Roots of Change: How Social Entrepreneurs Advance Systems Change in Africa

How do systems-change approaches address the root causes of deeply entrenched societal problems rather than the symptoms only? What are examples of systems-change strategies led by social entrepreneurs in Africa? What are key learnings for key stakeholders to scale social innovation on the continent?

Ashoka is launching the Roots of Change report with 5 cases of Ashoka Fellows in Africa to demystify systems change and contextualize it for the African continent. The report also distills How-to's and insights for social change leaders, impact investors and philanthropists, and influential players such as corporates and governments to accelerate positive change.

Much still needs to be done to support systems-changers in Africa. Please help us spread the word!


What role can you play in Advancing Systems Change in Africa?

What can Practitioners, Social Entrepreneurs, and Citizen Sector Leaders do?

We encourage you to deeply think about this despite the pressures of running an organization and the pressures of funders to focus on direct impact:

  • What could be the overall impact of your scaling strategy to influence current practices?
  • Do you understand the system you are trying to influence well enough? This includes the resources, rules, roles, relationships, and results that govern this system.
  • Can you describe with precision the intended systems change and your likely contribution to it?
  • How have you—and how can you—leverage data and evidence as well as current and unlikely partners so that you can confidently approach policymakers, administrative bodies, and influential players while often being considered to be a ‘small’ player?
  • What changes does adopting a systems change strategy imply for your organization, your team, and the talent you want to attract?
  • What does adopting a systems change approach imply for your leadership style, keeping in mind that pursuing systems change requires collaboration at all levels?
  • What impact milestones can you design to measure your progress toward long-term goals?
  • How can you monetize your systems change work through consultancies, training, certification, and/or membership fees? The good news is that systemic strategies do not need to be expensive.

What can Funders do?

As highlighted in Seven Steps for Funding Systems Change, you can: 

  1. Find systemic leaders: Start by finding current system changers who deeply understand the system and can advise throughout all further steps

  2. Meet them on a level playing field: Meet them where and as they are to engage them as active co-leaders throughout all further steps

  3. Align your support with the vision: Explore the vision together and the many different systemic strategies that can help achieve it

  4. Commit to a lasting partnership: Based on this mutual buy-in, build a trusted partnership for long-term commitment to the vision

  5. Strengthen their team: Invest in the people behind the work so they can keep learning, adapting, and creatively intervening in the system.

  6. Strengthen their wider system: See the whole field of stakeholders critical to and affected by the vision, so their role in achieving it can be recognised and supported. Recognise and align your influence on these systems as well.

  7. Invest in yourself and the funding system: Continue to build your own capacity for system change and support the evolution of the wider funding system together with systemic leaders.


What can Influential Business Government Players do?

  • Acknowledge the current situation and engage in self-reflection regarding your contribution to it. This requires courage and determination as some influential organizations and individuals may be benefitting from dysfunctional or inequitable systems and may have contributed to these systems.
  • Actively seek conversations with proximate leaders and social innovators in your sector/ system who understand social issues and strategies.
  • Develop a clear vision and plan for change in collaboration with proximate leaders.
  • Take a deliberate approach to explore whether you could leverage your influence, credibility, networks, and infrastructure to help create social change at scale by influencing how groups and individual organizations organize in the target system. 
  • Using ‘sandbox’ approaches, explore working with social entrepreneurs to test whether an idea truly has the potential to create system-wide impact.

We hope that this report, which also builds on a body of research and existing resources by Ashoka and like-minded organizations, will trigger some reflections on scaling social change. We remain committed to continuing to learn and act to build a stronger ecosystem for social entrepreneurship in Africa, together with vision-aligned partners across sectors.

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