Selection Criteria

Ashoka Fellowship Selection Criteria

What characterizes a Leading Social Entrepreneur? How does Ashoka decide which candidates to pursue and which to turn away?

Ashoka only elects individuals who we believe will become a reference in their fields, and will have a fundamental impact at the national level. We are looking for people who are role models, with a revolutionary approach, a selfless commitment and an entrepreneurial mindset. Ashoka would not support a person who simply wanted to start a new school or hospital. Ashoka would, however, support an individual showcasing a better way to teach children and change the educational system – an idea that can spread far beyond the first school where it is demonstrated.

There are no barriers, such as age, education, class, race, gender or religion that prevent individuals from being considered for the Ashoka Fellowship.

Ashoka’s selection process at every stage is anchored by our five criteria against which all Fellowship candidates are evaluated.

A New Idea – The Knock-out Test

Ashoka cannot consider someone for the Fellowship unless he or she is possessed by a new idea—a new solution or approach to a social problem — that will change the pattern in a field, be it human rights, healthcare, or any other, at the national level.

Ashoka does not invest in new charitable project such as schools or clinics; there must be a vision of reform for the education or healthcare system that has the potential to change schools or clinics all across the candidate’s country. We compare the idea with others implemented prior, as well as against ongoing programs, selecting for a high level of innovation and the potential for lasting change and greater impact.

Among the questions we might ask are: does the person possess a truly new idea to solve a public need? Is it actually innovative, or just a tweaking of how things are currently done? Will his/her idea forever change the system? How is it different from what others do in the field?

Entrepreneurial Quality

Perhaps our most important criterion, entrepreneurial quality is the defining characteristic of first class entrepreneurs. It defines leaders who see opportunities for change and innovation and devote themselves entirely to making that change happen. These leaders are willing to spend the next ten to fifteen years making a historical development take place and will persevere in refining, testing, and then spreading or marketing the idea until it has become the new pattern for society as a whole.

They must be both great visionaries and ultimate realists committed to the continuous pursuit of all the practical “how-to” issues that must be resolved for a new idea to fly. They have more or less intuitively put themselves through a long “apprenticeship” during which they mastered their field in great depth. They must know its history, people, institutions, anthropology, politics, and technology so well that they can see what the next historic step for the field is and how to bring it about. Ashoka is essentially looking for the Andrew Carnegies, Henry Fords, and Steve Jobs’ of the citizen sector.

Among the questions we might ask are: is the person so committed to his/her vision that it is impossible for him/her to rest until the vision becomes the new pattern across society? Is the person willing to spend years relentlessly grappling with myriad, practical “how to” challenges (how to get to national scale, etc.)


Ashoka recognizes that problems and contexts are constantly changing and successful social entrepreneurs must be creative both as visionaries and as problem solvers capable of engineering their visions into reality. Creativity is not a quality that suddenly appears—it is almost always apparent from youth onward.

Among the questions we might ask are:  does the individual have a track record of developing creative solutions to problems? How creative is the problem solving behind this idea? Is he or she likely to continue making creative strategies throughout his or her lifetime? Is the person creative both in vision/goal setting and in problem solving?

Social Impact

This criterion focuses on the candidate’s idea, not the candidate. Ashoka is only interested in ideas that it believes will spread widely, change the field significantly, and trigger nationwide impact.

Among the questions we might ask are: is the idea likely to solve an important social problem at the national level or beyond? Is the idea itself sufficiently new, practical, and useful that people working in the field will adopt it once it has been demonstrated? Would it spread on its own merits? How many people will benefit and how much will they benefit from the idea?

Ethical Fiber

Social entrepreneurs introducing major structural changes to society have to ask a lot of people to change how they do things. If the entrepreneur is not trusted, the likelihood of success is significantly reduced. Ashoka asks every participant in the selection process to evaluate candidates for this quality rigorously. To do so often requires one to resort to instinct and gut feelings, not just rational analysis.

Among the questions we might ask are: do you fully trust this person? Do people in the field trust him/her? Would they listen to and follow him/her?

Selection Process

Ashoka Fellowship Selection Process

The Venture Team supports Ashoka’s search and selection process for Fellows.  The term ‘Venture’ implies a risk or daring undertaking that has no guarantee of success.  Much like traditional business ventures, Ashoka’s Venture program involves the risk inherent in investing in individuals and their ideas at the launch stage.  In Ashoka’s case, the investment is often small, and the social change it makes possible is remarkable.

The Venture Team evaluates each candidate against five Selection Criteria.

The process is long but also fruitful. In fact, many candidates describe the selection procedure as one of the most difficult but enlightening experiences of their careers. Candidates must communicate their ideas, scrutinize their methods, and reflect on themselves as individuals. Even those who do not pass believe they are better equipped to return to their projects afterwards. In this way, more than a means to an end, our selection process generates robust discussion, sharpens ideas, and focuses tremendous energy into the citizen sector and the growing field of social entrepreneurship.

From nomination to election as a Fellow, candidates go through an extensive series of in-depth interviews, a panel, and a final executive board discussion.

Maintaining a rigorous selection process and universally-applied standards is very important to Ashoka, as it ensures that only the most innovative social entrepreneurs with the greatest probability of achieving large-scale social impact are elected into the global Fellowship. Upon receiving a nomination or application for the Fellowship, Ashoka understands the candidates’ fit against the selection criteria through the following process:

venture website_selection process (2)

Related Videos

To understand more about Ashoka Arab World and its Fellowship selection criteria, the following link provides useful insights:

About Ashoka Arab World – Fellowship Selection Criteria

To see what current Ashoka Fellows think of the Fellowship program and the services provided to them, please follow the link below:

How does Ashoka enable its Fellows to create system changing impact across sectors?