Changing the World, One Community at a Time by Grishma Rimal (F’19)

by tuftsigl
Aug 21

What is social entrepreneurship?

This question has resurfaced time and again during my time at Tufts University. The only consistency I have found in the answers I receive is the caveat that there is no formalized definition or response for it.

I have also seen a tug-of-war between two schools of thoughts on social entrepreneurship: one that emphasizes the necessity of a business-like model to pursue a social mission and another that focuses on the overall social impact, regardless of the organization’s financial returns.

Ashoka, the organization I am interning at this summer, falls in the latter group. It defines social entrepreneurs as “individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social, cultural, and environmental challenges.” They not only tackle the symptoms of global issues but work within their ecosystems to change the systems perpetuating the problems. Thus, social entrepreneurship ranges from non-profits working to promote civic engagements to for-profits improving affordable primary health care services.

Ashoka also differs in its approach of highlighting and focusing on individual innovators and their drive for social change rather than their organizations. Ashoka’s flagship Fellowship program supports over 3,000 social entrepreneurs from across the world. Each Fellow goes through a rigorous selection process. Once elected, they receive a lifetime membership to, and support from, the Ashoka community.

This summer, I have had the privilege of interviewing ten such social entrepreneurs from across the world, with a few more interviews waiting in the pipeline. While I can’t dive deeply into all the learnings from these interviews, I would like to share the general insights I have gained from each interaction.

The vision that these entrepreneurs carry, and their relentless persistence, is inspiring. For instance, one Fellow is working to reduce the rate of recidivism in their country by creating customized employment and vocational training for each former convict who comes into their program.

Another Fellow left behind their comfortable corporate job to help individuals with mental disabilities live autonomous and self-sufficient lives. His organization procures apartments for its clients, allowing them to live independently of their families while generating income through employment created in partnership with large multi-national corporations.
The stories go on, and each amazes me more than the last one. What’s more surprising is the drive and confidence that each Fellow possesses in the work he or she pursues and the ability to create change. Most are cognizant that they alone won’t revolutionize the world. Rather, they believe we each have a role to play wherever we are planted in the globe and collectively, we can create a better tomorrow.

The Skoll Foundation calls social entrepreneurs “the world's best bet for solving pressing global problems.” Jeff Skoll might just be onto something.