About Ashoka's Selection Process

Fellow Selection Process


Ashoka searches the world for leading social entrepreneurs through an intensive, human-centered process, selecting them into our Ashoka global, trust-based fellowship of peers.

The process of selection is a transformative and enlightening experience. Candidates articulate their innovations, and how they have the potential to change sector-wide systems. They scrutinize their strategies and methods, and reflect on how they engage as individuals and leaders in today’s world. The selection process is not simply a means to an end, but rather generates robust discussion, sharpens ideas, and gives room for a journey of self discovery and growth.


The selection process phases are:

Nominate: Ashoka receives nominations from staff, volunteers, partners, Ashoka Fellows, and nominators, based on the five criteria for Ashoka Fellowship (see below). While Ashoka’s primary source for nominations is through our network of volunteer nominators, we also welcome self-nominations from social entrepreneurs who believe they meet Ashoka’s criteria.

First Opinion: The local Ashoka Venture team reviews the nominations to identify a key social innovation. In order to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the Ashoka criteria, they conduct site visits and meet with the candidate, and then review their work with other experts in the field.

Second Opinion: A senior Ashoka representative with extensive experience in the field of social entrepreneurship reviews the work of the candidate with the local Venture team. The second opinion interviewer will always come from a different continent than the candidate so they can bring objectivity to the process and assess the potential of the idea to be applied elsewhere. The second opinion interviewer will have an in-depth conversation about the innovation in the idea, its potential for sparking sector-wide system change, and the candidate’s fit for the Ashoka criteria.

Panel: In addition, three to four leading social and business entrepreneurs from the same country/region will interview the candidate. These entrepreneurs are able to assess the innovation and its potential impact in the local context. The panel then convenes as a group and, facilitated by the second opinion interviewer, decides by consensus whether they recommend that the Ashoka board elects this candidate as an Ashoka Fellow.

Board Review: Ashoka’s Board of Directors reviews the candidate’s case in light of the observations made by the local Venture team, second opinion interviewer, and panelists. After assessing the candidate’s fit with the criteria and alignment with Ashoka’s mission, they make a final decision about whether to selecti the candidate to be an Ashoka Fellow.




Ashoka's selection process is anchored by our five criteria against which all Fellow candidates are evaluated in every step of the selection process:

  1. A New Idea: Candidates must have a new idea—a new solution or approach to a social problem—that will change the pattern in a field. We evaluate the idea historically and against its contemporaries in the field, looking for innovation and real change potential. Candidates must have a truly transformational innovation, not just a tweak to how things are done currently.
  2. Creativity: Successful social entrepreneurs are creative both as goal-setting visionaries and as problem solvers that are capable of engineering their visions into reality. Among the questions we might ask are: Does the candidate have a history of creating other new visions?
  3. Entrepreneurial Quality: Successful social entrepreneurs are driven by the vision of solving the problem they are working on. They typically will not rest until their idea is the new pattern for society. At the same time, they are willing to grapple relentlessly with many practical “how to” challenges. A successful candidate, if given the means, would dedicate themselves full time to launching and growing their idea.
  4. Social Impact of the Idea: The candidate’s new idea has the potential to change the field significantly and will trigger nationwide impact. The idea itself needs to be sufficiently new, practical, and useful for people working in the field to adopt it and turn it into the new norm sector wide.
  5. Ethical Fiber: Social entrepreneurs introducing major structural changes to society will have to inspire that change at a wide scale and across different stakeholder groups. If the entrepreneur is not trusted, the likelihood of success is significantly reduced. Ashoka insists that every participant in the selection process be assessed for ethical fiber.

"Ashoka’s objective, strategic, and critical analysis of our work and potential development paths have already fundamentally altered our plans for growth. Indeed, thanks to Ashoka the bar has been significantly raised: our aspirations are now global rather than local, and we’re aiming—and making good progress—towards an impact that is many hundreds of times larger than we dared imagine this time last year."
– Al Harris, Blue Ventures, UK and Madagascar. Ashoka Fellow since 2007


“When Ashoka elected me a Fellow in November 2006, I had been working part-time to implement my vision for five years. Ashoka gave me a stipend that allowed me to reduce the burden of my own student loans, cover my basic expenses, and fully dedicate myself to scaling Lumni.”
– Felipe Vergara, Lumni, Colombia and US. Ashoka Fellow since 2006

If you know someone with a path-breaking new idea, who is approaching social problem-solving in an entrepreneurial and creative way, and meets our five Ashoka Fellow criteria, please recommend them!

This article was originally published on 30 November 2016
Related TopicsBusiness & Social Enterprise, Social Entrepreneurship

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