- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Bill Drayton, president and founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public.
Question: What is a social entrepreneur, and what do they do?
A business entrepreneur has exceptional levels of vision, creativity and determination and frequently creates entirely new industries. A social entrepreneur has exactly the same qualities, but he or she devotes them to coming up with new solutions to social problems. The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society isn't working and to provide new ways to make it work. The social entrepreneur finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solutions and persuading entire societies to take new steps. Social entrepreneurs go beyond the immediate problem to fundamentally change communities, societies, the world.
We need fundamental, structural change in educational and human rights, every bit as much as in the hotel and steel [industries]. Fundamental change comes from entrepreneurs people who see over the horizons and lead society to take the next step. We have had many institutions to support business entrepreneurs, but only in the last decade have people begun to recognize and support social entrepreneurs. Ashoka does two things: we help to launch [innovative] ideas for social change on a global scale and the social entrepreneurs behind them, the institutions necessary to support both the ideas and the person.
In essence, we are like a venture capital firm but focused on social innovation. And the second major thing we do is build the institutions that make our new field [of social entrepreneurship] work better.
Q: Please cite an example of a person who has become a social entrepreneur?
There's J.B. Schramm who lives in Washington, D.C. Mr. Schramm grew up in Denver and attended East Denver High School. After graduation, he went to college, unlike most of his high school classmates. He thought they were just as smart as he and was bothered by the waste and unfairness of it all. Because he was an entrepreneur, he never let that slip from his mind, and he kept working until he found a solution. It's a simple idea that had a big impact.
There are probably 150,000 students each year who should be going to college they certainly have the capabilities. But their parents didn't attend college, and the students don't receive the kind of counseling in school that would fill that gap. So, J.B. Schramm's College Summit fills that gap in a very economical way. Each year, Mr. Schramm takes groups of students who are juniors and seniors to a local college campus for four or five days.
The students have an opportunity to think through what it means to go to college, and since they're on a college campus, the college experience is demystified. Then, Mr. Schramm works with their homeroom teachers and gets the teachers involved, trained and engaged with the College Summit groups, and 80 percent of those students actually enroll in college.
If you think about the implication, say he gets 100,000 [students] to go to college who would not have attended in 10 years, that's a million [people], they have families, and that's 4 to 5 million people who have moved from being marginal in the economy to being on a very solid career and life path.
Mr. Schramm (one of the first Ashoka Fellows elected in the United States in 2000) had the idea, demonstrated it here in Washington, D.C., where it started, and now is taking a D.C. idea out to the rest of the country. He's got more than 10 major cities now where this program is up and running. So there's another difference the entrepreneur we are looking for is not interested in only a local school, he's out to change the system across the country.
Q: What inspired you to establish Ashoka?
I was exposed to two things while I was growing up: Gandhi and the civil rights movement here in the United States. And, after that, I was exposed to Asia, specifically to South Asia. I played a very minor role in the civil rights movement, but it had a very big impact on me, and the power of Gandhi in his approach to causing change, not by anger or hatred but by truth and love.
I saw that the average American had 100 times the average income of a person who lived in India, and if we considered the inequity here, what about that inequity? That's where the Ashoka idea came from those two forces came together. You had to ask questions: What are we going to do to close gaps in our own country and in the world? Ashoka is the most highly leveraged way of doing that we take the single most powerful ingredient in social change and development, a big new idea, if it's in the hands of a first-class entrepreneur, there is nothing more powerful than that combination.
Q: How does one become a social entrepreneur?
If you have an idea and give yourself permission to cause change we will help. Just go to our Web site, the application is right there. Or call and talk with the U.S./Canada program staffer at our office. Each year, we have an induction ceremony to welcome new fellows into the fold in June.
Q: How many people were inducted this summer?
We had a total of 13 people: 11 U.S. fellows and two Canadians. In June we inducted three fellows from Washington, D.C.
David Domenici founded See Forever/Maya Angelou Public Charter School in the District. The school combines academics, job training and life skills to address the breakdown between traditional education and the systems that impact at-risk youth, including the child welfare system, juvenile corrections and the job market.
By proving that these young people can succeed, Mr. Domenici is providing a productive alternative for them, while forcing policy-makers to change their reform strategies.
David Erickson founded Samaritan Inns, which provides homeless drug- and alcohol-addicted people with a community-based recovery and housing system. Through Samaritan Inns, a person is given a continuum of recovery support and practical, affordable, drug- and alcohol-free housing that fosters increasing levels of independence.
Dianna Ortiz founded Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition. She's creating international communities of healing for torture survivors to [help them] regain their sense of trust and community. Through an innovative process, survivors are empowered to lead and develop strong voices in the international campaign to end torture. Her strategy focuses on reconnecting survivors to their communities and in doing so influences, through education and lobbying, the institutions and people capable of shaping national and international policies on torture.
For more information about Ashoka, visit their Web site at www.ashoka.org

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