Nilima Achwal

Unleash Social Impact: Ashoka’s Globalizer and Skoll World Forum

On Monday, I had an exceptionally insightful conversation with Felix Oldenburg, Ashoka’s Europe and Germany director, and a speaker at the Skoll World Forum. He, along with Konstanze Frischen and Maria Zapata, organized Ashoka’s first-annual Globalizer program (March 26-28 in Stockholm) that accelerated Ashoka Fellow enterprises for global scale.

Felix was warm, genuine, and sharp. He gave me a rare look into the future of the social enterprise movement-how it will explode such that even mainstream business won’t be able to look away.

Felix (pictured below) challenged the mainstream dialogue on social enterprise.

“Current strategies toward growing social enterprises-social investments to help individual enterprises scale-will result in only incremental, organic growth,” he explained. “The social problems will keep outgrowing solutions, since there will never be enough organizational capability to grow quickly enough.”

Instead, he argued, we need social enterprises that unleash their impact across the world. And it’s not difficult to exponentially explode social impact across the world. Businesses (social and non-social) that will create movements will do the following:

  • Empower changemakers inside the organization.

“No small group of people can see the opportunities in the millions of individual connections and ideas that are sparking inside their organization-you can’t do it all by yourself,” he explained. In fact, he encourages leaders to think about everyone they interact with as being co-creators instead of clients or beneficiaries.

  • Empower other organizations to be changemakers.

That means even other organizations are co-creators-empower them to do more of the job than you are used to letting them do. This-called smart networking-is essential. In a complete paradigm shift from the traditional you-centered model of networking, picture you and other organizations as equals centered around your cause. This will create a tidal wave of high-impact growth.

The gravity of the previous two points can’t be overstated-let it sink in. This isn’t about you, or even your social enterprise. This is about achieving your mission-providing clean water where there was none, empowering all women to be politically active citizens, finding a loving mentor for every child who would have ended up in jail. Your mission comes first.

Now, in order to unleash your impact, find a way to empower everyone around you. Felix suggested a few powerful methods:

  • Open-sourcing-harness the collective brainpower of your community.

Though many well-known organizations have done this, including Wikipedia and IDEO, Felix cited Ashoka Fellow Jeroo Billimoria’s ChildLine, a support hotline in India for street children, by street children. After its initial success in India, the founder decided to “let it loose.” In lightning speed, the hotline spread to 120 countries and created immeasurable global impact, which she would have taken decades to do on her own.

  • Hybrid Value Chains

The social sector subsists on tiny amounts of money, nowhere near the resources of big business. If you combine elements of a value chain that are social with those that are business, you can harness a multi-billion dollar industry for social good. (See HBR article). For example, big business cannot enter the global housing market without a social component in its value chain, which will help it overcome market barriers in slums (like negotiating property rights, creating new financing mechanisms, like micro-loans, for slum residents to buy homes, and creating community-maintained sanitation systems). Thus, social and for-profit organizations must work together-which will, in essence, allow social enterprises to tap into a $424 billion industry and close the housing gap forever.

  • Instill empowering traits in your employees

“The four traits you will need to succeed in the next century are teamwork, empathy, leadership, and change-making (the ability to make change). You will absolutely have to have these four traits to be a player-they will be like literacy, absolute must-haves for success,” he said. Can you imagine what the world will look like when empathy and change-making infiltrate every business?

To sum up, every entrepreneur (social or otherwise) should ask herself the following every morning: Am I allowing the most number of people possible to participate in my vision? If the answer is “yes”, this entrepreneur can shake the earth.

I’ll leave you with a stirring story that Felix told me. Ashoka Fellow Jerry White won the Nobel Peace Prize for the campaign to ban land mines . In his organization Survivor Corps, he had assembled over 80 experts and deep resources on land mines. Last year, however, he closed shop. He wasn’t giving up; on the contrary, he wanted the movement to drive itself, and drive hard. He believed his skilled, empowered employees could create an even greater impact by implementing change throughout other organizations-government agencies, NGOs, the UN, and the like. So he let them fly. The organization may have been his, but the mission belonged to millions-and that’s how it became an immense force worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Impact Assessment, Investing, Social Enterprise
social enterprise