they are wide-open listeners focused on the how-to questions, who constantly adapt their work as they learn and conditions change.
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.
Ashoka elects different types of Fellows at different stages, they are:
- Ashoka Fellows, elected at the launch stage, are leading social entrepreneurs who have innovative structural solutions to social problems and the potential to change patterns across society.
- Senior Fellows are advanced entrepreneurs who are well beyond the launch stage and, at the time of election, have already created widespread impact and are recognized as leaders in their fields.
- Members are public entrepreneurs who have already made a scratch on history -- a significant, widespread transformation of the patterns of their fields -- and are well established in the mature phase of their work. The entrepreneur’s impact is already incorporated in daily life.
- Academy Members form The Global Academy for Social Entrepreneurship. Their solutions have had scalable, global impact and they are architects of their fields, the emergent competitive citizen sector, social entrepreneurship and the “everyone a changemaker” movement.