Ashoka's Entrepreneurial Vision Fosters Social change.(METROPOLITAN)(COMMUNITY FORUM)

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Barnes, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

This series features the words and works of good people in our community. Their voices are seldom heard in the torrent of sensational news, their successes are seldom noticed publicly, but they contribute mightily to our quality of life. We present this forum at least twice a month to recognize and support their good deeds.

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Bill Drayton, president and founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public

Question: What is a social entrepreneur, and what do they do?

Answer: A business entrepreneur has exceptional levels of vision, creativity and determination and frequently creates entirely new industries. A social entrepreneur has exactly the same qualities, but he or she devotes them to coming up with new solutions to social problems. The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society isn't working and to provide new ways to make it work. The social entrepreneur finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solutions and persuading entire societies to take new steps. Social entrepreneurs go beyond the immediate problem to fundamentally change communities, societies, the world.

We need fundamental, structural change in educational and human rights, every bit as much as in the hotel and steel [industries]. Fundamental change comes from entrepreneurs - people who see over the horizons and lead society to take the next step. We have had many institutions to support business entrepreneurs, but only in the last decade have people begun to recognize and support social entrepreneurs. Ashoka does two things: we help to launch [innovative] ideas for social change on a global scale and the social entrepreneurs behind them, the institutions necessary to support both the ideas and the person.

In essence, we are like a venture capital firm but focused on social innovation. And the second major thing we do is build the institutions that make our new field [of social entrepreneurship] work better.

Q: Please cite an example of a person who has become a social entrepreneur?

A: There's J.B. Schramm who lives in Washington, D.C. Mr. Schramm grew up in Denver and attended East Denver High School. After graduation, he went to college, unlike most of his high school classmates. He thought they were just as smart as he and was bothered by the waste and unfairness of it all. Because he was an entrepreneur, he never let that slip from his mind, and he kept working until he found a solution. It's a simple idea that had a big impact.

There are probably 150,000 students each year who should be going to college - they certainly have the capabilities. But their parents didn't attend college, and the students don't receive the kind of counseling in school that would fill that gap. So, J.B. Schramm's College Summit fills that gap in a very economical way. Each year, Mr. Schramm takes groups of students who are juniors and seniors to a local college campus for four or five days.

The students have an opportunity to think through what it means to go to college, and since they're on a college campus, the college experience is demystified. Then, Mr. Schramm works with their homeroom teachers and gets the teachers involved, trained and engaged with the College Summit groups, and 80 percent of those students actually enroll in college.

If you think about the implication, say he gets 100,000 [students] to go to college who would not have attended in 10 years, that's a million [people], they have families, and that's 4 to 5 million people who have moved from being marginal in the economy to being on a very solid career and life path.

Mr. Schramm (one of the first Ashoka Fellows elected in the United States in 2000) had the idea, demonstrated it here in Washington, D. …