Change happens, one entrepreneur at a time
Bill Drayton remembers it as his first brush with the dynamics of being an entrepreneur: five years old, standing in his bedroom, selling little items to his parents' dinner guests.Skip to next paragraph
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Jump to nearly 50 years later and Mr. Drayton has gone on to amplify entrepreneurship to include a new concept: "social entrepreneurs." He defines them as people just as driven to make social changes in the world as business entrepreneurs who strive to launch new companies.
"Social entrepreneurs are very rare," Drayton says, mentioning historical examples such as Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.
"They know their role in life is to change society," he says. "Our purpose is to find the ones who will have a giant impact, leave a scratch on history, and be role models for the field. If all goes well, we will have a relationship with them throughout their careers."
Drayton is the founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, an international organization based in Arlington, Va., that has supported 937 social entrepreneurs in 33 countries - all local people involved in self-started projects ranging from slum improvement to saving girls from prostitution.
The group takes its name from a warrior who conquered India in the 3rd century BC. Shamed and remorseful over causing such bloodshed, Ashoka renounced violence and dedicated his life to public welfare and economic development. In Sanskrit, Ashoka means "absence of sorrow."
At the heart of Ashoka is the process for selecting the fellows. It's a multilevel process involving nominators, researchers, interviewers, visits to work sites, and reviews by professionals from each country. Stipends average three years and range from $2,500 to $20,000 a year.
"When we do life histories of the fellows," says Drayton, "we've discovered that in 70 percent we find a family member who had very strong values. The values could be religious, conservative, or whatever. It didn't matter what, only that someone in the family took values very seriously. Clearly this plays a part in creating a person with a strong conscience for the community."
Successful Ashoka fellows include Magdaleno Rose-Avila, a youth worker in El Salvador who created Homeboys United. His work is an anti-gang effort that uniquely encourages solutions from within gangs in helping members break away from violent lifestyles.
In Brazil, Marilena Lazzarini and Josue Rios founded the Institute for Consumer Defense (IDEC). When the Brazilian government froze bank accounts in l990 and eliminated nearly $14 billion in savings, IDEC sued several banks for restoration of the money and won.
In northern Thailand, Sompop Jantraka started the Development and Education Program for Daughters and Communities to save young girls from being pulled into prostitution. He established six residential homes enrolling 400 girls who are now counseled, trained, and operate a student-run restaurant.
Drayton's fascination with entrepreneurship grew from childhood into a vision hinging on two convictions: that positive social change can come through highly motivated people anywhere, and that a collegial organization, supporting the uniqueness of social entrepreneurs, can help them achieve their goals.