Amy Clark of Ashoka on 2011 and What’s to Come in the Year Ahead
This is the 2st part of our Year in Review Series, in which we reconnect with our group of experts about the trends they forecasted for social entrepreneurship in 2011 and look forward to the year ahead. Amy Clark, the U.S. Fellow Selection leader at Ashoka, reflects on her prediction about the democratization of the social entrepreneurship movement, and discusses the emergence of a new demographic of changemakers, along with the role that empathy skills play in dictating success.
Dowser: One of the trends you predicted for 2011 was the democratization of the social entrepreneurship movement, where all types of people — beyond entrepreneurs — would contribute to change. What is your assessment of how the movement has democratized this year?
Clark: The trend toward what I had called an “evolved democracy” is a deep one, and signals a truly historical shift that we are seeing play out everywhere from the political upheavals and reforms of 2011, to the emergence of citizen-scientists, citizen-journalists, and so on. The pace of change is picking up considerably and the role of social entrepreneurs and changemakers is more important now than ever, as old institutions and business models break apart and new approaches take root in their place. The actions of the social entrepreneur community are key to shepherding these changes in ways that anticipate and respond to the immediate and long-term health of society.
Ashoka’s interest has always been in catalyzing leading social entrepreneurs who work with the fullest possible freedom, time investment, and creativity in order to isolate guiding insights and architect systemic change. Especially in the past five years or so, we have seen more clearly that the solutions Ashoka Fellows introduce almost always open pathways for many, many people to see themselves and their roles and skills in a new light - as changemakers. When changemakers see a problem in their family life, workplace, or field, they think: what’s the best solution and how can I contribute to it? Looking down the road, I think the health of a society will be measured by the proportion of people who identify and act as changemakers at whatever scale the problem requires.
Can you give some examples of the different types of people and professionals that you’ve seen emerge as changemakers?
We always want to seek out and connect to new groups of changemakers who have not, for any number of reasons, crossed the formal social entrepreneur path. For example, I just got back from a farming and ranching gathering hosted by a group whose aim is to energize young farmers as small business people and also as changemakers – although they didn’t use that language. In the U.S., there are few Ashoka Fellows in agriculture and historically few natural points of contact. And yet the culture of farming and ranching is inherently entrepreneurial. It’s one of many examples of new corners of the movement that we have yet to fully engage in this country.
Also, a few social entrepreneurs in our 2011 Fellow class are brilliant at igniting “intrapreneur” talent - changemakers who work in existing institutions such as universities, companies, organizations, or government, and link into the big ideas of system-changing entrepreneurs and the demands and mandates of their institution. Social entrepreneurs partner with them and equip them with overarching ideas and many of the practical tools they need to guide change from within – to green supply chains, to organize parents, and so on. In essence, this strategy extends the reach and resources of the Fellows’ team and offers new ways of unlocking and harnessing changemaker talent that is there already.
So, what does the role of the intrapreneur look like and how does it relate to accelerating change?
Intrapreneurs bring about an important and lasting culture change inside their institutions, so that team-based methods that value good ideas coming from anywhere begin to show results that can’t be achieved through top–down approaches and traditional forms of management. The culture they create can withstand — and even thrive — in a world where the pace of change is increasing all the time. If I’m a corporate or government leader or school principal or university dean, this is a huge asset, and a reason to recruit changemakers and enable their success.
It also seems that the way organizations are operating now, that it’s less about having one person leading change, and more about forming organizations where everyone is committed to the mission.
Entrepreneurs define new ways of operating to get things done, and we are seeing a shift in the way entrepreneurial organizations recruit and organize talent – and even in the language used to describe our working lives. Changemakers coalesce teams around meaningful “challenges,” which is different from going to work every day because you do a “job.” They also build skill sets that allow greater fluidity and co-creation of change across networks, not just within siloed institutions. In response, Ashoka launched its first “20-20 campaign” in 2011 to source entrepreneurial talent – for Ashoka staff roles, and also more broadly for the sector and its networked aims. Talent is one of the top challenges for social entrepreneurs, and the degree to which Ashoka and partner organizations can attract, vet, and route talent to the highest-impact corners of the movement will make the critical difference.
Speaking of identifying talent and channeling it to the right parts of the movement, Ashoka has also been a champion of cultivating what it considers to be the core skill of empathy. Can you discuss how you have seen empathy shape the sector?
We kicked off our empathy work in the United States formally in 2011 – a key area of work for us in this country and globally. In looking at the 3,000 social entrepreneurs in Ashoka’s community, we saw that empathy was a common denominator, a core skill across the community. For us, empathy is not just the ability to feel what someone else is feeling, but to act on that understanding with conviction and creativity, to problem-solve effectively while holding self-interest and the interest of others in a healthy and productive tension. It is therefore a foundational skill for social entrepreneurs and changemakers, whether you’re engaged in education or health or reforming markets.
In the US, we’re cultivating empathy through three main approaches. First, we’re building a community of leading social entrepreneurs whose innovations we can learn from and share. This includes finding emerging social entrepreneurs in this area. Second, we want to align with thought leaders and influencers in education who see the paradigm shift in learning and want to partner with Ashoka and Ashoka Fellows to make it happen. And finally, because the early childhood years offer a key developmental moment, we are working with schools – especially elementary schools – that are already ahead of the curve in pioneering the focus on this skill. They already ensure that empathy is modeled by teachers and parents and that children have opportunities inside and outside the classroom to practice this skill and prepare for a life of work that is very different from past centuries.