Friday, May 30, 2008

Unleashing Potential

One of the most progressive aid organizations is Ashoka International, founded by Bill Drayton. It’s been around 25 years or so, and it’s certainly a contender for a Nobel Peace Prize. Bill figured that the best and fastest way to change the world was to identify people in countries who are getting started in socially innovative projects, and supporting them so that they can dedicate themselves to their cause. There is a worldwide “search” committee that consists of thousands of people in local communities who keep their eyes out for these sorts of people – the single-minded, almost fanatical idealist, who has a vision of something great. And every year, the foundation selects “Ashoka Fellows” who are given financial support so that they can pursue their dream, until the dream can get funding from other sources or become self-supporting. The financial support usually lasts about three years. As Bill says, “we’re investing in the person, not the project.” Over the years, they’ve supported 2,000 fellows.

I like the premise – find people who are change-makers, who know their communities and their problems, who are creative in coming up with solutions, and support them so they can make it happen. It’s a beautiful concept.

I do have a little bit of a different perspective, though. I think that more attention needs to be given to the average person, who doesn’t see himself or herself as a social entrepreneur. I think that the kind of change that the world needs will happen when every common citizen starts to recognize and unlock their own potential. My visit to Hopwood junior high still haunts me – all that potential, hidden even from the eyes of those who possess it. I wonder what are the keys to unlocking that potential. It has to be some combination of attitudes, insights and skills, both practical and spiritual.

Any ideas on unleashing this potential in the common citizen?


Dragonfly said...

Initiatives such as this (and microfinance, which I have worked with) are bound to work much more than hand outs. It just shows there is a difference between giving someone money, and helping them sometimes. Hopefully this will multiply many times.

Anonymous said...

People struggle in developing countries primarily because of corruption and lack of rule of law, especially laws enabling them to start businesses (legally), buy land, build houses, have legal, documented addresses for their homes and the ability to sell or rent the homes, and to have those properties protected from criminals and governments. Once such laws are institutionalized, people will take it from there.