The E2 Experience: How Visionary Business Entrepreneurs Build Systemic Impact With Ashoka

Anne Wojcicki

For many of today’s top entrepreneurs, running a successful business is only part of their legacy. Increasingly, business leaders are seeking to have an impact on the world beyond their companies. And while traditional philanthropy is a classic route, many entrepreneurs want to have a more tangible, lasting impact by creating systemic change – similar to what they have done in the business world. 

Partnerships are critical to creating impact, and Ashoka has a long history of supporting business entrepreneurs in their journeys of building their legacy of systemic impact. 

We recently founded the Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network (E2), a global network of high-impact business entrepreneurs, aimed specifically at this objective. But even before the official E2 launch, Ashoka has had decades of experience in bringing together business and social entrepreneurs, and helping them co-create solutions to the world’s most intractable problems. 

In this post, we’ll share the stories of three top business entrepreneurs and their journeys of creating systemic impact with Ashoka. 

Anne Wojcicki: Funding Global Systems Changers  

Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, a revolutionary personal genomics company that has helped millions of people test their DNA for ancestry and health risks. She is also a signatory of the Giving Pledge and co-founder of the Anne Wojcicki Foundation. 

In 2008, Anne traveled with Ashoka to visit several Ashoka Fellows in South Asia. One of them was Sunitha Krishnan, a leading social entrepreneur who works to eradicate sex trafficking in India. Anne was particularly impressed with Sunitha’s aim of changing the entire system that feeds into trafficking: Going far beyond protecting, rescuing, and rehabilitating victims, Sunitha coordinates other non-profits and all levels of government to address the systemic root causes. 

As someone who revolutionized her own sector, Anne recognizes the critical role played by innovators like Sunitha, who won’t rest until they’ve changed the status quo. Inspired by Sunitha’s work and that of other Ashoka Fellows, she has been supporting their work through Ashoka ever since that first visit.  

Beyond benefiting Sunitha’s work, Anne’s contributions have helped Ashoka identify and fund hundreds of other social entrepreneurs around the world. Meanwhile, Anne has managed to maximize the social return on her philanthropic contributions, by investing in those systems innovators who, like Sunitha, are closest to the problems they are trying to resolve. 

Brian Kim: Transforming Korea’s Education System 

Brian Kim, or Kim Beom-su, is the founder and chairman of Korean internet giant Kakao and the first person from Korea to sign the Giving Pledge. Growing up in a working-class family, Brian became a serial tech entrepreneur and in 2010 started KakaoTalk, South Korea’s most popular messaging app. Since then, Kakao has grown into a conglomerate with 18,000 employees, over $5 billion in revenue, and subsidiaries in finance, entertainment, and other sectors. 

Brian found Ashoka in 2014 through his admiration for the work of Korean Fellow Hye-Shin Chung, who empowers ordinary citizens to help the people around them overcome trauma. In Ashoka and several of its Korean Fellows, Brian found a partner in the field he cares most about: Education. 

Working closely with Ashoka’s Korea team over several years, Brian developed a vision to transform his country’s education system. In it, he combined his own unique, forward-looking perspective as a visionary entrepreneur with Ashoka’s vision for a world where every child grows up to be a changemaker. 

In co-creation with Ashoka staff and Fellows, Brian built and funded several key initiatives to support this vision. They include a feature documentary on the future of education, a forum called “Youths Changing the World,” and a primary school textbook and curriculum. 

In addition, through his involvement with Ashoka Korea, Brian adopted the idea of big bet philanthropy. This practice – investing heavily in a single social entrepreneur or non-profit to help them massively scale their impact – has become a key approach for his own Brian Impact Foundation. 

Three people in front of poster
Brian Kim (middle) with Ashoka Korea's Hae Young Lee (right)

Phil Villers: Connecting Business and Social Entrepreneurs Around the World 

Philippe (Phil) Villers is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political activist and donor. He founded multiple technology companies, including Computervision, a former member of the Fortune 500 list. In 1981, he and his wife co-founded Families USA and endowed it with $40 million. Through this organization, Phil advocates for affordable health care and was one of the driving forces behind the landmark Affordable Care Act. 

Born in France, Phil and his family fled the German invasion and came to the U.S. when he was 5. He has stated that, inspired by Martin Luther King’s work, he became an entrepreneur in order to use his wealth to do good in the world. 

Phil became part of the Ashoka community in 1993. He traveled to Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa, where he met with several Ashoka Fellows and learned about their work. Throughout the years, he has built key connections between the Fellows he met, as well as with several of his business contacts back home, in order to help grow the impact of their work. 

In addition to deploying his network and other forms of polycapital to increase the impact of individual Fellows, Phil’s 30 years of financial support have been crucial in Ashoka’s mission to build an Everyone a Changemaker world. At the same time, Phil has found great joy and inspiration in connecting and collaborating with like-minded, high-impact entrepreneurs around the world.  

Carrying the E2 Experience Into the Future 

With the official launch of the Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network in 2022, we are welcoming a new generation of visionary business entrepreneurs to join Ashoka and co-create innovative new solutions to the world’s most critical problems. Learn more about our latest members and their changemaking journeys on our website

For more information about the E2 Network and how to nominate a member, please contact Njideka Harry