One of the most significant challenges to social entrepreneurship and innovation is ensuring a diversity of approaches and participants in the movement. To truly deliver meaningful social change the leaders of the effort must share perspectives of the challenges faced by communities across the U.S. that can most appropriately come from members of those communities. Ashoka, through its All America initiative seeks to increase the diversity of social entrepreneurship practitioners.
In January 2016, Ashoka launched All America, a strategic initiative to redraw the map of social entrepreneurship in the United States. We made a commitment to be more intentional both in our outreach to potential fellowship nominees and in our review of their nominations. We began to challenge some of the biases—many of them subconscious—that we have brought to the task of evaluating candidates. Too often, for example, we have rewarded nominees who have already won awards or who can discuss their work in language that is familiar to us.
To counteract that tendency, we started placing less emphasis on written material submitted by a nominee and more emphasis on unsolicited references from people who truly understand his or her work. We noted that the number of volunteers and small donors that an entrepreneur has attracted is often a better sign of merit than a flashy website or a blue-chip funder.