What More Can We Do to Ignite Change and Create Lasting Value?

Some time early next year, the Changemakers program at Ashoka will hit an interesting milestone—100 online challenges designed and executed during the past decade. A peek under the hood reveals something that should impress even the most hard-headed stoic: more than 20,000 innovative projects mobilized, more than 100,000 innovators engaged, more than 1,000 leading innovators celebrated (a number of which have qualified to be Ashoka Fellows, recognizing that they are among the world’s leading social entrepreneurs), and more than 100 co-creator relationships with corporate partners.

But even as we rack up such achievements, I find myself focusing on what more is possible, and on the potential that has yet to be fully realized. A part of this feeling stems from that eternal dissatisfaction and impatience that is the zeitgeist of our times—and it really is a bit of brooding disease, but I think the rest is quite valid.

We’re holding in our hands a powerful global community (Ashoka’s innovators and thought leaders), a mechanism (the online competition), and a competence (framing challenges for maximum impact, convening innovators, and identifying high-potential solutions)—that enables us to engage so many exciting innovators and other stakeholders, all committed to a vision for change—so we have to hold ourselves to high standards. As we’re looking at completing our 100th challenge, we’re asking ourselves: what more could we have done, and, most importantly, what should we be doing?

Different people would answer these questions differently, depending on their vision, interests, and competencies. Changemakers now chooses to see each new challenge as a rare opportunity to bring together a cohort of high-potential innovators and our peer organizations in the impact sector, so that that we can all collaborate to ignite something special that creates a lasting value for the field.

What does this even mean? That’s what we are figuring out. There is stuff that immediately jumps out at us: More funding for innovators! Peer learning! Powerful stories! Easier connections!

But we’re resisting the temptation to stop there, in favor of co-creating something even bigger. After all, if Ashoka can bring more than just it’s own knowledge and network to each challenge—adding the contributions of powerful peer organizations that understand funding, storytelling, learning, and talent—in ways that few others can match, surely we can co-create much more.

During the past 18 months, we’ve moved a fair bit in this direction. Our experiments include:

  • enabling our challenge participants to review each other’s work so that they can learn and connect
  • partnering to offer an online course that extends our work to push social intrapreneurship beyond a tipping point
  • facilitating the work of thought-leaders to spread a framework that emphasizes the importance of establishing feedback loops between citizens and the institutions that should be serving them
  • developing interactive knowledge tools that help innovators understand their fields better
  • online hangouts that enable innovator communities to learn, connect, and grow together
  • measuring different types of impact
  • and, soon: working with a leading fundraising platform to enable wider funding possibilities for innovators that are participating in an upcoming competition.

We are bringing a wide range of creative, network-driven, and feedback-validated possibilities to each of these kinds of engagements so that we can create significantly greater impact. At times of self-doubt during this evolution, I consider Ashoka’s vision of an Everyone a Changemaker world, and I ask myself, “what do we need to do to enable anyone to achieve their changemaking potential?