Real Leaders

Out the Box

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Change everywhere requires everyone to be a changemaker, says Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public.

We have all heard Lao Tzu’s proverb, “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” But what do we do in a rapidly changing world, a world in which fish are increasingly scarce, oceans have been poisoned and polluted, and access to them is grossly unjust?  What do we do when teaching the hungry to fish will still leave them without long-term livelihoods or future food on their plates?  To the social entrepreneur, the answer is clear: it is not enough to teach a man to fish.  The fishing industry must change.  And it is the social entrepreneur’s duty – and therefore Ashoka’s – to revolutionize the fishing industry, to change its structure and how it works.

How are social entrepreneurs able to have this impact?  The mission of a social entrepreneur is to advance change for the common good, to conceive and engineer new patterns which grow and spread year after year. Within five years of launching their organizations, three-quarters of Ashoka’s 3,000 leading social entrepreneur Fellows have changed important patterns in their fields and over half have changed national policy. The work of a social entrepreneur continues to be an independent, powerful, and creative force that multiplies in influence and impact decade after decade.

Ingrained in the very nature of a leading social entrepreneur is a less recognized impact that is even more important—especially at this moment of history. Almost every leading social entrepreneur catalyzes thousands of others to stand up and become local changemakers. They are highly visible, contagious role models. More important, the chief way they spread their ideas across thousands of communities is by getting local people to see their vision, to want it and to stand up and organize to make it happen – i.e. to become local changemakers.

That is why social entrepreneurs make their ideas as simple, safe, and supported as possible. They do not want to dig a moat; they work hard to create a movement. That is how they change the world. These local changemakers also disrupt local patterns, are role models, and recruit others to create change along with them. Some will later become social entrepreneurs in their own right.

Together these local changemakers become the long term grassroots leadership for their adopted fields. Together they progressively push their communities toward the tipping point when it is easy and natural for everyone to be a changemaker whenever the need or opportunity comes.

Given that the rate of change continues to escalate exponentially, such an “everyone a changemaker™” population becomes critical. It is the only way the solutions can outrun the problems. As we leave a relatively static world, the institutions characterized by repetitive function, leadership by a few and walls will become obsolete. Instead the world needs and rewards highly fluid teams of teams. Teams require everyone to be initiatory players, in today’s world (and even more in the future), that requires everyone to be able to contribute to change. This new model is already visible in the world’s most successful organizations and groups, from the early pioneer Jesuits to Silicon Valley.

Over the past decade, Ashoka has been developing its own collaborative entrepreneurship model based on this team of teams approach. Collaborative entrepreneurship allows hundreds of the world’s top social entrepreneurs working on the same problem to define where society must go and then collaborate with each other, their business peers, governments, and other institutions to arrive at the new vision.

For example, a successful  partnering in India between citizen groups and property developers has helped in alleviating the housing shortage by 10,000 homes. This and similar demonstrations in other industries (spanning health to agriculture) on four continents demonstrate a big idea that is critical to the transition from institutions to teams of teams: Wherever you see a wall you probably are looking at a huge opportunity to increase productivity and wealth. In five years business strategists and business schools will have long since adopted this insight.

Any child who does not master empathetic skills at a high level will, in a world of rapid change where the rules cover less and less, hurt others and disrupt groups. They will as a result be thrown out, marginalized ruthlessly – regardless of their knowledge. They certainly cannot go on to master the other necessary skills – teamwork, leadership, and changemaking. Young people (ages 12-20) must then practice all four skills. Practice is the only way to mastery.  These two insights redefine what is critical to growing up successfully. But how many principals or even parents know?

A global team of teams of 1,000 leading social entrepreneurs, schools, key writers and other idea intermediaries and their allies are now at work to tip everyone’s frame of reference on Ashoka’s “Every Child Must Master Empathy” global collaborative entrepreneurship thrust. A larger team of teams is at work to tip thinking and open new doors for the teen years.

Both YPO and WPO members can make important contributions at this turning point moment – be it in how they parent or how they help the organization they lead transition from institution to an open, fluid team of teams.


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