Innovative Leaders in the Ashoka Support Network Conceive a Future Shaped by Cross-Sector Collaboration

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Submitted by: Tsega Belachew on 07/17/14

It would be impossible to solve the world’s most difficult problems without collaboration and co-creation among business leaders, social entrepreneurs and public servants. This is particularly true in an increasingly interconnected and fast-changing world, where changemakers must grasp the intricate dynamics of markets, media, and their own organizations.

New breeds of entrepreneurs and companies understand that true “value creation” is attuned to the needs of people; increasingly, these individuals and organizations will be at the cutting edge of a global economy whose bottom-line priorities continue to evolve. The new generation of business leaders will be indispensable translators among stakeholders to drive necessary solutions, progress and innovation. They stand at the forefront to help meld the business world’s expertise and resources with the single-minded passion of the citizen sector shaping services, products and value chains informed by empathy for customers and beneficiaries.

Members of the Ashoka Support Network represent this new breed of innovative leader and cross-sector translator. They come from a range of professional fields, offering boundless skills, creativity, and connections in support of leading social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows). ASN members, many with successful business or legal careers now under their belts, work with Fellows to turn groundbreaking ideas into sustainable solutions to unemployment, healthcare, education, and other pressing societal problems.  

Over three days in June, ASN members convened in Paris with Ashoka Fellows and staff at the 2014 ASN Global Summit, to debate, innovate, and imagine how their combined forces can create a sustainable, healthy, and equitable world. Inspired by the Summit’s theme of “ASN Without Borders,” attendees came together as a network of peers from more than 20 countries, bringing their vast array of personal and professional experiences to overcome the obstacles that leading social entrepreneurs face to realize transformative impact. 

When an Ashoka Fellow needs legal guidance on how to spin off a for-profit entity, business advice on how to franchise a model for international expansion, or connections to the world of social finance, he or she looks to the Ashoka Support Network. At the same time, ASN members offer perspectives and possibilities that a Fellow may have never considered.

“Two Chambers of a Beating Heart”—Business Leaders & Social Entrepreneurs

At the Summit, business leaders and social entrepreneurs were called “two chambers of a beating heart,” both essential co-creators and symbiotic drivers of sustainable systems change. ASN member François Barbier likewise observed that social entrepreneurs are responsible for the “soul of their project,” with the Ashoka Support Network ensuring that these entrepreneurs don’t have to compromise on delivering on their mission at the core of their contribution to the world.

Unlike traditional businesses—even those adhering to triple-bottom-line thinking—social entrepreneurs exist primarily to serve society’s needs. But a noble mission and infinite passion are not sufficient to keep a social enterprise afloat; this is why the business acumen and experience that ASN members bring to such projects is crucial. For example, ASN members supported Ashoka Fellow Felipe Vergara and Lumni, a pioneer in the field of human capital financing, as informal advisors and then as board members and investors. Such a partnership demonstrates ASN’s capacity to intervene at an organization’s early stage and help facilitate systems change.     

During the Summit’s Ashoka Talks, workshops, problem-solving sessions and social entrepreneur pitches, innovators and business leaders explored multiple ways to accelerate and leverage the impact being created within Ashoka Fellow organizations. Members of the ASN Social Finance workgroup provided advice about business modeling, strategy, and document preparation, helping the social entrepreneurs ready their organizations for investment opportunities. The workgroup’s goal is to translate a social innovation so it can be understood as a financially attractive, sustainable and scalable model. Increasingly, hybrid investment models offer flexibility to both investors and social entrepreneurs helping them leverage joint efforts to spur societal transformation in specific fields, regions and the world. 

Summit attendees convened to discuss Ashoka Fellow initiatives ranging from tackling homelessness through organized street football, aiding the transformation of victims of gender-related violence into agents of change, and improving city governance and services by making procurement more functional for citizens. For all these social entrepreneurs and many others, leaders in the ASN act as a sounding board, providing ongoing guidance and support to Fellows.

The Ashoka Support Network now spans nearly 30 countries with more than 350 members. It strives to reach a scale that will enable its members, innovative business leaders, to engage and co-create with all 3,000-plus Ashoka Fellows. ASN members help shape a world in which multiple sectors work together to rapidly innovate and address problems, further spreading the passion of social entrepreneurs and enabling people everywhere to be changemakers.

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