Ashoka, Innovators for the Public

By William Meehan III, Trabian Shorters
2006 | Case No. SM157

Founded in 1980 by Bill Drayton, Ashoka was a professional organization that identified and invested in leading social entrepreneurs globally. Analogous to a venture capital firm for social start-ups, Ashoka found and supported outstanding individuals with ideas for far-reaching social change by electing them to a fellowship of social entrepreneurs. As defined by Ashoka, the social entrepreneur had the same makeup as a business entrepreneur—in mental attitude, vision, bias for action, and skills—but the social entrepreneur sought to better the world in some way. Until 1997, Ashoka focused solely on locating and supporting social entrepreneurs in developing countries. Over the next three years, however, Ashoka entered a new stage requiring it to shed its trappings as a “global development organization.” Ashoka updated its mission to address the demands of a rapidly expanding citizen sector and its more than 1,500 leading social entrepreneurs. Because Ashoka’s new mission required a kind of risk-taking and willingness to “make things happen in a bigger way,” Ashoka made a commitment to hire only social entrepreneurs for its key functions. The new mission and hiring commitment attracted leading business entrepreneurs to Ashoka for the first time, triggering unprecedented organizational growth and allowing Ashoka to open for business in the U.S. This case addresses the challenges facing Ashoka in the U.S..

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