Introducing the Ashoka Fellows’ Bookshelf: A Reading List for Changemakers

Fellow Books composite 9
Source: Fellow Books composite 9

What book should everyone read if they want to change the world?

Thirty-seven years ago, Ashoka pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship and continues to identify and support leading social entrepreneurs who find creative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Today, our Fellows are part of the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs—more than 3,500 in 92 countries—who have impacted hundreds of millions of people around the world.

At Ashoka, our Fellows’ innovations, wisdom and experience teach us what we need to build a future that is equitable and resilient—an Everyone a Changemaker world. When we sent out our recent Global Fellows Survey, we asked, “What book should everyone read and why?” We are delighted to present a few of our Fellows’ inspiring responses in this new feature, the “Ashoka Fellows’ Bookshelf.”

Stay tuned for our upcoming Impact Report with new insights on the results of our work (and other updates) by subscribing to recieve Ashoka news.

Man's Search for Meaning book cover

Man’s Search for Meaning
by Viktor Frankl

Fellow Recommender: SUMAIRA ABDULALI (INDIA)

Why this book: "Man's Search for Meaning" documents the vastly differing responses of individuals facing an intolerable situation, the Holocaust. Viktor Frankl retains his humanity and the ability to see meaning in life, and it is this ability which allows him to survive with his inner self intact. This is a valuable lesson to many of us facing seemingly intolerable situations, sometimes including threats and violence, in executing our missions towards social change. It brings home the fact that, no matter the situation, it is ultimately our own decisions and inner self which determine our responses and, ultimately, our own person, which will allow us to provide appropriate leadership in the larger public interest.”
Learn how Sumaira is battling the health and environmental hazards of noise pollution in India here.


The Falling Sky

The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman
by Davi Kopenawa


Why this book: "This book tells the story of Shaman Davi Kopenawa’s struggles to defend the territories near the Amazon from the destruction and diseases brought by invaders. Davi is a great friend and my personal hero; he is an example of the importance of perseverance, courage, and steadfastness, all without losing his humility. Davi understands the value of not fighting against everything and everyone in your path, but rather understanding everything that is around you and the way you are addressing the realities to be overcome. He understands the importance of respecting the difficulties of that path, and getting there by sowing not a trail of destruction, but a trail of flowers.”
Learn how Eugênio is promoting health and environmental education in Amazonian communities here.


The Power

The Power
by Naomi Alderman


Why this book: "A dystopic yet completely lucid novel about what leads our world to be as it is. Why do men command, what is the root of their power, and how did this root grow over the centuries? How would the world be if the roles were reversed? Women's increasing power, in Alderman’s words, is no better than men's. Not less violent. Not less absolute. And yet “The Power” is a profoundly honest, feminist book; through the most daring analogy it manages to lay bare the physical, psychological, normative, religious, and cultural yokes that continue to subjugate women. This book will startle you. Sometimes two or three lines come out of the page like a fist, they hit the reader's chest and return to the page, silent and powerful. It is a life-changing book."
Learn how Eleonora is tackling youth unemployment and unfair labor conditions for young people in Italy here.


Creative Schools

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Schools
by Ken Robinson

Fellow Recommender: BERNHARD HOFER (AUSTRIA)

Why this book: "Ken Robinson has the unique ability to bring his experience and expertise in education alive with heart-warming stories which highlight best practices all around the world. This book shows us many examples of how pioneers are transforming education bottom-up, breaking it down into simple patterns. This book definitely helped us to get inspiration, new ideas, and a deep sense that systemic change can happen - even in schools."
Learn how Bernhard is creating an ecosystem of learning support for students and inspiring a student-run movement to include changemaking skills in educational systems in Austria here.


Long Walk to Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom
by Nelson Mandela

Fellow Recommender: MEL YOUNG (UK)

Why this book: "Mandela is an inspirational changemaker who charts his life in his book. His formative childhood years shaped his sense of community and fairness. His years in prison revealed his spirit and burning sense of injustice which broke down the prison walls without a stone being thrown. His forgiveness and leadership changed society completely and destroyed an evil, racist system. He teaches us never, ever to give up and shows how changemakers with a vision for what is right can change the world for the better.”
Learn how Mel is using football (soccer in the U.S.) to engage and empower homeless people around the world here.


Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
by E. F. Schumacher

Fellow Recommender: HARON WACHIRA (KENYA)

Why this book: "I read Small is Beautiful when I was 22, and from it I adopted two principles of entrepreneurship that have served me well through the years. The first: use appropriate technology over all else. In my entrepreneurship journey, I dug up the first shallow well in my village. I made a small hydram-based water pump that served me for ten years; I also wrote an entire software tool based on WordPerfect Macros. The second: start small and make it profitable in that state, then expand. It actually never occurred to me that there was another business model (such as the typical start big and cut down losses until the break-even point) until many years into my entrepreneurship journey. If it had, most of what I have started would never have happened.”
Learn how Haron is creating a win-win scenario for subsistence farmers and agro-processing businesses in Kenya here.


Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed
by Paulo Freire


Why this book: "The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire's book was a source of inspiration for many of us living in the last four decades of the 20th century. It taught us to work with marginalized people and communities from the perspective of liberating consciences and creating solidarity through a transformative dialogue of reality. I believe that many of Freire's principles and intuitions are still very relevant and create strength, dignity, and human development in many parts of the world.”
Learn how Julio is teaching health, nutrition, education, and development in underdeveloped areas through innovative schools in Mexico here.


Feminism is for Everybody

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
by Bell Hooks

Fellow Recommender: NEBAHAT AKKOC (TURKEY)

Why this book: “Bell Hooks has written a handbook with great simplicity so that everybody can understand what feminism is; she explains the feminist politics that form the basis of her political experience by blending race and class discrimination. She organizes solidarity among women while providing companionship with non-sexist men and the feminist movement, explaining that even though the most important concern of the feminist movement is violence against women, this will not dissolve unless other types of violence dissolve as well.”
Learn how Nebahat is responding to women’s immediate and critical needs and increasing awareness of their rights in Turkey here.


Silent Spring

Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson


Why this book: “When I started my journey to clean up the Surabaya river from industrial pollution, “Silent Spring” was my guide, my holy book that showed me how to use scientific evidence to raise awareness about pollution.”
Learn how Prigi is catalyzing community-led action to stop industrial pollution from destroying rivers in Indonesia here.


Why this book: “Silent Spring is an explosive bestseller and the entire world is talking about it. The chilling book points fingers at human carelessness, greed, and irresponsibility. The words “Silent Spring” will surely be written on the Earth’s epitaph.”
Learn how Saleem is empowering grassroots reporting on development and environmental issues in Bangladesh here.


Geek Heresy

Geek Heresy
by Kentaro Toyama

Fellow Recommender: RIKIN GANDHI (INDIA)

Why this book: "A leading computer scientist, Kentaro Toyama, shares his journey setting up Microsoft Research's outpost in India. As he encounters organizations and individuals across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and runs experiments of his own, Kentaro realizes that technology is no silver bullet to deep social issues and is really only good at amplifying human forces. A must-read for any changemaker who has ever wondered what role technology can play to power their work.”
Learn how Rikin’s use of technology is enabling smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty in India here.