A call for future Changemakers: be unreasonable, and be fair.

Thorkil Sonne
Source: Thorkil Sonne

Welcome to our new episode of Ashoka Nordic special podcast series, developed in collaboration with Leading with social impact. Today, we present you to our inspiring Nordic Fellow Thorkil Sonne as well as to the European Leader of Ashoka, Marie Ringler. Thorkil is the founder of Specialisterne and Specialisterne Foundation and works ceaselessly to transform the way society perceives people with autism and neurodiversity.

Specialisterne’s mission is to enable inclusion for neurodivergent persons not only in workplaces, but also in the education system and at the community level. This way Specialisterne want to achieve long lasting change at the systemic level.

“Autism is not a disadvantage. In the right settings, it is an advantage that can help companies and organizations all over the world”, Thorkil Sonne - Specialisterne Foundation
  • What are the most common barriers that neurodiverse people face?

Thorkil Sonne: In Western Europe, everything is designed around design allocation. The problem is that, when you get a diagnosis, a lot of expectations go to the floor: you will not get the same respect, choices and opportunities as if you weren’t diagnosed. The diagnosis system is meant to help but it also brings a label into a community that is very much based on social expectations.
Is a disability but it is also a special ability. We have to turn the story from a health-related thing to the fact that this is just part of humanity
Who is normal? We are all neurodiverse.
  • As the first elected Ashoka Fellow in Denmark, what did it mean for you to join the Ashoka Fellowship?

Thorkil Sonne: When I was invited to join the Ashoka Fellowship, it was the first time that someone came to me and did not ask for my financial status. But they did ask what my inner fiber was and how could they support me on what I do. That meant a lot for me and gave me a lot of self-confidence to have even wider international ambitions.
At that time my job ambition was to achieve 1000 jobs for neurodiverse people internationally, now it is one million globally. And the support from Ashoka has played a big role in this.

As a not-for-profit foundation, Specialisterne aims to generate meaningful employment for one million autistic/neurodivergent persons through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mindset. In our podcast episode, we asked Thorkil to share:


  • What are the key findings from a company that takes part in a neurodiversity program?

Thorkil Sonne: Companies who engage in neurodiversity programs get maximum competitive talent. In addition, their staff members become proud of their work and their company. People who are happy with their company perform better and these companies would become more attractive to the future workforce.

Through Specialisterne, we help companies to meet their needs, and we also help companies grow their maturity towards an inclusive model.
If there is something that you feel is not right, stand up for it. And seek support from organizations like Ashoka. We are now in a different place when it comes to social entrepreneurship than ten years ago. Challenges and crises are turning points. It is really up to us to help the world turning in the right direction.

UN World Autism Awareness Event. Specialisterne Foundation

*About Ashoka Nordic - Ashoka is the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs and Changemakers. In the Nordic region, we celebrated our 10th anniversary in 2021 by spreading Ashoka’s global vision of Everyone is a Changemaker for the good of all. We are achieving this by creating a dynamic and supporting regional platform for social entrepreneurs and changemakers where ideas can easily grow and spread. We work in three main strategic areas: to select and support social entrepreneurs; to empower children and youth growing up as changemakers, and to unleash our partners' potential.

*About the Ashoka Fellowship - During the last decade, Ashoka Fellowship has supported leading social entrepreneurs in the Nordics by increasing their sense of belonging to a broad community of Changemakers, supporting them in their organizational growth and strengthening their identity while helping them to increase the impact of their organizations. Check out our expansive network of Fellows and recommend an Ashoka Fellow to be part of this mission.

*About Leading with Social Impact - a podcast series hosted by Shreyas Bharadwaj that aims to connect people to the inspirational thoughts and ideas of the leaders who work to create a positive social impact. Interested to know more about it?  Check out Season 1 and 2.