ASHOKA: Promoting Social Entrepreneurship in East Africa
From left to right: Ashoka fellows in Uganda Lilian, Trevor, Musheshe, Ritah and Christina.

ASHOKA: Promoting Social Entrepreneurship in East Africa

ARE you practicing an innovative project or program you came up with, that is positively improving the lives of people around you? Or you know such a person who has come up with an outstanding idea being practiced in your community and beyond.

By Gerald Businge
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First published: October 6, 2005

You have a chance to become or nominate that person to become an Ashoka Fellow, joining membership to the prestigious global fellowship of social entrepreneurs. With chances of networking with leading world visionaries.

Joining people like Christina Jordan of Ntinda, Kampala, Uganda, who created a global online community that watches, learns about and supports community development projects as they happen in Uganda and Africa. Or Jeroo Billimoria who launched the first 24-hour emergency hotline for street children across India.

Or Mwalimu Musheshe who is building an alternative approach to training social development professionals by encouraging knowledge and methods of grassroots innovators? These and other visionary people were named Ashoka Fellows because of their outstanding ideas.

Ashoka, a non-profit organisation searches the world for social entrepreneurs - extraordinary individuals with unprecedented ideas for change in their communities.

"Ashoka addresses social problems in different communities through social entrepreneurship, a uniquely effective approach based on a social venture capital model. We identify leading social entrepreneurs, electing them as Ashoka fellows and invest in them financially and professionally," says Deborah Kaddu-Serwadda, Ashoka East Africa's Regional Representative.

The Ashoka East Africa office is found in Uganda, in Nakasero at Kisozi House. Launched 2 years ago, the Kampala office has elected eleven Ashoka fellows, 6 in Uganda and 5 in Kenya. Ashoka Fellowship is expected to reach Tanzania this year.

Ashoka fellows in East Africa include Christina Jordan of Life in Africa (2001), Mwalimu Musheshe of Uganda Rural Development and Training Program (2001), Lillian Keene Mugerwa of the Platform for Labour Action (2002), Craig Esbeck of Mango Tree Educational enterprises (2002), Trevor Dudley Director of Kampala Kids League (2003) Ritah Sembuya, founder of Joyce Fertility Support centre (2003) and Kenyans Peter Wahome of People to people Tourism (2002), Kennedy Wafula who is pioneering the use of civil litigation in fighting Female Genital Mutilation (2002) Stella Amojong of Center for Women Empowerment (2003), Andrew Macharia of The City Garbage Recyclers (2003) and Adam Tuller of Africa Conservation Trust (2003).

Founded in 1980, Ashoka pioneers the "social venture approach" in international development. But who is a social entrepreneur? Do you and me qualify?

According to Ashoka, social entrepreneurs are practical visionaries who possess qualities traditionally associated with leading business entrepreneurs-vision, innovation, determination and long-term commitment but are dedicated to achieving systematic social change in their field.

Mrs. Sewradda says Ashoka was founded on the premise that the most effective way of promoting social change is to invest in social entrepreneurs with innovative plans and solutions that are replicable nationally and globally.

"Ashoka identifies and invests in social entrepreneurs through stipends and professional services that allow them to focus full-time on their ideas for leading social change in education and youth development, health care, environment, human rights, access to technology and economic development," says Annett Tumwijukye of Ashoka.

Christina was recognised in 2001 for her Life in Africa foundation (LiA) based at Ntinda, Kampala. LiA has several websites intended to connect together African people and their innovative development ideas and projects through exposing them to the world and sharing information through their websites, mainly

Through his African Rural University (ARU), Musheshe is bringing together creative farmers and tradespeople in Kibaale district, Western Uganda, to teach skills ranging from engineering to environmental protection and farming. Musheshe believes that traditional academic training alone lacks the practicality and leaves development workers unequipped to propose sustainable solutions to social problems.

Lillian Keene-Mugerwa is fighting for the rights and serving as settlement Counsel for marginalised, highly vulnerable workers in Uganda as well as signing for them employment contracts. She addresses rights abuses like wrongful dismissal, breach of contract, compensation for work related injuries, and of child and adult domestic workers.

Craig Esbeck has developed cheap and easy to use classroom instructional products from local materials, relevant for the African Village classroom. Craig who came to Uganda in 1998 as a US peace corps volunteer is using old slippers, grain sacks, refuse wood to make lower classroom instructional materials like kids' letters, games, wall charts and slates among others. His materials have come in handy in improving UPE.

Peter Wahome is developing a new approach to tourism in Kenya that emphasises people-to-people contact while providing new sources of livelihoods and ideas for people and communities engaged in home-based production like of African crafts.

Kennedy Wafula is combating the practice of forced female circumcision of girls in Kenya by joining conventional approaches, including community monitoring and awareness building efforts with civil litigation.

All the above are members of the global Ashoka Fellowship of more than 1,200 Ashoka Fellows in 44 countries, allowing them to inter-network together, share ideas through national and global platforms funded by Ashoka.

Mrs. Serwadda says they are currently in advanced stages of nominating possible Ashoka fellows for 2004 and says people are always free to apply or suggest others.

But in order to become an Ashoka fellow, you must undergo a rigorous selection process in which you demonstrate attributes of: a big new idea, creativity, entrepreneurial quality, social impact of the idea and ethical fiber.

"Some people have been applying as if it is a job. You can apply to become an Ashoka Fellow, but you must have the above attributes," Tumwijukye says.

Ashoka's mission is to develop the profession of social entrepreneurs around the world. Bill Drayton, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and assistant Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency in New York founded Ashoka.

One of the first leaders to recognise the power of individual innovation in addressing pressing social problems, Drayton piloted Ashoka in India with a budget of less than $50,000. Today, Ashoka spends more than $7 million a year financing its Fellows around the world.

It was later founded in the USA, Ashoka-an Indian word meaning "the active absence of sorrow" takes its name from Emperor Ashoka who unified India in the 3rd century B. C and is remembered for his extra-ordinary creativity, global-mindedness and tolerance.

Defining Characteristics of a Leading Social Entrepreneur:

  • A New Idea
    Is the person possessed by a truly new idea for solving a public need? Is it a truly transformational innovation, or just a tweaking of how things are now done? How is it different from what others do in the field?
  • Creativity
    Is the person creative - both in vision/goal-setting and in problem solving? How creatively does the person approach opportunities and obstacles - be they organizational or political? Does he/she create original solutions?
  • Entrepreneurial quality
    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, how to make the pieces fit together, etc)?
  • Social impact of the idea
    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?
  • Ethical fiber
    Is the person totally honest? Would you instinctively trust him/her? (A quick intuitive test: Imagine yourself in danger and ask if you would feel fully comfortable if the candidate were with you.) Is his/her motivation deeply and firmly rooted in a commitment to serve others?

    Ashoka fellow Profiles:

  • Rita Sembuya
  • Christina Jordan
  • Jeroo Billimoria
  • Mwalimu Musheshe
  • Lillian Keene-Mugerwa
  • Craig Esbeck
  • Trevor Dudley
  • Peter Wahome
  • Kennedy Wafula
  • Andrew Macharia

    For more on Ashoka go to:

    For video on Ashoka go to: - the VIDEO

  • By Gerald Businge
    more from author >>
    First published: October 6, 2005