Social entrepreneurs, by their very nature, are system disrupters – they constantly challenge the status quo to mobilize innovative solutions that demand the reinvention of our market, legal, policy or citizen sector systems. However, the changes entrepreneurs promote are not always popular and they can find themselves targets of intimidation or other behavior that threatens their safety. In recent years there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of these attacks against social entrepreneurs and the world is starting to take notice of that as a serious threat to long-term systemic change. Ashoka, a leading institution in social entrepreneurship, recognized this threat to positive change early on and provides both preventative and emergency support to social entrepreneurs in the field through its Fellow Security Programme.
Tahir Khilji, a social innovator and Ashoka Fellow in Pakistan, has played a pioneering role in ensuring the safety and security of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Pakistan.
After translating Protection International’s security manual that helps protect HRDs into Urdu, Tahir began conducting training workshops for nearby Ashoka Fellows from the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan. Following the training, Tahir explained, the Fellows left with the tools and advice to craft customized security and conflict prevention plans and – perhaps most importantly – a community of empathetic Fellows to fall back on in times of need.
The story of one particular attendee, Mohammad Ali, highlights the power of the rapid response networks that were created among Fellows as a result of Tahir’s training workshops. When Swat Valley became the center of conflict between the Taliban and the Pakistani army, Mohammad was in the region developing and scaling the impact of his local school for underserved and orphaned children. Upon receiving threats from militant groups to terminate this work, Mohammad knew he needed to get himself and his students to safety. He immediately put the rapid response network into action, and with the assistance of other Ashoka fellows in the region, he was able to completely evacuate his entire school – a process which entailed traveling on foot with hundreds of children and teachers. Once they relocated to Islamabad, Mohammad proved his unwavering drive to continue his work and set up another school to teach and mentor his students once again.
Mohammed Ali’s story motivates Tahir to continue his work and improve the security of social entrepreneurs on a much bigger scale. As he put it:
“Efforts to protect social entrepreneurs must happen on a larger scale. And not just with Ashoka Fellows – it needs to be done for everybody looking to create positive change in difficult environments.
With that outlook in mind, Tahir has not only expanded his workshops to reach additional Ashoka Fellows, but also to reach activist circles within Christian, Hindu, and Hazara minority groups in Pakistan as well as several other human rights organizers. By nurturing a culture of conflict prevention through trusting and interlinked changemaker networks, Tahir is taking crucial strides towards a world that is safe for changemaking.