Ashoka Launches Collaborative Competition for Rural Innovation

TCI had earlier discussed open innovation as an emerging tool for social entrepreneurs. An excellent initiative in this field is Ashoka Changemakers, which provides an online space for social innovators to present ideas and collaborate with others on refining and implementing them.

Changemakers is building the world’s first global online “open source” community that competes to surface the best social solutions, and then collaborates to refine, enrich, and implement those solutions. Changemakers begins by providing an overarching intellectual framework for collaborative competitions that bring together individual social change initiatives into a more powerful whole.

To keep the framework dynamic, the online Changemakers’s community identifies and selects the best solutions and helps refine them.

A Changemakers collaborative competition consist of three parts – collecting ideas, reviewing them with the member community and finally selecting the most innovative solutions through voting. The goal is for the whole community to share its experience and expertise in bringing forward solutions on challenges ranging from Health Care to Sustainable Tourism.

In collaboration with the Gates Foundation, Changemakers recently launched a competition on Solutions for Rural Communities. The framework provided for this competition is,

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people—the 1 billion who live on $1 a day or less—rely on agriculture to feed themselves and their families, yet many cannot grow enough to sell or even eat. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners are providing small farmers with tools and opportunities to boost their productivity, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families.

Innovative solutions that span the entire agricultural value chain – from seeds to sales – are necessary to accomplish these goals. We encourage you to take part in Ashoka Changemaker’s “Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities” competition to help bring about innovative, creative solutions for small farmers in the developing world.

Entries are welcome up to May 13th and voting will begin on June 24th. If have an idea or know anyone working in rural development and agriculture, go to the site and make an entry. Also, read and comment on the current entries – there are already over 30 ideas presented there.

Ashoka Focuses on Agricultural and Sustainable Development in India

Last week, Ashoka announced that the organization will use a US$15 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the placement of Ashoka fellows in Africa and India.  The grant money will specifically target social innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture and sustainable development.  According to their press release,

Agricultural and rural sustainable development initiatives supported by Ashoka will be oriented around key issues such as new technologies, farmer productivity, key agricultural policies, and connections between smallholder farmers and markets. Ashoka’s network already includes many Fellows working on agriculture and rural development related issues— whether developing markets for small farmers in Kenya, or using local knowledge to regenerate arid land through natural farming and permaculture in India.

The most promising aspect of this partnership is the approach that Ashoka espouses in ensuring that their social innovations become sustainable – a community based approach:

Ashoka realizes that innovations alone do not create sustainable large-scale solutions in agriculture and sustainable rural development. These new solutions endure only when social entrepreneurs have a community-level understanding, build a broad citizen base of support, introduce incentives for participation, and topple traditional barriers to entry or involvement. This partnership will allow Ashoka to launch 90 social entrepreneurs and their powerful, pattern- changing ideas that are built on this bottom up approach. Additionally, as a product of the increased number of entrepreneurs in this area and their broad base of supporters, Ashoka will be able to identify transformative universal principles that will ultimately revolutionize the field.

Looks like this is a great time to become an Ashoka fellow in India.  I’m looking forward to seeing what developments Ashoka comes up with in 2009.

Social Entrepreneurship workshop and competition at IIT-Madras

The India chapter of Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES-India) operating out of IIT-Madras is set to conduct workshops running up to a competition in which the best social business plan will be rewarded. Times of India reports,

Participants must submit executive summaries of their business plans by January 25 after which around 15 to 20 teams will be short-listed and mentored.

Results of the first round will be declared on February 1 and the formal mentoring including development of prototypes of short-listed projects will commence on February 15. In all five awards will be given.[Source:

The website created for the competition, named Genesis, indicates that while prizes in the competition bring for good publicity for the winning ideas, the workshops will offer valuable lessons to learn to all the participants, who may also stand to gain from their interaction with people from IIT, Rural Innovations Network, Ashoka, Indian Angel Network, TiE – the partners of ASES-India for this competition.

The Status of Social Entrepreneurship in India

An INSEAD article reflecting on social entrepreneurship after the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in India highlights some key challenges and trends for the field.  Some interesting points I picked up:

  • The legal, political, and social environment is important to social entrepreneurship.

A policy and regulatory framework within which social entrepreneurs can obtain status without compromising their objectives is also very important.

  • Space for collaboration is needed

“It would be good to have a collaborative network to be used among social entrepreneurs that enables them to share ideas and spread innovations, ideally linked to an academic institution interested in, and committed to, promoting awareness and creating knowledge and insight into the best functioning of social enterprises,” [Hans Wahl, executive director of INSEAD’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative] adds.

  • The need for social entrepreneurship will grow in the next five to ten years

“Social entrepreneurship and social businesses will be mainstreamed substantially, so we will have many opting to follow the course of one or the other which will hopefully impact society positively.” (Devashri Mukherjee, director of Ashoka’s Venture Programme)

Beyond these predictions, Deval Sanghavi of Dasra points out that social entrepreneurship exists because the government has not been able to meet the needs of citizens.   Mr Sanghavi points out to INSEAD that “the government is very keen on promoting social entrepreneurship – not necessarily by funding it or by advising on it or enabling it. What they do do, is not disable it.”  In India, the ability to create social enterprises is not hindered by government (although, as pointed out, it is not helped either).

For further predictions on the field of social entrepreneurship in general, check out the countdown for the top trends at Change.org’s Social Entrepreneurship blog.

First XLRI Conference on sustainable development

The Social Entrepreneurship Trust and Social Initiative Group for Managerial Assistance (Sigma) of XLRI, in association with Ashoka and Indianngos.com has planned its first XLRI Social Entrepreneurship Conference. The conference is scheduled to be at XLRI Jamshedpur on January 31st and February 1st 2009.

The theme of the conference would be “providing access for sustainable development” while its purpose is to showcase innovative social entrepreneurship ventures by individual entrepreneurs, NGOs, corporate executives and government agencies.[source The Telegraph]

Ashoka: Change Agents Urgently Needed!

Ashoka is looking for agents of change. Are you a potential candidate? Read more below:

Ashoka is growing. We are looking for creative, entrepreneurial people to lead major initiatives worldwide. We are looking for people who demonstrate the highest ethical standards, a deep sense of collegiality, and a strong self-image to lead positive change.

If you have started your own endeavor, or significantly transformed the operations of an existing institution – a corporation, media outlet, or a citizen sector organization – then you may be a fit with Ashoka’s culture of entrepreneurship and social innovation.

Ashoka is urgently looking for leaders in the following “emerging hubs”: Europe, India, Brazil, and the United States.

Among the projects that are seeking leadership:

  • Leader of Financial Operations Team (CFO)
  • Global and regional leaders for program enabling Citizen Sector Organizations to build a sustainable base of support (Citizen Base Initiative)
  • Leader for Global Development team
  • Leader for Global Fellowship Selection Program

Apply now at recruit@ashoka.org.

Update: Bhandan gets featured in Business Standard

I have written on Bhandan before, with regard to its efforts to incorporate job creation into its larger loans disbursed to micro enterprises looking to grow. Well now the organization is once again pushing new initiatives as the MFI’s CEO Chandra Shekhar Ghosh is trying to both grow Bhandan’s organizational footprint while simultaneously create schools in Bengal and elsewhere. His inspiration arises from his own experiences with BRAC and their ability to create schools serving tens of thousands of people. From a Business Standard profile:

Ghosh is funding this project with the Rs 72 lakh he got from a fellowship from Ashoka Social entrepreneurship programme. He says that the children of those who take loans from Bandhan are going back to school and there has been a fall in drop-out rates.

Ghosh is also looking to expand the capabilities of Bhandan itself.

Now, next month the microfinance institute (MFI) will open ten offices each in Delhi, and then in Mumbai. The slums in the two metros are the next target for this microfinance organisation which is being eyed by several top banks for equity share.

This approach to sustainable expansion is reflected in Ghosh’s view of how clients should also prosper as well:

“Development has to be sustainable and beneficiaries should stand on their own after receiving support for three years, or our programmes are of no use,” he says. “Bandhan is now full of excitement about opening ten new branches in Delhi and ten in Mumbai. It is a totally new terrain,” he says.