Ashoka United States was launched in 2001 when we began supporting social entrepreneurs in the U.S. as Ashoka Fellows. To date we have supported more than 230 men and women with creative new approaches for solving social problems and connected them into a dynamic peer network to help them grow their ideas and impact.
Social entrepreneurs play a central part in Ashoka’s mission to build an ‘Everyone A Changemaker’ world, in part because they create roles for so many others to be problem solvers for the good of all. But they can’t do so alone. Over the last decade, our work has expanded in new directions with a particular focus on changing how young people grow up so they gain the skills and practice they need to step into the world as changemakers themselves.
Today we work to ensure that every child masters empathy through our Start Empathy initiative, which includes a growing network of Changemaker Schools. Via Youth Venture we reach teens and the organizations that serve them to encourage young changemaking. Ashoka U, meanwhile, has set the standard at the university level for what it means to incorporate social innovation into the culture and curriculum of higher education. And Changemakers.com continues to be a platform for changemakers of all kinds to come together in service of social progress, most notably via its online competitions.
All of this work supports our central aim: to shape a country where problems no longer outrun solutions, and where each one of us feels empowered to drive positive change in ways big and small.
We think of our Fellows as practical visionaries—practical in that they are highly attentive to the nuts and bolts of making things work, and visionary in that they often reframe the problem in the first place and cast a long-term view for change. They apply creativity and empathy in solving social problems, and they highlight the importance of systems thinking to get at the root of those problems.
The Ashoka Fellows in the United States work at the leading edge of the most significant social and economic problems of our time—increasing access to quality education and healthcare, introducing solutions to mass incarceration, facilitating economic development on American Indian land, improving mental health resources for returning veterans, and even designing new methods of carbon-trapping ocean farming that nourish us while restoring our waters and combatting climate change. To learn more about these entrepreneurs in the U.S. and around the globe, check out our searchable network map.
Unfortunately, too much of this map is polarized in a handful of coastal U.S. cities—a problem that afflicts not just Ashoka but the entire field of social entrepreneurship, which risks becoming insular and disconnected from the majority of Americans.
To address this problem we launched the All America initiative in 2016, a public commitment to redrawing the map of social entrepreneurship in the United States so that it will better reflect the rich ethnic, racial, gender and geographic diversity of the country.
We want to find and supporting leading changemakers across the entire country—form Detroit to Dallas, from the ranches in the Mountain West to the Deep South, from within and across all ethnic groups—and with them shape more innovative, resilient communities everywhere. Our goal is to ensure that a culture of changemaking takes root far and wide—across all America.
Our "All America" Manifesto
- We believe changemakers are everywhere, representing all races, classes, religions, and geographical areas.
- We believe that all of us will someday be called upon to be changemakers to make positive change for our families, for our communities, and for the good of all.
- We believe that social entrepreneurs are champions of new ways of tackling societal challenges and transforming whole systems.
- We believe they are powerful forces for good and their presence makes us all more effective agents of change.
- We believe that social entrepreneurs are everywhere, but that the social entrepreneurship sector has gravitated around a few coastal cities which limits its relevance and impact.
- We believe this clustering is at least in part a result of internalized biases by networks like Ashoka.
- We believe a more diverse sector will be better equipped to spot and uncover solutions to problems that are too often overlooked.
- We believe it is our responsibility to reach out so that the best ideas can flow in and out of all of America.
- We believe that together we can shape a more dynamic, resilient country where problems no longer outrun solutions.
Ashoka Fellow Nick Tilsen of the Thunder Valley Community Development Center on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota