Supporting social entrepreneurs

16 August 2005

Ashoka – Sanskrit for “the active absence of sorrow” – is a global organisation working to support and provide a network for social entrepreneurs in their quest to cure social ills. It’s been hard at work in South Africa since 1990.

Ashoka South Africa Ashoka was founded in 1980 by American Bill Drayton on the belief that social entrepreneurs have the highest leverage and widest impact for fixing social problems. The organisation provides the entrepreneurs with financial backing and a professional framework to help them spread their ideas and innovative solutions, individually and collectively.

But what is a social entrepreneur?

“The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognise when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck,” the organisation explains on its website. “He or she finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionised the fishing industry.

“They go beyond the immediate problem to fundamentally change communities, societies, the world.”

Ashoka Fellows
Leading social entrepreneurs can be nominated as Ashoka Fellows, after which they must undergo a rigorous search and selection process. In this, they must demonstrate that they have a big new socially relevant idea, creativity, entrepreneurial quality and ethical fibre.

Ashoka provides new Fellows with a three-year living stipend, allowing them to focus full-time on building their institutions and spreading their ideas. Fellows also benefit from being a part of the Ashoka global fellowship for life. Ashoka continues to add to the array of services and opportunities for Fellows, designed to meet their needs at the different stages of their careers.

Ashoka has invested in more than 1 500 Ashoka Fellows in 55 countries. These Fellows have transformed the lives of millions of people in thousands of communities worldwide. The organisation elects about 150 new Fellows every year.

Into Africa
Ashoka launched its Africa programme in 1990 with the election of the first Ashoka Fellows in southern Africa. It was followed by expansion into West Africa and the Sahel region in 1992 and the opening of the East Africa office in 2001. Operations covering North Africa and the Middle East began in 2003 with the launch of the Cairo office.

Today there are over 200 Ashoka Fellows in 17 African countries, and roughly 25 new Fellows elected each year in Africa. Ashoka Africa has five regional offices based in South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda.

In South Africa, Ashoka has a nationwide presence with offices based in Johannesburg. With 85 Fellows working in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the organisation has a firm footing in the region.

Home-based care
One such innovator is Ashoka Fellow and nurse Veronica Khosa, who got up and did something about her frustrations with healthcare in South Africa. She saw sick people getting sicker, elderly people unable to get to a doctor and hospitals with empty beds that would not admit patients with HIV.

So Veronica started Tateni Home Care Nursing Services, instituting the concept of home-based care in South Africa. Beginning with practically nothing, her team provided care to people in a way they had never received it – in the comfort and security of their homes.

Just a few years later, the government has adopted her plan and, through the recognition of leading health organisations, the idea is spreading beyond South Africa.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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