Rediscovering certainty in our new reality
Demand is rising for social innovation in a rapidly-changing world. Let’s look at the big picture.
What can we hold onto when everything is changing? When the world seems unstable and unsure, social entrepreneurs help us rediscover certainty through doing what they do best: uncovering possibilities and surfacing solutions.
Right now changemakers are busier than ever. Back in April, a global survey of Ashoka Fellows found that 83% of the social entrepreneurs expected the demand for their work to increase over the following 6 months. Even in lockdown, a quarter of them saw their social impact increase.
Today social entrepreneurs are helping us to see the “big picture” and figure out where to go from here. As we prepare for Ashoka’s largest annual gathering in November—the online Ashoka Changemaker Summit, which will bring together change leaders around the world—we’re reflecting on what we need for the road ahead. Here are three guiding principles we’ve learned over the past 40 years.
Systems thinking: Getting to the root of a problem
When it comes to conversations around social justice or climate change, it’s common to focus on symptoms. But as more than 3,800 social entrepreneurs in the Ashoka network have worked towards sustainable social change, we’ve realized the need for a radically different approach that focuses on root causes: “systems change.”
Systems change mobilizes different groups to collectively imagine and create long-term answers to social problems (as Ashoka Fellow Jeroo Billimoria describes here). It happens through shifting mindsets and power dynamics, or by changing legal frameworks. Marie Ringler, Member of the Global Leadership Group and Leader of Ashoka Europe, explains the connection between systems thinking and sustainability:
“If you don’t solve the root cause of a problem and ensure that the solution has fertile ground to grow, your impact is unlikely to be sustainable. The problem will emerge again and again.”
We see systems change in action around the world. In Uganda, Joseph Nkandu is changing power structures in the coffee value chain. In the Czech Republic, Klára Laurenčíková is making education more inclusive for children with special educational needs by changing public regulations.
“The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that now more than ever we need to listen to social entrepreneurs and their solutions, their certainties,” Marie says. “Many impactful approaches for a resilient future are already there. We are just not yet applying them on a large enough scale.”
Empowering others: Better than being “the hero”
Ashoka’s 40 years of experience have revealed another key approach to sustainable change: emphasizing empowerment. This message was on full display at the last year’s edition of the Ashoka Changemaker Summit, where Jeroo Billimoria shared:
“Whatever your intervention, make sure that it’s not you at the center of the intervention, but how you can benefit many people.”
This approach has been particularly relevant in recent times, when many have become more vulnerable due to their health situation or the lockdown. Instead of treating people as ‘victims’, which threatens to take away their creative power, social entrepreneurs like Ashoka Fellow Ana Bella Estévez has shifted the focus “from victims to empowering and empowered survivors.” Estévez’s approach mobilizes women who suffered from domestic violence to support other women in their path towards liberation and independence.
Shifting our mindset: More changemakers for a resilient world
When more people care, institutional change is likely to follow. We need to activate the public, making as many people as possible aware of their own power to make a difference. Ashoka Fellow Christian Vanizette’s organization, MakeSense, which brings citizens, entrepreneurs and other organizations around the world to work together—has developed a powerful strategy to mobilize others and transform mindsets.
Meanwhile, recently-elected Ashoka Fellow Stéphane Gigandet is leveraging the power of citizens to urge change across the entire food industry. By gathering and empowering a worldwide community of consumers to act upon the low quality of food and its consequences on public health, he is setting up a new paradigm in the industry, made possible through collective action.
“The more people are empowered to be changemakers — to act upon issues and stand up for their values — the better the world will be able to cope with shocks like the COVID-19 crisis. And not only that: When people perceive themselves as changemakers, they can contribute to build a more just, resilient world,” says Marie.
Uniting around ideas for the good of all
From November 17–19, 2020 the largest network of leading social innovators will gather at the online Ashoka Changemaker Summit to “Rediscover Certainty.” Social entrepreneurs — innovators with a social mission — and leaders from business and philanthropy will explore what provides certainty in times of crisis and beyond.
The upcoming summit is an invitation: for participants to learn about new solutions, discover crucial certainties around social change and step into their own power as changemakers. Learn more here.