John Converse Townsend's blog

Re-imagine Learning Challenges: Pioneers Hangout Series

There’s a growing demand in the workplace, and at almost every level of our global society, for innovative solutions to serious challenges.

You Won't Believe Who's Organizing Philly's First City-Wide Day of Play

Philadelphia will host its first city-wide day of play in the spring of 2015—organized not by city government but by 200 “play experts.” They will include young people who will design games while rallying teachers, mobilizing parents, teaming up with after-school program leaders, and encouraging their friends to take part.

Just Announced: 10 Champions of Learning Through Play


Today is the day. After seven months, 632 entries from 63 countries, and the selection of 305 Pacesetters and 30 Pioneers, we are proud to announce the 10 Champions in the Re-imagine Learning Challenge.

Design for Change: Children Feel, Imagine, Do, and Share

At age three, 98 percent of children are creative geniuses. By age 25, just 2 percent of people still possess their powerful childhood ingenuity. What's going on?

By the time they’re eight or nine, young students are rule-bound, self-conscious, and view tough tasks as threats to be avoided, rather than challenges to be mastered (or as opportunities to learn new skills). In other words, creative behavior is unlearned.

Climate-Friendly Communities, Made Possible Through Empathy

Ebola and ISIS are making the headlines, but climate change is still and will continue to be one of the biggest threats to Americans (and people around the

Meet 30 Pioneers Redefining Play and Re-imagining Learning


“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood,” said Mister Fred Rogers, many years ago.

How This Time-Traveling Professor Is Re-Defining Play And Learning

Professor S., a university professor in Berlin, has invented the world’s first functioning time machine. Unfortunately, it has malfunctioned and he’s stuck in the past with his Ph.D. research assistant, Jeanette. It’s up to students in seven elementary schools in Germany to help bring the pair home.

5 Ways You Can Be A Game Changer For Learning

We have to change the way the next generation of children learn, think and interact with people and the environment (both built and natural).

“This world requires a new paradigm for growing up and therefore also for education,” Bill Drayton wrote last year in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Leaders Need This Skill To Ask The Right Questions

Empathy—that seven-letter word seems to be everywhere these days.

Why A Toilet Alone Won't Do The Job: The 'Software' Of Sanitation Innovation

"The 2015 goal to halve the proportion of people living without sanitation is running 150 years behind schedule.”
—WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation 2010

Podcast: Food is Life

In the next 40 years, food production needs to go up by 70% if we are to be able to feed future populations. Lucas Simons, founder of SCOPEinsight has a solution to professionalise the agricultural landscape.

Podcast: Bridging the Skills Gap

The founders of Avanti, a social venture based out of India, are working to bridge the skills gap and empower millions of children to transform their future educational prospects.

Podcast: You are the author of your own story

“This is your life. Do what you love. And do it often.” These lines introduce the Holstee Manifesto, an inspiration to everyone looking to make a positive change in their life. Michael Radparvar, co-founder of Holstee, shares his journey as a young social entrepreneur.

Q&A With NextDrop Founder Anu Sridharan

Water problems affect billions of people around the world.

5 Social Change Pros Offer Advice To Young Entrepreneurs

Young people these days are wired differently. And that’s a good thing, according to Dr.

Podcast: No Smoke Without Fire!

What happens when an engineer meets a climate change expert? This is the story of One Earth Designs, a social enterprise that develops sustainable solutions responding to the need of the rural communities in the Himalayas.

Re-imagine Learning Challenge Hangout with 3 Players to Watch

A lot of time is spent discussing why education reform is important and why more playful learning methodologies benefit students.

Re-Designing Play, Re-Imagining Learning: 3 Players To Watch

If we were honest with ourselves, we’d admit that many of our educationsystems prioritize things other than whole-child development.

“We’ve got an obsession in believing that literacy and numeracy and content acquisition are the principal objectives of school systems,”

Play, a serious solution to economic and social challenges?

Education hasn’t changed that much since the days of armor-clad knights and candlelight—well before the printing press and, more recently, the internet made information a commodity. Educators lecture.

Play, a Serious Solution? G+ Hangout and Twitter Chat on May 28


“I think the beauty of thinking like a child … is that sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a kind of joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that as an adult you don’t get to go to very often.”

Ready for the Real World: How India's Riverside School Graduates Changemakers

At Kiran Bir Sethi’s Riverside School, students take charge. Here’s how...

Why Playful Learning Is The Key To Prosperity

In order for our global society to develop solutions to pressing problems in an increasingly technology-driven and constantly changing world, we need to re-train our workforce to do what machines can’t: to be enterprising, independent and strategic thinkers—to be purposeful creators.

How UNFIRE helps feed Nigeria at a bargain price

Social entrepreneur Mene B. Orits helps Nigerian farmers feed their families, and the rest of the country, while also offering young people and women a means out of poverty.

Micro-health insurance: how and why it works in Indonesia

Keeping waste out of landfills? Making health care accessible to all?

Rebuilding Guatemala … Through Its Soil

The story of how one social entrepreneur in Guatemala, Curt Bowen, is starting a revolution—for farmers, by farmers.

Mexican Innovation Connecting Off-The-Grid Rural Farmers To The World

Millions of rural Mexican citizens lack access to reliable electricity. But Manuel Wiechers, founder of Iluméxico, is helping farmers off the national energy grid turn on the lights.

2 Innovations Changing The Tech Landscape For Women In MENA

The Middle East and North Africa is home to a growing number of women who are, uncharacteristically, demanding equal citizenship and a greater role in society. The impetus? Women are getting educated—and getting online.

Interview With Tony Juniper: 'No Nature, No People'

Tony Juniper is a campaigner, writer, and “by popular consent the most effective of Britain’s eco-warriors.” He’s currently a special adviser to the Prince of Wales Charities’ International Sustainability Unit, a senior associate with the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL), and editor-in-chief of National Geographic Green Magazine.

How Can Business Be a Force for Change? G+ Hangout Next Monday

Business leaders can be a force for addressing climate change. They need to be. Now.

E HealthPoint transforms rural health care by providing access to clean water and affordable treatment

Editor's note: This post was written by Andrea Boston, freelance writer for Ashoka Changemakers.

For many families in developing countries, traveling to a nearby city for a doctor’s visit is expensive and inconvenient, and a lack of safe drinking water can make existing health conditions even worse. E HealthPoint provides low cost, clean water and quality medical treatment to rural Indian communities with a unique technology-based management and delivery system.

Saúde Criança: A winning innovation for global family health

Editor's note: This post was written by Vanuza Ramos, a Brazilian journalist and collaborator with Ashoka Changemakers, with contributions from Andrea Boston.

The Saúde Criança Association (Children’s Health Association, or ASC), one of Brazil’s most robust health initiatives, has been recognized—not for the first time—for its clever and comprehensive approach to pediatric and family care.

Meet the Innovations for Health Competition Finalists!

Nearly 400 entrepreneurs, health care professionals, and community members from 73 countries submitted their health care solutions to the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition hosted by Ashoka Changemakers and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio.

Today, 15 competition finalists have been identified as outlining the most promising solutions. The Innovations for Health finalists are designed to advance high quality health and well-being through low-cost interventions and personalized patient-centered care, and they have the potential to be applied to other countries.

The finalists provide a glimpse of the future of border-crossing innovation:

Get to know the Activating Empathy Early Entry Award Winners

Ashoka’s New Year’s resolution for 2012 was more ambitious than most. We’re not cutting back on the caffeine, eating healthier, or exercising more frequently. But we resolved to make 2012 the year to jumpstart a worldwide movement for empathy, made official with the launch of the global Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools To Teach What Matters competition.

Three months later, we are seeing this resolution become a reality. Teachers, parents, students, and innovators have joined this effort to ensure that all children master empathy, a critical skill in today’s rapidly changing world. The competition has attracted more than 160 entries and nearly 400 nominations for ideas that create better communities, societies, organizations, companies, and institutions.

There is still time to get involved; the deadline for solutions isn’t until 5:00 p.m. (ET) on March 30. More than $110,000 in cash and in-kind prizes are still available to entrants!

In the meantime, we have decided to recognize a handful of our favorite solutions to date: the Activating Empathy Early Entry Award Winners:

Enter the We Media PitchIt! Challenge for a shot at $25k

What is an idea worth? Pennies on the dollars? Less?

Try $25,000. According to Andrew Nachison and Dale Peskin, co-founders of the digital creation agency We Media, the right idea is worth that much—but only if it’s submitted by March 13.

Q&A with Darren Bunton, Human Rights Activist

By now you’ve definitely spotted it: Changemakers is changing. One of the most visible developments is changeshops, an improved way to help build the world of social good. Changeshops is still a very young network, but we’re already seeing signs of its potential. As the community grows, we’re asking a few top users to share the exciting projects popping up.

Today Darren Bunton, executive director and chairman of Eway Foundation, talks about growing the foundation’s Ethical Citizen Media project, the difference between Facebook and Twitter and changeshops, and keeping in touch with innovators all over the world.

Q&A with Jacquie Cutts, Maternal and Child Health Champion

Changemakers is changing. Through the new changeshops platform, we now offer improved ways to help build the world of social good. Changeshops users will be able to tell the online community what they need to grow their projects; search for collaborators, innovators, and competitions in the field; and access funding opportunities for world-changing ideas.

The changeshops community is growing each day. To get a preview of what might be in store, Changemakers is catching up with a few of the platform’s top users.

Today, Changemakers talked (change)shop with Jacquie Cutts, the founder, president, and CEO of Safe Mothers, Safe Babies, a nonprofit organization working to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality in Uganda.

Cutts has been a long-time supporter of participatory development and has worked to help rural communities understand maternal and child health from the local perspective, in addition to supporting more innovative health care initiatives like motorcycle ambulance programs which reduce barriers to accessing care.

Save the Date! Join @Changemakers for a #SocEntChat about Empathy!

February 14th is a day the world beams with love – and what better way to capture that love, by cultivating empathy in ourselves and in our communities?

Join us, the 1440 Foundation, experts and innovators between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. EST on Valentine’s Day for a conversation about empathy: its power, its impact, and its future.  

This is your chance to share your thoughts, ideas, challenges, and perspectives—and to connect with innovators and thought-leaders!

Q&A with James Waruiru, Community Health Activist

Changemakers is changing. Through the new Changeshops platform, we now offer improved ways to help build the world of social good. Changeshops users will be able to tell the online community what they need to grow their projects; search for collaborators, innovators, and competitions in the field; and access funding opportunities for world-changing ideas.

The Changeshops community is growing each day; to get a preview of what might be in store, Changemakers is catching up with a few of the platform’s top users.

Q&A with Idit Harel Caperton, Education Entrepreneur

Changemakers is changing. Through the new Changeshops platform, we now offer improved ways to help build the world of social good. Changeshops users will be able to tell the online community what they need to grow their projects; search for collaborators, innovators, and competitions in the field; and access funding opportunities for world-changing ideas.

The Changeshops community is growing each day; to get a preview of what might be in store, Changemakers is catching up with a few of the platform’s top users.

Our first interview is with Dr. Idit Harel Caperton, president and founder of the World Wide Workshop, the New York-based foundation that is powering ideas for global learning and leadership in the 21st century. Caperton’s Globaloria project is the world’s first and largest social learning network where students develop the digital citizenship skills the global economy demands. Globaloria helps both youth and educators learn to participate as leaders of change in the global knowledge economy.

Caperton sat down to talk with Changemakers about the organization’s early success with Changeshops.

Ben & Jerry’s Scoops Up New Ideas on

What happens when you blend Ben & Jerry’s environmentally-friendly business model with Ashoka Changemakers’ dynamic platform for innovation? You get an international competition sure to delight young entrepreneurs throughout Europe.

What Happens When HeroRATs Head Home?

If you’ve been around these parts, you’re familiar with APOPO’s HeroRATs — the carefully trained, classically conditioned rodents that are bringing peace and security to countries with landmine legacies. HeroRATs founder Bart Weetjens and his talented critters have recently been featured at events like the 2011 Ashoka Globalizer and Skoll World Forum, heard over airwaves worldwide, and even captured on film in the field.

APOPO has successfully cleared more than 2,000 landmines and unexploded ordnances from land along the Thai-Cambodian border and in Mozambique. But what becomes of the reclaimed land after the HeroRATs head home?

Q&A: An Interview With Ben Wald

On January 14, leading innovators in social and business entrepreneurship, technology, academia, and entertainment will meet at Pixar Animation Studios to discuss powerful and effective ways to address the most critical social and economic challenges of our time. They include Google vice president Marissa Mayer; Steve Case, founder of AOL and The Case Foundation; and Tim Brown, IDEO CEO, as well as Ashoka president Diana Wells and Ashoka Changemakers chief executive partner Ben Wald.

The event, dubbed “The Intersection,” will be a mash-up of 14 “innovation masterminds” from the business and social sectors exploring leading trends and ideas in personal creativity, team and organizational innovation, and social impact.

Wald recently talked with Changemakers about what he expects from the event—and what he is excited about.

Photo of the Day: Dec. 16, 2011

Two female "enviropreneurs" unload crate of saplings from a pickup truck in Nicaragua'ss La Flor Wildlife Refuge. These environmental stewards work with Paso Pacifico's Environmental Learning, Leadership, Adventure, and Stewardship Initiative (ELLAS), and are hoping to avert (and reverse) large-scale environmental destruction in the coastal and marine protected area.

Visionary Entrepreneur Sets Sight on Eliminating Preventable Blindness

Nearly 40 million people worldwide are needlessly blind and another 240 million have low vision. Virtually all of the world’s 285 million visually-impaired persons live in developing countries, suffering from uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts.

But Unite For Sight, a social enterprise headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut, is empowering communities worldwide to improve eye health and eliminate preventable blindness. The organization guarantees eye treatment—whether it’s medication, a $150 sight-restoring surgery or even a first pair of glasses—for patients living in poverty in Ghana, India, and Honduras, as well as the United States and Canada.

More than 1.3 million people worldwide have overcome barriers to eye care through Unite For Sight services, whether they can afford to pay or not—the bill is always covered by the nonprofit.

Photo of the Day: Dec. 9, 2011

Riders for Health courier, Piero Sakala (center), delivers blood samples sourced from rural health centers to a medical lab in Zambia's Chadiza district. After testing, the results are transported back to clinics along the country's southeastern border, enabling medical staff to more effectively diagnose diseases (including HIV and tuberculosis) and treat patients.

An Army of Giant Rats Unearths Peace in Africa


It takes a true visionary to see a Buddhist monk deploying a pack of giant rats as the solution to the devastating danger posed by landmines.

Every few hours, another person is killed or maimed by a landmine. Even in areas removed from active conflict, landmines are more than just distressing reminders of former bloodshed — they’re hidden hazards that terrorize populations and freeze development.

Identifying, unearthing, and disarming these explosives is dangerous and daunting. Despite record clearances, more countries deployed anti-personnel mines last year than in any year since 2004.


"Everywhere I went to apply for funding, we were just laughed at. Institutions were actually very reluctant toward such an approach.
The reason (for my perseverance) why was clear, obvious. 

I dreamt of a better world . . ."

Calling All Social Innovators: McKinsey is Looking for Inspiration

UPDATE: The deadline for video submissions has been extended to midnight on November 20.

What inspires you? If it’s a unique social innovation with a big impact, McKinsey wants you to share it.

McKinsey is asking you to submit one-minute videos before November 18 of your favorite innovations, for a collection of video shorts that showcase solutions to pressing social issues, from new models for water and sanitation, to health and community well-being.

Videos submissions may also highlight what drives your social good organization.

A selection committee will choose ten finalists, to be voted on by McKinsey’s global community beginning on November 23. Winners will be announced on December 5.

The best videos will be showcased on the McKinsey website; the video producers will be honored with exclusive interviews in McKinsey on Society, featured prominently on The Huffington Post, and will be invited to a networking reception in New York City in early 2012.

Shoot your short video quickly! The project entry deadline is in ten days.

Nation’s Most Innovative STEM Solutions Honored in “Partnering for Excellence” Competition

Eight winners have been selected from the Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education competition, a search for the most innovative ways to inspire STEM-rich learning in our nation’s classrooms (particularly in high-need communities) by connecting students with STEM professionals.

The competition was hosted by Ashoka Changemakers, with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Opportunity Equation. Winners were selected by a combination of open voting on the website, the recommendations of competition partners, and a rigorous assessment by a distinguished panel of judges including Dr. Bruce Alberts, Tim Brown, Michele Cahill, Caroline Kennedy, Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis, and Dr. Robert Moses.

Let’s meet the winners!

Occupy Rooftops and Start a Solar Revolution

Are you a part of the rooftop revolution? It’s never been easier, explains Ashoka Fellow Billy Parish. (Video after the jump.) He is the co-founder of Solar Mosaic, a marketplace that simplifies the clean energy movement by helping communities create and fund their own solar projects.

Join Parish in celebrating Community Solar Day in your neighborhood on November 20.

Occupy a rooftop near your home as a first step into a future where solar investments can create green jobs and local prosperity. Or find a building you’d like to see powered by solar energy and gather a community solar team to make sure your dream becomes a reality.

The Power of People and the Necessity for Choice

Molly Katchpole has become an Internet sensation—and a real people’s champion. Katchpole is the 22-year-old who led the charge against Bank of America, which capitulated to a public campaign against a planned monthly $5 fee on debit card transactions, in an about-face on September 29.

“I heard the news about the fee and was like, ‘That is it. I'm sick of this,” Katchpole said. She is a recent college graduate who lives paycheck-to-paycheck in Washington, D.C.

“On the one hand, [Bank of America] is running a business, but on the other hand, it is people’s money they are working with, and some people don't have a lot of money. It's not like they are just selling toothbrushes—it goes much deeper than that."

Katchpole petitioned Bank of America’s president and CEO Brian T. Moynihan to reverse the $5 fee decision. On October 1, Katchpole’s online petition on had attracted 100 signatures; by the 30th, it had more than 300,000.

The Bank waved the white flag on November 1, surrendering to people power and stating that it will not implement a debit usage fee.

Okay, America, I didn’t know you felt so strongly.

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