Today's Ashoka Fellows are Righting Tomorrow's Global Economy

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With billions in vulnerable employment and a hike in income inequality, the global economy needs a jumpstart. And that spark is likely to come from those who keep the faith in righting social wrongs with a combination of business savvy and public service.

To boost global markets, Ashoka’s newest class of Fellows is doing its part. They’re creating economic opportunity with disruptive, systems-changing innovations: Applying the concept of business incubation to reimage the role of women in Arab markets; launching a first fleet of rolling service centers to boost the Indian economy; even using ancient farming techniques to accelerate development in the modern world.

Here are a few of the exciting ideas coming from the class of 2011:

Yvonnick Huet, Agrisud, helps to transform small farmers into sharp, business-minded entrepreneurs with increased purchasing power. Agrisud has directly supported the creation of 27,500 small agribusinesses, generating 100,000 sustainable jobs and helping a quarter-million people escape poverty in Africa and Asia.

Attila von Unruh, Insolvents Anonymous, is giving skilled-but-struggling micro-entrepreneurs a second chance. Through peer group assistance and support, Insolvents Anonymous succeeds in easing the stigma surrounding bankrupt entrepreneurs and offers them a means of resuming their ventures in Germany and throughout Europe.

Dramane Coulibaly, founder of the West Africa Climate Coalition, is reinventing the herding practices for traditionally nomadic tribes across the Sahel who find their means of livelihood threatened by the encroachment of modern markets. Smaller, healthier, and more manageable herds create downstream jobs and added profit for Nigerian ranchers.

James Nguo, Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), is increasing access to youth employment opportunities in Kenya by establishing a network of community-based Maarifa, or knowledge centers. The centers provide agro-information to farmers and raise the capacity of extension workers in the business, improving the quality of life in rural East Africa.

Lassane Savadogo, founder of The Professional Association of Market Gardeners in Yatenga (ASPMY), enables rural farmers to feed their families year-round and double their profits during the harvest season with an innovative and affordable storage practice inspired by ancient techniques. 

Marsil Koto, Agribusiness Microfinance Institution (LKMA), bridges the demand gap of Indonesian farmers with a supply-side solution: a hybrid cooperative bank. Koto is creating a sense of personal and financial independence, collaboration, and community for previously marginalized rural citizens.

Svati Bhogle’s Sustaintech Private Limited is promoting the adoption of sustainable energy technologies across both rural and semi-urban areas. Bhogle is determined to bring clean development to the lowest-income communities in the world; Sustaintech specializes in designing fuel-efficient wood-burning stoves for street food vendors in India to reduce energy consumption and the risk of smoke inhalation (an estimated 1.6 million people die from smoke inhalation each year).

Mama Manneh addresses severe food security issues in the Sahel through replicable, grassroots-based solutions for farmers.

Krishna Prasad, Sahadja Samrudha, promotes organic farming by commercializing organic seeds through an agricultural company co-owned and co-managed by rural Indian farmers. Prasad is leveraging the capacity of existing agricultural networks to spur a movement around a better, smarter seed.

Jean-Louis Khiel, Cresus, is building an improved, responsible credit system through legal trainings and innovative partnerships with banks and financial organizations. Khiel helps at-risk populations and business professionals manage their finances, reducing their risk of excessive debt and of social and economic exclusion.

Anup Nair has created production and supply systems driven by Indian micro-entrepreneurs that foster a “local-to-local” economy to increase sustainability for small businesses. By creating networks of specialized entrepreneurs focused on management, marketing, and distribution, Nair empowers micro-entrepreneurs in rural areas to compete with large corporations.

Fidaa Abu Turky, Erada, is the first entrepreneur in the Arab world to adapt business incubation for the Levantine cultural context, effectively reimaging the role of women in the market. Using a venture-capitalist approach to job creation, Turky encourages the growth of poor rural women as powerful entrepreneurs.

Maurice Miller, Family Independence Initiative (FII), enables low-income working families to self-organize and support each other as they gain fiscal independence. By investing in people’s strengths, FII delivers stronger and more successful outcomes for poor families, giving them a means out of poverty as active consumers instead of passive beneficiaries.

Paul Bradley, Resident Owned Communities (ROC USA) is creating the pathway that will allow the more than 2.5 million residents of manufactured home communities — often called "trailer parks" — to attain land ownership and more comprehensive protections against eviction, as well as offering full economic citizenship through ownership and participation in a community cooperative.

Veronica Torassa, Azul Solidarity, is using networking to addressing major rural problems including income inequality, resignation, apathy, and isolation. By implementing cooperative and collaborative programs for rural families, Torassa is encouraging a cycle of more consistent economic growth and development in agricultural communities.

Irfan Aslam’s Sammaan Foundation is India’s largest nonprofit seeking to improve the standard of living among rickshaw pullers and manufacturers. The Sammaan Foundation supports the rickshaw community through skills-training, capacity building, and financial support. But Sammaan’s biggest impact comes from making rickshaws more than a standard mode of transportation. By employing rickshaws as small, mobile shops for essential services, including banking and healthcare, Sammaan is turning them into vehicles for advancing the growth of the Indian economy.