Since Bill Drayton founded it in 1980, Ashoka has emphasized the unmatched impact of social entrepreneurs working together. In fact, Ashoka seeks out these driven visionaries and awards them with a lifelong Fellowship to support them within its network. In the Philippines, Ashoka Fellows are transforming local communities nationwide in various sectors such as health, education, economic development, peace, and inclusivity.
How then can we foster collaborative entrepreneurship between Fellows rooted deeply in their respective fields?
Ashoka Fellows Kevin Lee (A Single Drop for Safe Water), Zhihan Lee (BagoSphere), Girlie Garcia-Lorenzo (Kythe), Amina Evangelista-Swanepoel (Roots of Health), Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman (Teach Peace Build Peace Movement), Scott Stiles (Fair Employment Agency), and Jane Leu (Upwardly Global, Smarter Good), who all have work impacting the Philippines, went on a three day retreat called the All-Fellows Meeting (AFM) in Manila and in the province of Batangas. The Fellows were joined by the local Ashoka staff, Mark Cheng of Ashoka Europe and Hong Kong, and their significant others.
From November 28 to 30, the participants engaged in roundtable discussions addressing their challenges in 2018 and setting their goals for the year ahead. As with our previous All-Fellows Meetings, we’ve found that creating a safe space for these innovators is essential for the following reasons:
- Safe spaces encourage two-way conversations.
Whether it was tackling organizational culture or planning for retirement, every session of the AFM was marked with openness and the willingness of its participants to share. Those who took on facilitator roles truly guided discussions without dictating them. They had the uncanny ability to ask the right questions to spark conversations that flowed organically.
For example, Mark Cheng spoke about the benefits of an NGO adopting a commercial model and turning to investors instead of relying solely on grants. Instead of treating the session as a typical lecture, the Fellows discussed their own organizational models and brainstormed actionable steps for those thinking of applying the newfound ideas.
Social innovators thrive on two-way conversations. When you gather individuals who share their learnings and listen to people coming from different experiences and perspectives, you can plant the seeds of new collaborations that benefit entire communities.
- Safe spaces provide breathers, and everyone needs a break.
In a Wellbeing session led by our Country Director Terri Jayme-Mora, the Fellows plotted their level of satisfaction in different aspects of their lives on a Wheel of Life. Many reflected that they often did not prioritize their own wellbeing as they were busy managing their organizations and worrying about funding, all the while still trying to be present with their families.
Burnout and exhaustion were problems that the Fellows identified as personal challenges, and the All-Fellows Meeting allowed them to break their hectic routines. It was a perfect opportunity for them to take a step back and spend quality time with their spouse or make the resolution to care for themselves too.
Breathers allow always on the go entrepreneurs to refocus on what’s essential and reenergize for whatever obstacles they are facing.
- Safe spaces make us realize that we are not alone in our missions.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job. One of the simplest but most powerful reasons to create safe spaces for social innovators is to show that this doesn’t have to be the case.
In one particularly effective activity, the AFM participants listed their challenges, dreams, and the opportunities or resources they could share on boards. They then were able to stick notes onto the answers to comment or suggest. On one hand, the activity worked well as a tangible display of skills-to-needs matches, but it was also used as a platform to empathize with someone else’s struggles. “I feel this too. Let’s talk about it,” participants would write on their notes. It turns out that people still face similar problems even if they work in different sectors.
Here at Ashoka, we often talk about how the world needs more empathy. It is only appropriate that we put it into practice with our own team mates and partners.
Support for high impact social innovators extends beyond financial concerns. With the All-Fellows Meeting, we’ve learned that when you provide an environment that allows entrepreneurs to feel at ease, share professional and personal insights, and genuinely connect with other visionaries, they renew the clarity and strength they need for the long journey ahead.