Social entrepreneurs respond to “a molten lava moment”

Four Ashoka Fellows on what they’re learning right now, what’s ahead, and why they’re hopeful.


Yes, we’re facing big problems right now. Acute problems stemming from the pandemic. Generational problems rooted in systemic racism. And yet we don’t have to start from scratch to begin to heal, fix what’s broken, and imagine a new world — one that is more caring, equitable, and creative.

This is the basis for Welcome Change, a series of conversations with Ashoka Fellows. And as our latest conversation reminds us, social entrepreneurs like Rosanne Haggerty, Sonya Passi, Raj Jayadev, and David Bornstein have many of the answers and insights we need right now. They have been testing solutions for years, even decades.

Here are short highlights from the full conversation:

A new measuring stick for success

Through an approach he calls “participatory defense,” Raj Jayadev mobilizes the families of people charged with criminal offenses to contribute to the legal defense of their loved ones, as supports to overstretched public defenders.

We ask: what is your experience of this moment? “It feels like molten lava… things are burning, but also are fluid,” Raj shares. “At some point they will calcify and that will be our new reality.” In this new reality, what will be the measure of success? Here’s Raj:


Raj is an Ashoka Fellow since 2011. More here on participatory defense.

Start with shared intentions

Rosanne Haggerty founded Community Solutions thirty years ago with the goal of ending homelessness in America. Her Built for Zero network of 80 towns and cities is working to achieve “functional zero” homelessness — and showing results. She reflects on what can move us forward at this juncture. Here’s Rosanne on the basis for a future state of progress:


Even as we face record evictions and foreclosures, read why Rosanne, an Ashoka Fellow since 2007, is hopeful that the pandemic will spur us to end homelessness, in Forbes

Freedom to pursue systemic change

Sonya Passi is changing how we understand the root causes of intimate partner abuse and gender-based violence, so we can respond more effectively. She notes that many incentives, including funding incentives, are misaligned with this “moment of reckoning” that requires long-term vision and systemic change. More here:


Sonya founded FreeFrom and is an Ashoka Fellow since 2019. Read more about her approach to investing in survivor wealth, in Forbes.

A new narrative based on strengths, not deficits

David Bornstein is an author, journalist, social entrepreneur and co-founder of The New York Times “Fixes” column and Solutions Journalism Network. Below he reflects on how communities of color and communities in poverty are currently defined by journalism according to their deficits, not their aspirations and contributions — and what might be done differently. Here’s David:



The ideas that social entrepreneurs bring are essential now more than ever. Consider using this pandemic time to immerse yourself in the world of Ashoka Fellows. Discover how they approach problems and what solutions they propose. Explore our calendar of upcoming conversations and subscribe here for weekly updates and new opportunities. See you on Zoom!