Ashoka Supports Social Entrepreneurs Around the World

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I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Christopher Cruise with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about an organization called Ashoka. It supports people who create new ways to solve social problems.

Entrepreneurs are people who create new businesses. They 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. Often, social entrepreneurs do not receive much support for their work. Yet one organization recognizes the need for social entrepreneurs and provides important support.

  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.

Ashoka supports over three thousand social entrepreneurs in seventy countries around the world. The organization provides its members, known as fellows, with money for three years. In return, the fellows are expected to give all their time to their work.

The total payment a fellow receives depends on the country where 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.  The organization receives money from individuals and organizations around the world to support the fellows. It does not take money from governments.

Ashoka connects its fellows with other leading social entrepreneurs around the world. Through this network, the fellows are able to spread their ideas and build long-term support.

One of Ashoka’s programs is called Changemakers. It is an online community of action in which members work together to find answers.

Using this website, anyone can learn how to create social change in his or her community, share stories, or discuss problems and successes. Changemakers also holds competitions that provide money to groups putting their social programs into action.

Tyler Spalding works for Ashoka at its headquarters near Washington.  He says several of Ashoka’s programs are aimed at young people. One of these is Ashoka U.  Its goal is to help college students in the United States get their universities to support teaching about social action. Mr.Spalding says many universities teach about models and theory when discussing social action.  Ashoka U aims to show students how to turn ideas about social change into action.

Ashoka’s Youth Venture program works with people between the ages of twelve and twenty. These young people identify problems in their community and find ways to solve them.

TYLER SPALDING: “Ashoka then provides those teams of young people with advisors, monetary seed funding, as well as non-monetary support to transform their idea into action.”

Ashoka does not announce its fellows at one time every year. They are announced throughout the year, as they are chosen.

Kara Andrade is a two thousand ten fellow. She was born in Guatemala. She later moved to the United States with her family to escape civil war in her native country. As a reporter, she became interested in how people in Guatemala were expressing themselves and communicating with each other.

She started an organization called Habla Guate. Its aim is to develop a citizen-based information sharing system that can provide timely and necessary news to people in Guatemala and other parts of Central America. She developed a mobile phone-based system that permits people to share important information throughout the Habla network.

Biplab Paul is another two thousand ten Ashoka fellow. His organization in India helps provide a low-cost method of collecting water for farming in the Gujarat area. It also helps empower local women. His efforts involve organizing women and their communities to harvest rainwater.

His organization has helped solve the problems of water shortages and low crop productivity.

In Egypt, Raghda El Ebrashi wanted to find a way to get educated citizens in her country to help poor and unemployed young people. But she wanted them to help in a more active way than just donating money to the poor. She organized college students to volunteer to help teach skills to young people from poor communities so they could find jobs. She studied companies so she could train young people to fit their hiring needs.

People who cannot hold jobs because of health or family problems are trained to make objects to sell. The organization has been so successful that it has expanded to several cities in Egypt.

Dorothy Aken’ova became an Ashoka fellow in two thousand eight. Her organization aims to improve sexual health education in Nigeria. She believes that the emotional side of sexuality is ignored in discussions about reproductive health. So sexual subjects are treated with silence and intolerance.

The aim of her organization is to support sex education to include information about safety, rights and acceptance.

Not all Ashoka fellows work in developing countries. Many are from developed areas including the United States, Canada, and Europe.

One of these is Dr. Frank Hoffman of Germany. He developed an effective and low-cost breast examination method. His method involves training blind people to use their extreme sense of touch to do breast exams. His program aims to improve early detection of cancer and help employ skilled blind people.

American Chris Balme started an organization in California called Spark. It helps reduce the number of high school drop-outs in Los Angeles and the San Francisco area. Spark connects at-risk middle school students with special teachers. The students choose their dream jobs, and Spark finds professionals who can teach the students about their work.

The students attend these apprenticeships after school and during summer programs. Spark helps students learn skills that are important to them. And the organization helps young people see why staying in school is important in helping them meet their future professional goals.

We asked Spark’s creator Chris Balme how Ashoka has affected his work. He says becoming an Ashoka fellow was both a life and career goal.  He felt that he was joining a group of “superheroes” because many of the social activists he most respects are fellows.  Mr. Balme says he has gained valuable personal and professional advice from other fellows.

Social entrepreneurs who join Ashoka must meet several requirements. 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 trustworthy. He or she must be concerned with serving other people in a fair and honest way.

Anyone who meets these conditions can become an Ashoka member. There are no age or education restrictions.  Ashoka is always looking for new members. You can nominate someone who works as a social entrepreneur in your community or country. You can find email addresses for Ashoka’s different area offices at ashoka.org/contact.

Include a short written description of the candidate’s project and why it is inventive and effective. Also include the candidate’s email address. The process to become an Ashoka fellow involves several steps. But the rewards that come from joining the group are worth the time and effort.

 This program was written by Dana Demange, who was also the producer. I’m Christopher Cruise.

And I’m Faith Lapidus.  Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find us on Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

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