You have to teach empathy like literacy: Ashoka-Innovators founder

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Today social entrepreneurship is a buzzword. How would you define a social entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur is someone who brings a pattern change. Instead of measuring how many children you teach, it’s about whether you introduce a whole new pattern of education. Social means that the person from deep within is committed to the good of all and so is his work. I’ve been very careful not to say that it is work in a particular sector, such as education or environment. There are lots of entrepreneurs who pursue narrow objectives: shareholders’ interests, some ideological point of view. But because they aren’t working for the world, periodically society starts veering off in directions that are not so good. So you need social entrepreneurs to pull back the system towards everyone’s good.

So what is the one big trend that emerges in these times of change?

In a world of change, the value-add comes from contributing to change. The repetition jobs are being washed out. Technology is doing away with a lot of what architects or doctors do. A decade from now there are not going to be jobs for people who can only do repetition. So a 15-year-old today who is not practising change-making is in big trouble and any society that is not making sure that all 15-year-olds are practising change-making is in big trouble.

How has the sector transformed since Ashoka’s inception?

The essential point of my visit to India is, in fact, the huge transition in the field. We started Ashoka here in India with a simple idea that you needed social entrepreneurs to deal with problems that don’t fit the business paradigm. Then there wasn’t even a word such as social entrepreneurship . So the first task was to build up awareness that this is a good, necessary career. Now, people understand that. The world historically organized itself around efficiency and repetition (think assembly line). Around 1980, the citizen sector broke free, it became entrepreneurial and competitive, and that’s why we set up Ashoka. Over the last three decades, the rate of job growth in our sector has been nearly three times that of the rest of the economy in the OECD countries. When we started, there were about 5, 000 citizen groups in Brazil, by 2000 there were around a million. The game is no longer ’repetition reinforces repetition’ but ’change begets and accelerates change’ . It is the opposite game. So you have to organize in an opposite way. That’s a fluid, open, team-of-teams structure.

Source: The Times of India (link opens in a new window)

Ashoka, social entrepreneur