Emerging Insights 2019: Access

Challenging the status quo
Insight 08 - Access
Source: Venture / Fellowship


In many respects, initiatives for access, diversity, and inclusion are having a moment in 2019.

Many companies understand the need for, and are implementing policies that ensure employees feel seen, cared for, and respected. There are more trainings and sensitization workshops than ever before and there appears to be a shift in the standard operating procedures in governments, schools, and workplaces worldwide.

In inclusive workplaces, schools, governments or civic arenas, people from differing ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, disabilities or sexual orientations would be present, represented and feel welcomed. This extends to those from different socio-economic backgrounds as well. But in many of the places that our Fellows work, these ideals are still not being met.


Will it ever be possible to create systems that enable everyone the opportunity to do and be well? In 2019, Ashoka Fellows were once again leading the way to bring society’s vulnerable, marginalized and invisible into positions where they can express their voice and agency. 18 of the 78 Fellows elected in 2019 are working on issues related to inclusion, diversity and access.

Inclusive policies and practices

The shift of a public policy or public institutions is a goal for many Fellows in the Ashoka network as these are key steps to making systemic change. In the access, inclusion and diversity sector, this often means enlightening decision makers into how legislation and policies are actually written and designed exclusively and without the input, perspectives or connections of the people who will be most impacted. Germany’s Kristina Lunz co-founded the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) with an idea that feminist foreign policy is people-centered policy that considers more comprehensive and intersectional issues. Through knowledge products, convenings, and advocacy, CFFP is becoming the premier organization to help governments, political parties and universities define new approaches to developing laws.

Nina Simon

Ashoka Fellow since May 2019

Likewise, many public institutions in the United States fail to live up to the promise of serving the public’s needs. Nina Simon built OF/BY/FOR ALL to provide tools and resources to a movement of civic organizations that are committed to inclusiveness. The network includes libraries, theatres, museums, and public parks who work through self-assessments, bootcamps, and participation in a Change Network to build better programming to become “of” the community in which they serve. Of the 21 organizations who participated in the pilot, 20 are making major changes in how they work, recruit, hire and engage the community.

Expanding gender equity

46% of trans men and 42% of trans women, across a wide range of demographics and life experiences, have attempted suicide globally[20]. Many societies around the world have historically treated trans individuals as diseased, requiring psychiatric treatment. Trans people suffer from chronic stress associated with family rejection, poor health outcomes, bullying and harassment, or feel unsafe for simply being themselves. Rosa Almirall of Trànsit is de-pathologizing the healthcare system for trans people in Spain and showing that transgenderism is another way of building gender identity that is just as valid and legitimate as any other and cannot be treated as a disease, disorder or abnormality. Trànsit allows the patient to lead their own identity process where they can determine the type of support they need psychologically and within society, giving them complete autonomy and right over their gender. Rosa is creating a trans-positive vision by offering support services to all those who are in a close circle to the trans person to make sure that the social transition is positive. She is changing the larger discourse by working closely with the patient’s wider community, the media, educational institutions, and the healthcare system.

Exposure as a tool for economic and educational access

Brazil’s six richest men have the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the population, making it one of the most unequal societies in the world. 


Ashoka Fellow since Jul 2019

This physically manifests in favelas, Brazil’s overcrowded and under-resourced neighborhoods where over 11 million citizens reside on the periphery of major urban centers. Two Ashoka Fellows in Brazil are working to create access to entrepreneurship, employment and education for these residents. With a background in arts and social change movements, Marcelo Rocha (aka DJ Bola) is focused on exposure, moving the hub for social innovation to the favelas and promoting inter-neighborhood partnership and collaboration. Over the last seven years, he has created exchange programs for young people from poor and rich neighborhoods to interact, built partnerships with influential organizations to trigger investment, and co-created a social business accelerator (Aceleradora de Negocios de Impacto de Periferia) to promote social innovation.

João Souza

Ashoka Fellow since Jul 2019

João Souza is working to improve education for entrepreneurs in the sprawling favelas as well. His educational methodology through Fa.Vela introduces and translates the language of business for acceleration to local contexts. Using a gamified method, entrepreneurship is presented as a learning journey in problem-solving and self-confidence for people who have not had a traditional or standard education. With 20 partners, Fa.Vela has reached 16 municipalities in the country with this innovative approach.





Shamnad Basheer

This year, Ashoka gained and lost a giant in the field of access and inclusion. Professor Shamnad Basheer, a lawyer, academic and social entrepreneur, was elected to the Fellowship in 2019 with a new idea centered around inclusiveness in the field of law in India. He was a brilliant legal mind who championed systemic changes in internet equality, intellectual property rights, public interest litigation, and rights for sexual minorities and the differently abled. By all accounts, it was his empathy and kindness that drove his passion for inclusion.

Shamnad’s organization, Increasing Diversity by Increasing Awareness (IDIA) was designed as a corrective to the historical exclusion of young people from rural, poor, or minority populations in law education and practice in the country. IDIA focuses on increasing the number of lawyers from diverse

backgrounds and influencing the legal ecosystem to demand diversity in their hiring process. Shamnad built a vast network of over 500 law school volunteers at the top 30 schools in the country. Volunteers actively recruit new talent through tutoring and preparation, and support those who pass the exam and win places at the schools. By recruiting the next generation of legal professionals and incentivizing them toward inclusion, he changed their mindsets during formative years – an effect that should last a lifetime. At the time of Shamnad’s election, over 250 students had been trained for the entrance exam and 65 scholars were placed in the country’s top 30 Law Schools. Over 20,000 law students were sensitized to the importance and necessity of diversity in the law. IDIA’s work continues in the hands of a dedicated staff, supportive legal professionals and the next generation of student volunteers in 19 state chapters. 


Collaboration is a common strategy at the heart of Ashoka Fellows’ work, and we see that their work is enhanced by peer exchange. In October 2019, in partnership with American Express, Ashoka’s office in Mexico and Central America brought together 27 Ashoka Fellows for a Leadership Bootcamp to promote the wellbeing of these systems changing entrepreneurs. The bootcamp created a space where Fellows could reflect on their leadership journey, focus on wellbeing, and explore potential points for connection and exchange together. They left the event with new pathways, practices and questions to bring with them on these journeys, and new tools to empower others to create positive impacts in the world.

[20] Haas, Ann P., et al. Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non- Conforming Adults. Findings Of The National Transgender Discrimination Survey. The Williams Institute, 2014.

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