How Ashoka Fellows Create Systems Change
Why Systems are Core to Transformative Social Impact
For social entrepreneurs tackling our world’s most complex and deep-rooted challenges, creating sustainable social change can seem a herculean task. Is the initial step to target policymakers with a solution or to change how key stakeholders think about a social issue? Is it better to start local and build a model that works or to target key influencers within international bodies who can affect widespread change?
In Ashoka’s recent Global Fellows Study with 858 responses from 74 countries around the world, we learned that most Fellows’ response to these questions is simply “Yes.” Changing policies and mindsets often go hand-in-hand. And in order to scale a solution, Fellows usually first need to demonstrate their innovation works. For the majority of Fellows systems change is not one monolithic strategy for addressing societal challenges; rather, like chess players, Fellows are employing different, multi-step strategies and engaging every piece on the board to win the game of social change.
Fellows’ Ideas Are Being Replicated By Stakeholders in Every Sector and Field
Independent replication is one indicator Ashoka has consistently used to measure Fellows’ “idea spread.” Overall, in the study we found that 90 percent of Ashoka Fellows have seen their idea replicated by an independent group or institution.
Kritaya Sreesunpagit is a Fellow from Thailand who has encouraged others to replicate her idea. Kritaya’s Why I Why Foundation nurtures young leaders to articulate new ideas for social development and connects them to the resources and skills they need to bring their ideas to life. She explained that over time, she shifted from a direct service model to consciously replicating her idea through partnerships. She began training other groups and institutions in her model in order to expand across Thailand.
“Once we start working for a couple years, then we look more at like policy expansion so that we know that we can cater to the whole country or for the whole region. We want to find partners and for them to take on the ideas and adapt to whatever approach that's more suitable for the areas. So, we work with the National Innovation Council so that [our approach] could also be incorporated into their strategies, in supporting innovations.”
Fellows Are Shifting Mindsets to Create Transformative Social Impact
“Mindset shift,” also referred to as social norm change, is a key component of Fellows’ strategies for sustainable impact. In the survey, 97 percent of Fellows reported that their idea focuses on influencing societal mindsets/cultural norms.
As Czech Fellow Dagmar Doubravova knows, mindset shift in itself is not a single strategy -- in her work improving outcomes for incarcerated people, she used a multi-pronged mindset shift strategy including media campaigns, peer mentoring programs, and volunteer coaching programs in prisons by private sector leaders. Dagmar believes that without public understanding and support of criminal justice and the related debt reform, even changing legislation and developing scaling mechanisms for successful programs will not be enough for systems change
“The first goal [in mindset shift] was that we were able to cooperate with the media, so if they call us and ask for some stories, we are ready to prepare our clients so that they are able to share their stories positively. The second is community centers where we have organized many activities for the public, but behind these activities and gardening center are also our clients. So, people can see our clients in other situations and change their own attitudes. It's good for everybody if we give a second chance to people with a criminal past.”
Fellows Are Using Innovative Strategies to Create Public Policy Change
Overall, 93% of Fellows have achieved changes in public policy like representing marginalized groups in court, or advising policymakers as an expert. 74% of Fellows have created change in public policy or legislation.
For example, Indian Fellow Sailakshmi Balijepalli is involving stakeholders such as local governments, educational institutions, and private providers to address the gaps in public healthcare with a particular focus on neonatal and maternal health. By convincing the government to take up her idea, she is able to scale her community-based healthcare model across the country without increasing her staff, operating budget, or number of direct beneficiaries.
“What we have achieved by collaborating with the government of Tamil Nadu and operationalizing 73 Neonatal Intensive Care units across the State to bring down Infant Mortality Rates, that model is being replicated in other states of India. And apart from this, global chapters are being set up where members learn the model hands on and manage it through local chapter implementation.”
The Majority of Fellows Have Created New Markets
Overall, 93 percent of Fellows report having changed market systems at the international, national, and/or regional levels. The most common systems change strategy reported was “creating new markets” with 60 percent of Fellows reporting that they had achieved this type of change.
For example, U.S. Fellow Kevin Kirby is creating a new market for substance abusers, their loved ones, and their employers to both prevent and treat addiction. Kevin is breaking down stigma around addiction, in part through a public education campaign, but mainly by pointing out the economic incentives for employers to become part of the solution. To date there is no other for-profit organization that has targeted employers with these types of prevention and treatment services.
“There's nothing even remotely like us in our field. There's nobody penetrating the private sector and delivering value to those with the most skin in the game in the community, being employers. We could have an army of peer addiction management coaches operating out of our facilities. But if we haven't done anything to systemically address the issue in a community, we're just another service provider. [Our services are] a necessary step, but we also have to mainstream addiction into the employer-employee relationship or we're not going to get sufficient penetration to solve the problem in a community. We also have to mainstream addiction into healthcare.”
Help Ashoka Find and Support More Systems Changing Social Entrepreneurs
This study is powerful evidence that Ashoka’s strong selection process and criteria elects social entrepreneurs who are achieving significant systems change and seeing their idea replicated by independent groups in changing mindsets, policies, and market systems.
We need your help to continue finding and selecting leading social entrepreneurs who can create widespread systems change. 84% of Fellows say that Ashoka helped them increase their impact — donate today to help us fund more Fellows.