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European Changemaker Summit: Systems change needs everyone


by ashokaslovakia

Allow me to take you all on a short journey. Right into a new world: The “Everyone a changemaker” world. 

If we had more time we would travel to the world of 2 million years ago. At a time when we were, well, monkeys. Then nomads. Then farmers. Then citizens. BUT, let us jump straight to 1800. The Industrial Revolution! Our industries and businesses became ever more powerful, profitable, and productive. Social needs however were poorly met. 85% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Large parts of society were disempowered. Civil society organizations barely existed. Social and public infrastructure did exist. But it was bureaucratic, monopolistic and servant to the needs of business or the military.

But here they came: A number of fearless entrepreneurial individuals. Florence Nightingale, who invented the modern profession of nursing. Or Maria Montessori, who in 1906 opened the “Casa dei bambini” in Rome and invented the Kindergarten and concept of early childhood education. Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross. And many more. Two terrifying world wars delayed this silent revolution. But it was clear: Besides government, science and business there now was a new actor in the world: Social Entrepreneurs! Innovators for the public. With ideas so disruptive that they had the potential to change systems and positively affect the lives of millions. 

And in 1980 a man in his thirties, Bill Drayton, started traveling the world in a quest to find them all. He set up Ashoka. And in 1982 we elected the first social entrepreneur to become an Ashoka Fellow: Gloria de Souza from Mumbai/India. To this day we look for 5 things when electing new social entrepreneurs: A new idea with the potential for systemic impact, driven by a creative, ethically integer entrepreneur. Ashoka’s original mission is twofold: One, to show the world: Look! Social Entrepreneurs exist, they change systems for the good of all and we should all support them. Two: It provides them with access to a global network of peers and partners, living stipends and infrastructure to help realize the full potential of their ideas. 

And then, over the years, something magical happened. We realized: There is a thousand different social entrepreneurs in our network working on thousands of different issues. BUT: Do you know the one thing they all have in common? Whether they give parents the tools to create learning games for their children like Jennifer Lexmond or turn citizens into fake news fact checkers like Clara Jimenez. They all understand: Positive, sustainable systemic change requires everyone affected by that change to be empowered. To be the co-owners, agents, makers and collaborators towards the intended change. They show us: The ultimate goal of social entrepreneurship is to empower everyone to be a changemaker. To be fully participating members of our global society and to be in control of their own lives.

Which in return shows us: They know that they can’t solve the problem they tackle just by themselves. Let alone all the world’s problems. Whether it’s the way we work & live together, love, learn or consume – our world has become too connected. Our systems have become too complex. Our future challenges have become too unpredictable. Climate change, migration, racism and many more issue have become too pressing. Yes, we need systems changing social entrepreneurs who dedicate their life and profession to solving a problem. BUT, we also need everyone to be empowered to contribute to achieving that change. We need both!

Social Entrepreneurs, our partners and members of the Ashoka Support Network have been and will forever be the heart and center of Ashoka! We are however officially extending our mission. With their help, we have started to build an even bigger, even more diverse, even more global community. Among others it includes selected pioneering educators, young innovators, researchers, solution journalists, media influencers, progressive Foundation- and purpose-driven corporate leaders. Together we lead a movement towards the vision of a world where everyone has power. The power to navigate and master change. To contribute to change. And to make change! In this new world we envision, companies will be breeding grounds for changemakers. Governments will encourage and collaborate with changemakers.  Schools will consider empathy, creative problem-solving and collaborating with others – i.e. changemaking – as critical as reading and writing. Every society, institution and organization will become an inclusive, empowering space for changemakers. And wherever there will be a problem, there will be a 1,000 changemakers working together to solve it. It wouldn’t just be the biggest contribution we can make, on a collective level, to multiply the work of our social entrepreneurs. It would probably be the biggest contribution we all can make to the world. Please join us! Because you all are the changemakers this world needs! 

Source: Matthias Scheffelmeier, Keynote at the European Changemaker Summit in Barcelona, November 25th, 2019