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Ashoka : Innovators for the Public

Ashoka : Innovators for the Public is a global non-profit organization committed to building the profession of social entrepreneurship. Founded in 1981, Ashoka has pioneered the “social venture capital” approach in international development. Ashoka invests in exceptional individuals and their ideas to help them achieve large-scale social impact.

Social entrepreneurs are practical visionaries whose drive and creativity have the potential to bring about large-scale social change. These exceptional individuals who can be found in all cultures, pioneer innovative solutions to social problems. They cannot rest with local demonstrations of their ideas and are committed to changing patterns in their field.

Ashoka identifies leading social entrepreneurs when they are in the early take-off stage and invests in their ideas two ways :

Financial – by providing them with a living stipend for three years that allows them to focus fulltime on their ideas.

Association and Professional Development by electing leading social entrepreneurs into Ashoka’s Global Fellowship, This is the first and the only worldwide network of leading social entrepreneurs that fosters collaborations between Fellows nationally and internationally. Ashoka also provides valuable contacts and information to Fellows to spread their innovations and build long-term sustainability.

Over 1200 Ashoka Fellows are currently working in 44 countries in diverse fields such as education, health, gender rights, environment, human rights etc. to bring about advances in areas of social concern.

Ashoka India

Ashoka was launched in India in 1981. In 1982, we elected the first group of Ashoka Fellows.

Since, then Ashoka India has grown into a rich fellowship of 217 fellows who are working in diverse fields.

Ashoka India’s Venture and Global fellowship programs have been made richer by the ownership and guidance of Fellows. India has been the launch pad for two global initiatives of Ashoka.

Ashoka launched Changemakers – the first magazine devoted to the field of social entrepreneurship – from India. The environmental Innovations Initiative, a global program that involves Ashoka Fellows around the world working in diverse areas of environmental protection was flagged off from India in 1999.

In 2000, the Citizen Base Initiative was launched in India. This program focuses on the growth and sustainability of ideas implemented by social entrepreneurs. Ashoka is building a partnership with MCKinsey & Company where McKinsey consultants provide pro bono strategy and organizational consulting to Fellows and offer training in communication and fundraising.

Social entrepreneurship in India has only made the movement stronger. As innovative ideas and leading social entrepreneurs succeed, they encourage many more to build approaches to social change.

Ashoka takes its name after the India ruler who unified India in the 3rd century B.C. Remorseful over causing much bloodshed during the Kalinga war, he renowned violence and dedicated his life to the peaceful establishment of social welfare and economic development. Ashoka is remembered as one of the world’s earliest social innovators. In Sanskrit, Ashoka means the “active absence of sorrow”, the cornerstone of the work of Ashoka : Innovators for the Public and its Fellows.

Association and Global Fellowship Services

“The Global Fellowship of Ashoka is much more than networking. It is about robust communication, systems for building linkages and a team of professionals that facilitates critical thinking among fellows on concepts and principles. The Global Fellowship opens pathways for us to build upon ideas at a broader level.

-Asoka Fellow, Jeroo Billimoria

Ashoka recognizes that financial investment is not enough for successful launch of its. Fellows and their powerful ideas. Ashoka leverages its investment by making available a range of value-added services like a professional association, Ashoka enhances the effectiveness of its members by providing contacts and information, as well as faster collaboration among Fellows through Fellowship network. Providing these opportunities is key to the success of the Ashoka Fellowship. The service includes:

Local Fellowship Meeting

In areas of each country where a cluster of Fellows exists, the Fellows meet periodically to share ideas, discuss common challenges, and develop practical collaboration.

Fellowship Support services

Ashoka Fellowship support services primarily respond to Fellow request for information, informs them of important development in their fields, and provide contacts and travel supports. It also systematically links Fellows to one another and others in the field.

Ashoka India also publishes Billboard, a quarterly newsletter that is disseminated to all fellows, nominators and Olivers with whom Ashoka wishes to communicate with. The Billboard helps fellows communicate with one another on their activities and programs, or their requests. Typically each Bilboard profiles the works of 7-10 fellows.

Local Challenge Funds and Global Collaboration Grants

These flexible, competitive matching funds support proposals made by groups of Fellows within a country, region or across continents to address common needs, challenges or opportunities.

Fellow Exchange Grant

Ashoka assists fellows with travel grants for international and local travel opportunities to meet with, partner and collaborate with other fellows, within the country and outside, as the case may be.

Internet Incentive Fund / Listserv

Ashoka provides a small, competitive matching fund to enable Fellows who are not on- line to purchase hardware, receive training and/or subscribe to an internet service. Once they are connected, all Fellows have the opportunities to participate in on Ashoka Fellow Listserv.

The Innovative Learning Initiative (ILI)

Ashoka’s Innovative Learning Initiative (ILI) is focused on tipping the thinking about the role of young people in society so that youths themselves become actors in social change for the betterment of their own lives. This will dramatically improve the quality of children’s lives by increasing their skills, learning, leadership and engagement in the community. ILI will do this by harnessing Fellows innovations and efforts to give young people the tools, encouragement and inspiration to create a social movement of young changemakers.

The Environmental Innovations Initiative (Ell)

Ashoka’s Environmental Innovations Initiative (Ell) gathers the insights from the Fellowship and the work of other environmentally focused social entrepreneurs. Once collected, the Ell puts these insights in the hands of those who can use this knowledge to improve how people impact the environment and the environment impacts us.

The Center for Social Entrepreneurship (CSE)

This provides pro bono strategy and organization consulting to Fellows and offers training in communication, fundraising and other areas.

The Citizen Base Initiative (CBI)

The Citizen Base Initiative aims to change the way the Citizen Sector thinks about resource mobilization from reliance on a small group of international funders to a diversified base of local support. This initiative challenges the civil society sector through competition, awards and workshops.

Bridges to Universities and Society (BUS)

A program which takes social entrepreneurship to universities and colleges across the country.


In 1993, Ashoka created the first magazine dedicated to the profession of social entrepreneurship. Currently www. changemakers. net is a monthly online publication that profiles leading social entrepreneurs and innovative solutions to the problems they face.

Ashoka’s Search and Selection Process

Ashoka has developed an explicit criteria for distinguishing leading social entrepreneurs : individuals who possess a new idea that has the potential to effect systemic social change at least at the national, if not regional, level. These criteria are –

  • An original idea for solving an important social problem.
  • Creativity in vision, goal-setting and problem-solving.
  • Entrepreneurial skill and experience.
  • The ability to think through details of implementation.
  • A realistic action plan likely to have national impact; and
  • A deep, reliable ethical composition.

Step I: Nomination

Applications are welcome from anyone, but Ashoka’s Nominators play a critical role both in identifying candidates and in screening out many more. Ashoka’s nominators comprise opinion leaders in various fields with the experience and eye to spot the caliber of people we support. Nominations can be sent to the appropriate regional offices of Ashoka India. Candidates can also directly apply to Ashoka for a Fellowship.

Step 2 : Site Visits

The Ashoka Regional Representative reviews each candidate’s application, and then conducts independent reference and background checks, site visits, and interviews. The Representative drafts a profile of the candidate highlighting the candidate’s new idea, the problem it is addressing, its implementation strategy, and the candidate’s personal background.

Step 3 : Second Opinion Review

Once the Representative has made his or her recommendation supporting a candidate, that candidate goes through on intensive second opinion review by a senior Ashoka professional who has never seen the case before and comes from outside the country. This review includes on (typically) four to seven hour) interview with the candidate that explores his or her life history and the idea quite afresh. The second opinion review helps the international staff calibrate its work from country to country, and helps train the Representative.

Step 4 : Selection Panel

The Panel, made up of social entrepreneurs, is responsible for ensuring that those elected are likely to become truly first rate, at least national-scale, social entrepreneurs. In making these decisions, the Panel defines the emerging field of social entrepreneurship. The Panel is guided in its deliberations by these cardinal principles:

  • Confidentiality
  • When a member knows a candidate personally or has a working relationship deeper than casual professional contact, the member will notify his fellow panelists and not participate in the decision-making regarding that case. However, if the Panel 1st is comfortable, he or she may contribute as a knowledgeable resource.

Step 5 : Board Approval

The final stage is approval by Ashoka’s international Board of Directors to ensure worldwide standards and consistency.

Ashoka’s Offices

Ashoka India
Ashoka India
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +918042745777 / +918025350730
Office Address:
Ashoka India
54, 1st Cross Road
1st Stage, Domlur
Bengaluru 560071