What is a Social Entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to societies’ most pressing social problems. They share the qualities of leading business entrepreneurs, namely vision, innovation and commitment, but focus primarily on diagnosing and eradicating the various problems plaguing our societies.

These individuals are relatively rare, but nonetheless exhibit qualities that can be found all around the world. Primarily, they are individuals that harbour a special ability to develop solutions to social problems, be they environmental, economic, or social.

Rather than leaving the responsibility of addressing societal needs to the government or business sector, social entrepreneurs identify exactly what it is that is not working and address it by directly changing the system. They then work to spread their solution, persuading entire societies to take massive leaps forward. Ultimately, they pursue this vision relentlessly, until it becomes the status quo, not just locally, but across communities and continents.

Social entrepreneurs are not driven by profit and often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and realists – above all else concerned with the practical implementation of their vision.

Why Social Entrepreneurs?

Just as business entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs act as change agents for society, seizing opportunities that others miss to create new approaches, improve systems, and develop solutions for the betterment of society. While a business entrepreneur might develop an entirely new industry, a social entrepreneur focuses on innovative, revolutionary solutions to existing problems.

What is the Ashoka Fellowship?

Ashoka is the world’s field-defining association of leading social entrepreneurs—men and women who possess the vision, creativity, and extraordinary determination of the business entrepreneur, but who devote these qualities to developing solutions to societal problems.

Ashoka offers a life-time Fellowship program for individual social entrepreneurs. The Fellowship represents a great opportunity to spread the work and impact of these individuals as well as to support them in scaling up their initiatives. Additionally, Ashoka offers group entrepreneurs (Fellows working in the same sectors) the platform to develop broader solutions in collaboration with one another.

As opposed to servicing social entrepreneurs as a grant-making foundation or service provider, Ashoka operates as a network of entrepreneurs, and ultimately, an accelerator of change.

Who is an Ashoka Fellow?

Ashoka Fellows are leading social entrepreneurs, recognized as having innovative solutions to social problems, and the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate an unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity, and collaboration are tremendous forces of change. Ashoka Fellows work in over 70 countries around the globe in every area of human need.

Ashoka Fellows are practical visionaries who introduce and fully commit themselves to a new idea or implement an existing idea in an innovative and impactful way. They bring in fresh analyses and insights on how to fix a social problem. They challenge the system and open up new opportunities for everyday citizens to be changemakers. With creativity and entrepreneurial skills, they push their idea forward until it changes a pattern through wide adoption, often over many years.

Anchored by our Selection Criteria & Process highly promising social entrepreneurs are elected into the Ashoka Fellowship program. Above all, Ashoka invests in people; we believe that the growth of a global citizen sector begins with the work of a few leading social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs drive the sector forward, responding to new challenges and changing needs. Simultaneously they provide inspiration to ordinary citizens to become more active, contributing members of their societies.

Based on the various career stages outlined in the graph below, these leading social entrepreneurs are elected into one of five Ashoka categories:


For social entrepreneurs still in the launch phase, Ashoka provides a living stipend for an average of three years, allowing them to focus full-time on building their institutions and spreading their ideas. Ashoka also introduces all of its Fellows to a global platform of social entrepreneurs that in turn opens doors for opportunities and collaboration. Once elected, Fellows have access to this community for life. The Ashoka Fellowship Program document showcases the many benefits provided to Ashoka Fellows.

For a list of our Fellows in the Arab world, click here

What does it mean to be an Ashoka Fellow?

Ultimately, this means that you will be inaugurated into the largest network of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, thereby securing access to them, benefiting from their skills, experience, expertise, and potentially creating collaborations. Simultaneously, you will benefit from all the highly-individualized resources and services on offer through Ashoka, however the onus is on you to make the most of these opportunities.

Fellows are at the centre of the inspiration and ideas that Ashoka offers to the wider world. As an Ashoka Fellow you are a role model for society, demonstrating to others how they too can create change. Ashoka invests in you not only because you are transforming your field and imparting your wisdom on communities, but also because you are opening opportunities for others to engage in changemaking. Ashoka challenges you to go beyond your individual success as a social entrepreneur, and to reach new levels of collaborative success.

Geographical Scope of work

As a global organization, Ashoka works in 70+ countries. Please go to this link to find a full list of the countries where Ashoka operates.

The Ashoka Arab World (AAW) office, located in Cairo, Egypt, handles the search and selection process for candidates in the Arab region; electing social entrepreneurs that are bringing about system-level change in the Arab World, regardless of their individual nationalities. Once elected, these social entrepreneurs continue to communicate with and report to the regional office, particularly with regards to their engagement plans.