Moving Beyond Business for Good: How Markets Can Transform Systems for Good

Josephine Lengapiano Josephine is an incredible Samburu woman who conducts half of her business with Pokots. She lives in an area with more markets and products, so Pokots will call her to place orders, send her money via m-pesa, then pick up the goods when they come to her village.
Source: The Advocacy Project

Can you use a business model to not just to do well, but also to radically change a system? At Ashoka, the global network for the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, we’ve met hundreds of groundbreaking entrepreneurs around the world who have taught us that social businesses can be a powerful pathway to social change.

Entrepreneurs we’ve learned from so far include the first free provider of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that’s registered over 12 million students, and an Indian eye care company that has provided affordable cataract surgery for over 32 million low-income patients, the majority of whom were treated for free or at minimal cost.

The fact that there are successful models for market-based social impact, however, does not mean that it’s easy.

Why These Case Studies?

In conferences and accelerators held around the world, social entrepreneurs have repeatedly asked us: what are practical examples they can learn from? They want examples of how to use business models to reach greater scale of social impact, or to effect systems change, in a way that doesn’t compromise their original social mission.

To address this challenge, we selected five social entrepreneurs from diverse sectors that serve as examples of market-based models of systems-change.

What the Case Studies Cover

The case studies share the founding story of each initiative, and highlights key decisions, lessons learned, and pitfalls avoided in order to reach impact. An accompanying executive summary covers why social entrepreneurs prefer a market-based solution over one that is funded for free, as well as five types of failures that market-based innovations seek to address. 

Join us in exploring the journeys of five such social entrepreneurs and consider ways you can shake up your approach to impact through two critical levers: leveraging market-based solutions and opening up.

View the Executive Summary here


View Case Studies here

  • Alison - First Free Massive Open Online Learning Platform
    Designed to Meet Modern Job Needs Serving 12 million registered learners and 2 million graduates read case study
  • Aravind Eye Hospital - Eliminating Needless Blindness
    Treating over 4.1 million outpatient visits a year; replicated by over 320 hospitals in 27 countries read case study
  • FrontlineSMS - Saving Lives through SMS
    Downloaded over 200K times by citizen organizations in over 190 countries read case study
  • Toast Ale - Brewing with Fresh Surplus Bread. Catalyzing a Movement Against Food Waste
    Model adopted by international brewers in Brazil, South Africa, and Ireland read case study
  • VillageTelco - Making telecommunications accessible to the last mile
    Over 7,500 devices sold to provide low-cost wireless access points read case study



Case Studies authored by Reem Rahman, Olga Shirobokova, Odin Mühlenbein, Nadine Freeman, and Mark Cheng, Ashoka Globalizer

Made possible by the support of SDC-Hystra and interviews by Ken Banks (FrontlineSMS), Michael Feerick (Alison), Steve Song (VillageTelco), Dr Devendra (Aravind Eye Care Systems), and Tristram Stuart (Toast Ale)

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.