Ashoka, Innovators for the Public

By Jill MossThis is Steve Ember.And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about an unusual organization called Ashoka, Innovators for the Public. It supports people who have created new ways to solve social problems.

Throughout the world there are people who are trying to create new kinds of businesses. They often are called entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are people who organize, build and support their individual business proposals. They may have ideas about new products that the world has never seen. Or, they may have new ways to do business.Social entrepreneurs are similar to business entrepreneurs. However, social entrepreneurs try to improve conditions in their communities. They organize, build, and support new and creative programs. Their goal is to improve people's lives. Their work is very important. Usually, social entrepreneurs do not receive much support for their work. Yet one organization recognizes the need for social entrepreneurs and provides important support.

(( MUSIC BRIDGE ))Ashoka is a not-for-profit organization based in the United States. The group works to develop social entrepreneurship as a profession around the world. Bill Drayton started the organization in Nineteen-Eighty. He believes the most effective way to build social change is to invest in people who have new and creative ideas. Mr. Drayton says that there is hope that these ideas could be copied internationally.

Ashoka supports nearly twelve-hundred social entrepreneurs in forty-one countries around the world. The organization provides its members, known as fellows, with money to live for three years. In return, the fellows are asked to give all their time to their work.

The total payment a fellow receives depends on the country in which he or she lives. Ashoka officials say there is no set amount. Instead, it tries to make the payment equal to what a leader of a not-for-profit organization in that country would earn. In the United States, for example, the yearly payment is between forty and fifty-five thousand dollars.

The organization receives money from wealthy individuals and organizations around the world to support the fellows. It does not take money from the United States government.Ashoka links up its fellows with other leading social entrepreneurs around the world. It provides the only international system of social entrepreneurs. Through this group, or network, the fellows are able to spread their ideas and build long-term support.

Ashoka also works with McKinsey and Company, an organization that assists heads of international companies. The company helps the fellows raise money and develop new skills. McKinsey and Company has worked with Ashoka fellows in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, India, Mexico, Venezuela and South Africa.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Earlier this month, Ashoka announced its twelve newest fellows. They are all from the United States. This is the first time American social entrepreneurs have joined the organization. Kate Mehr is the spokeswoman for Ashoka. She says the United States program is evidence that social problems are not limited to the developing world.

Mizz Mehr says Ashoka is simply at a new point in its development. She says the group now wants to bring to the developed world a model of social entrepreneurs that has worked in the developing world.Ten of the twelve new Ashoka fellows work on the increasing social problems in the United States. Their projects are aimed at stopping violence against women, reforming American education and legal systems, and improving economic services for the poor.

For example, Wynona Ward is working with women in Vermont who are victims of violence in their homes. Most of the women live in farming areas. Mizz Ward travels to them in her truck which is her office on wheels. She provides legal advice and emotional support for the women. She also helps them become self-supporting if they choose to leave their husbands.Another new Ashoka member is J. B. Schramm. He is helping students from poor families in Washington, D. C. get accepted into college. Mr. Schramm offers training classes on the college admission process. He shows students how to improve their test scores and their college entrance papers. When it started in Nineteen-Ninety-Three, Mr. Schramm's program helped just four students. Last year, it helped eight-hundred young people with the college admission process.D. J Powers is also a new Ashoka member. He is helping bring services such as banks and telephones to poor people in Texas. Mr. Powers does this by examining the way industries treat poor people. If the treatment is not fair or legal, Mr. Powers makes the information public.

Two out of Ashoka's twelve new fellows are working on social problems outside the United States. David Green, for example, is helping improve the delivery of health care technologies to developing countries. And Paul Rice is helping family farmers around the world earn more money for their products.Kate Mehr says Ashoka is currently looking for more social entrepreneurs in Canada and Europe. She says hundreds of fellows continue to do interesting work around the world.

In India, for example, Jeroo Billimoria has created a twenty-four hour telephone service called Childline for homeless children. During the past two years, Childline has received more than four-hundred-thousand calls from children who live on the streets in Bombay. More than twenty-thousand children have been given direct help. Mizz Billimoria is working to establish Childline in more than one-hundred fifty cities in India and Asia. This project is also being copied in New York City.In Brazil, Doctor Vera Cordeiro provides health and education services to children with severe health problems. Her program has spread to eleven hospitals in five different areas of Brazil. Officials are now working to expand the program nationally. Doctor Cordeiro has helped more than eleven-thousand children. Her program has also helped cut the number of children returning to hospitals in Brazil by sixty percent.Jecek Strzemieczny became an Ashoka member in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven. He is working to reform local schools in Warsaw, Poland. He does this by asking students to examine their schools and discuss possible reforms. He organizes public speaking events at which local officials, parents and students can discuss reform issues. The program has reached forty-thousand students in one-hundred-fifty cities in Poland.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Social entrepreneurs who join Ashoka are very special people. First, they must have a new idea for solving a public need. The candidates must also be creative at both setting goals and solving problems. Second, they must be willing to spend years trying to make their project a success. Third, the candidate's idea must be able to solve an important social problem at the national level, or even internationally. And finally, an Ashoka candidate must be completely honest. He or she needs to be very concerned with serving other people in a fair and honest way.Anyone who meets these four conditions can become an Ashoka member. There are no age, education or race limits. Ashoka is always looking for new members. If you know someone who works as a social entrepreneur in your community or country, you can nominate that person. Send the person's name, address, telephone number and e-mail address to Ashoka. The address is Ashoka, spelled A-S-H-O-K-A, one-thousand-seven-hundred North Moore Street, floor twenty, Arlington, Virginia, two-two-two-oh-nine, U-S-A.You must include a short written description of the candidate's project. Again, Ashoka's address is one-thousand-seven-hundred North Moore Street, floor twenty, Arlington, Virginia, two-two-two-oh-nine, U-S-A. You can also get more information from Ashoka's Internet Website. That address is www. ashoka. org.

The process to become an Ashoka fellow involves several steps. But, Mizz Mehr says the rewards that come from joining the group are worth the time and effort.

(( THEME ))This Special English program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Caty Weaver. The studio engineer was B. J. Ward. This is Steve Ember.And this is Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.

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