Ashoka Young Changemakers’s ED says entity is now a powerful field

Chennai: Entrepreneurs have been given good impetus in India and especially so over the past few years. However, the hit rate is not great as reports suggest nine out of ten startups bite the dust within a year or two.

Ashoka: Innovators for the public have been striving to help entrepreneurs for more than three decades, and News Today had an interaction with global executive director of the firm’s Young Changemakers programme, Yashveer Singh to learn more about their motive, aims and achievements, in India and around the globe. Following are the excerpts-

Q: Times are changing. How do you think your changemakers programme will help matters in India?
A: We all know that we live in a world where change is accelerating and where the depth and extent of interconnection is increasing. Why are income distributions getting worse almost everywhere on the planet? Because there’s a bidding war for those who have the skills to participate in the fast-growing “everyone a changemaker” world. In a world that keeps telling young people, indeed everyone, ‘you can’t’, it’s critical to have a flow of stories that show, “you can” and that provide an array of ideas and methods. For this to happen, we need to focus on teenage changemakers who are leading impact initiatives.

Q: India, much like many developing nations, follows the template set by the western world. How do you think it affects the subcontinent nation?
A: At Ashoka, what matters to us is the merit of the idea and from where it is originated. For example, in 1981, Bill Drayton founded Ashoka and identified the first-ever Ashoka Fellow in India. Gloria De Souza, who revolutionised the system of learning in classrooms was the first Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka looks for ideas that help society for the good of all. It does not necessarily limit us from thinking where the idea came from. We take ideas from wherever the best ideas are coming from.

Q: Companies are developing AI at a rapid pace with an aim to replace humans under the mask of development. Human skills will have to be once again rewritten. Your take on that.
A: Children entering primary school today will grow up to engage in careers that do not yet exist, and these will be driven by ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence, widespread adoption of big data analytics, and cloud technology. Science education needs to evolve to produce students who can learn to iterate, problem-solve, and adapt to our changing world. We also need to understand that there will always be new technologies to deal with and we need skills like cognitive empathy, the very sophisticated ability to work in a world of millions of constantly morphing and interconnected teams, an opposite type of leadership, and changemaking itself.

Q: The start-up ecosystem is booming in India. But only a few find light at the end of the tunnel. Does Ashoka have any plans for them?

A: Ashoka has always supported individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social, cultural, and environmental challenges. We have pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship, identifying and supporting the world’s leading social entrepreneurs since 1980. By continuing to develop our expansive network of Fellows and providing financial, knowledge, and logistical support to more than 3,800 change leaders in 93 countries, Ashoka works to share the wisdom of leading social entrepreneurs with a global audience.

Q: Could you tell us more about how or if at all, you have had to change the way your firm works with changing trends?

A: Initially, Ashoka started with supporting the social entrepreneurs. Having passed a tipping point that firmly established social entrepreneurship, Ashoka formally shifted its focus to the ‘Everyone a Changemaker’ (EACH) vision in last few years. What has changed is that we are now a powerful field. There are more of us. The construct of social entrepreneurship empowers millions to be changemakers.

Q: How soon do you think Indians will stop following ideas put upon them and start dictating their own rules in innovation, product making, among others?

A: India has a history of coming out with new innovative ideas, it’s just that largely the appreciation of society around changing things and new ideas is not yet up to the mark. By celebrating these Ashoka Young Changemakers as role models, we are also trying to change the society’s mindset, so that they can start appreciating new and innovative ideas. Young people, like the rest of us, love to be able to contribute, to be powerful.

Short- & long-term goals
Our short-term goal is to elect our first cohort of Ashoka Young Changemakers in India. They are the teenagers between the age of (12-20) years who are leading impact initiatives and are ready to step up to change the world with Ashoka. We will make a team of these young changemakers with other social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in order to work together on how to inspire others and create a ecosystem of changemakers in India. Going forward, Ashoka will also try to build strategic partnerships where these young teenagers will also be involved.

Praveen Kumar S