Building Cities of Changemakers

Everyone can be a changemaker
Source: Everyone can be a changemaker

When you look at the work of the young and dynamic social entrepreneur Sascha Haselmayer, founder of Citymart, you can observe many different things. Most obviously, you will see a brilliant and rapidly growing open methodology (or approach if you prefer) enabling sharing and efficiency in urban procurement in more than 50 global cities. Yet you can also see a weapon to combat corruption, a jack hammer on walls forming siloes within government, a magical tool to transform bureaucratic program management into cross-sector problem-solving efforts, and a catalyst for people to engage as change agents in new ways.

Sascha Haselmayer is one example of social entrepreneurs living the new normal: enabling other people to be agents of change, ignoring siloes and building new teams. Sascha is an Ashoka fellow, selected through a careful process that screens for the qualities that Ashoka established 30 years ago as critical indicators of whether someone is the kind of social entrepreneur who will be able to provide a systemic solution to a tough societal challenge.

By partnering with the New Cities Foundation, Ashoka looks forward to highlighting the importance of social entrepreneurs in making cities the best they can be, and to sharing the key principles and patterns from urban innovations that can offer practical solutions. Perhaps most importantly, Ashoka hopes to change the framework with we all approach our cities to start with.


Any work aimed at improving cities must begin with the recognition that we are living in an historic moment. Change is happening at an unprecedented rate, and our emerging economy is shaped by rapid innovation. Technology is bringing down barriers that have kept people from accessing information and connecting with other people for centuries. The world of hierarchical authority and expertise has given way to one of broad participation and fluid leadership. This is a new game, and it is demanding a new set of skills to succeed. The ability to follow rules and perform repetitive tasks will be less important than the need to be able to have empathy and work in teams and to be a creator, collaborator and contributor in a rapidly changing world.

Not only is it a new game, it is one that is being played in an increasingly urban setting. More and more people flock into cities every year, creating communities that are machines of prosperity, bubbling laboratories of innovation, large-scale social experiments of cultural exchange, and petri dishes of infectious disease. How do we get ahead of the problems that are coming our way? How do we make these cities ecosystems in which everyone can participate and thrive?

The answer lies in our ability to see the new environment we are in, and to build up the changemaking muscles that we need as individuals and as institutions to thrive in the economy of the future. Everyone must understand that we are living by new rules, and adapt in order to survive. We need cities in which everyone has the ability and self-confidence to master today’s pace of change. We need cities in which everyone is a changemaker.

Building an Urban Ecosystem for Changemaking

Ashoka is committed to building teams across sectors and silos that solve problems in a new way. We look to combine the ingenuity of system-changing social entrepreneurs with the power of citizen changemakers and the scaling muscle of business and governmental entrepreneurs. We are also building a network of educational institutions that are giving young people the opportunity to learn and practice the skills of changemaking to ensure that they all can thrive in the economy of the future.

Critical players in these new teams of problem solvers are, of course, excellent social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs, particularly those selected as Ashoka fellows, have mastered the key skills of the future and put them to use to tackle seemingly intractable social challenges. They are community leaders, mobilizers, enablers and visionaries. As such, they are the key to mapping a city’s course to inclusiveness, resilience and sustainability. With a network of over 3,000 fellows in 85 countries (over 60 per cent of which are focused on cities), Ashoka continues to search and select leading social entrepreneurs around the world. We use our platform to draw out patterns of innovations on specific urban challenges, from Road Safety to Sanitation to Empathy.

As we look ahead to the New Cities Summit in Jakarta, we can pick out the common threads that weave through the work of our urban innovators. Whether it is in the work of Rosanne Haggerty, who created a radically new model for how we provide stable footing to the homeless and most vulnerable, or that of Rodrigo Baggio, who built an intercontinental network of schools empowering excluded youths to participate in the new economy, we see ideas that have profound implications on how we should set priorities for urban problem solving:

  • Empathy Matters: Fellows around the globe are realizing the importance for young people to grow up learning empathy so that they can succeed in an economy that requires teamwork and flat hierarchies based on trust and innovation.
  • Enable Changemakers: Ashoka Fellows everywhere are helping people of all ages to believe in their own ability to create change at home, at work and in their community.
  • Systems, not Service: This is a time to be placing bold bets on new ideas that not only provide a service, but reshape the system. Social entrepreneurs are showing the exponential power of creating solutions that do not just provide a direct service or even that change a broken system, but that change the very dynamics of how solutions are created.
  • Teams of teams: The name of the game is no longer purely innovation, but it is also collaboration. Fellows are increasingly realizing that they will not solve complex issues by running siloed, individual programs. Social entrepreneurs are building new kinds of partnerships across sectors, crafting teams that are committed to creating solutions.

There are many more principles and ideas in the work of our 1,000+ fellows working specifically on urban challenges. We are excited to bring that treasure of people and ideas into a community that can partner with us to build with us an exponentially powerful force for change in cities around the world.

Ashoka has just joined the New Cities Foundation as a member, providing a new framework to the conversation on cities of the future, and catalyzing a new model for solving urban problems. Find out more about Ashoka’s efforts in building Cities of Changemakers here.