December 10

James Militzer

The Imperative of Change – An Interview with Bill Drayton

Bill Drayton needs little introduction – the CEO and founder of Ashoka is an elder statesman in the world of social enterprise, with a laundry list of accomplishments that could only be amassed by someone who has dedicated his life to making a difference.

We had a chance to speak with Drayton backstage at the SOCAP15 conference, where he was participating in a plenary session. The interview provided a glimpse into the mind of one of the most forward-thinking leaders in social business.

Drayton framed the discussion in historic terms: “Ashoka and all of us are living at an extraordinary time, when the world is making the final move away from being organized around repetition, to being organized around change,” he said. That means not only that individuals must develop new skills, but that organizations and entire countries must change their approach to work and education. Ashoka’s most important goal, as he put it, is to raise awareness of this new environment, and to use the force of entrepreneurship to “tip the whole global framework of thinking.”

That’s a big agenda, as Drayton recognizes. But he said it’s inevitable, as the world undergoes a dramatic evolution from old, industrialized societies to modern, change-based ones. “It used to be that you went to school, you got a skill, and then you’d repeat it for the rest of your life – you were a banker, or a barber … and people figured out how to get all those pieces to fit together efficiently: think assembly lines or law firms.” But since 1700, he said, the rate of change has been accelerating exponentially, while the demand for repetition has been decreasing at a similar rate. Today, people can’t succeed with this older mindset. Instead, individuals must develop the interpersonal skills to work collaboratively in team situations, and the leadership skills, autonomy and awareness to adapt to change and respond effectively to new opportunities. In a nutshell, the days of punching your time card and waiting for your boss to tell you what to do are ending.

But does everyone have the capability to succeed in an economy based on these new skills – and can economies that move away from traditional, repetition-based work create enough jobs to keep people employed? “We’re not saying ‘everyone (must be) an entrepreneur.’ That’s not realistic.” he said. “But we are saying that everyone must be a changemaker – and anyone who doesn’t have those skills is going to be marginalized, in their group, their community, their country.”

Drayton seemed optimistic that the job market will adapt to accommodate this new reality. He said 34 percent of the U.S. workforce are freelancers, and the average person has 14 to 17 jobs in their lifetime. The task of preparing people to succeed in this environment will require a huge investment and major human capital, he said, providing one new source of employment. And once there’s greater recognition of the sophisticated needs of living in this new world, he believes economies and labor markets will adjust to serve them.

In the wide-ranging interview below, Drayton lays out his vision and Ashoka’s role in it – and gives some rather subversive advice to aspiring social entrepreneurs. (Seriously, don’t miss his answer to the final question, starting at the 9:18 mark.)



James Militzer is the editor of NextBillion Financial Innovation.

Social Enterprise
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