An Exciting Time for Social Entrepreneurs

In my previous article, I talked about Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, a global organization that has built the first and largest network of social entrepreneurs and innovators tackling complex problems and changing broken systems. Through its Fellowship, it has recognized and supported close to 4,000 of these social entrepreneurs and innovators in over 90 countries.

Last Friday, October 30, three social entrepreneurs, namely Scott Stiles, Ryan Gersava, and Ben Abadiano, were formally inducted into the Ashoka Fellowship. The online ceremony gathered leaders from the business, civil, academic sectors, community partners, media and press, and other entrepreneurs.

“For me, it’s important to remember that the Ashoka Fellowship isn’t some sort of lifetime achievement award. It doesn’t mean that our work is complete. It’s just a recognition that we made some progress, and that Ashoka believes that we’re worth investing in,” said Scott Stiles in his acceptance speech.

Scott, the co-founder of the Fair Employment Foundation, has already created drastic impact for OFWs in Hong Kong by introducing an employer-pays model to the market. This challenged the widely practiced employee-pays model where migrant workers are often coerced into paying exorbitant fees to middlemen just to get placed to work abroad. Scott is currently building a blueprint for the ethical recruitment and training of migrant workers, living out the words of his speech.

Ryan Gersava expressed his joy and gratitude in his election as an Ashoka Fellow, saying that, “For many social entrepreneurs, we see Ashoka as one of the greatest validations of our work, our impact and our identity as social entrepreneurs.

”Ryan founded Virtualahan when he was 22 years old without any social or financial capital, driven only by a dream to break down employment barriers for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) like him and other socially excluded Filipinos. Through a unique impact formula combining digital skills training, entrepreneurship and employment support, life coaching, and community building, Virtualahan has helped hundreds find competitive employment and more importantly, realize their agency in owning their life narratives. Ryan is looking to partner with more leaders and organizations who are interested in replicating this effective model.

Ben Abadiano has spent decades of his life dedicated to serving the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. In his acceptance speech, Ben shared his realization that genuine human connections and partnerships are core to changemaking. “This is why I considered the Ashoka Fellowship as a powerful invitation for me to build more relationships in the coming years and to more deliberately promote the message of selfless service, which I believe is at the heart of all forms of social entrepreneurship,” he added.

Among his many endeavors, Ben is the founder of the Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education, a university that integrates indigenous knowledge and practices with standard tertiary curriculum.

After the recognition of these three new Fellows, Ashoka Philippines announced an exciting transition—Terri Jayme-Mora, who was my partner in establishing Ashoka in the country will be entering an advisory role and passing on the role of Country Director to Abi Mapúa.

“What kind of international organization entrusts a country launch strategy to a 23-year-old who had almost no experience? It’s the kind of organization that believes in the power of young people and is willing to support changemaking in all its forms. A decade and a half and many adventures later, I have learned so much from my time with Ashoka,” said Terri.

Abi expressed that she is honored to be able to continue and strengthen the work of Ashoka because she stands on the shoulders of giants with the solid body of work that Terri, the Fellows, and the Board of Advisers have built over the years. “Ashoka has provided the most profound and sincere way of engaging by providing platforms that empower people to matter for themselves and for others. I myself and my work in social innovation is a testimony of this partnership. I have worked with Ashoka as a collaborator in youth changemaking for many years,” she said.

The celebration was capped off with a virtual toast to the new Fellows and with Abi extending an important invitation to the guests, and to you too, reader: “This pandemic has given us a silver lining opportunity to reset and shape a vision of a future. I am eager to share with you Ashoka’s work across four deeply connected themes: Aging, Gender, Planet and Climate, Tech and Humanity. Together with you, we would like to build a better world where AGING becomes synonymous with growth, not decline; where we leave gender biases behind and embrace GENDER JUSTICE; where partnering with nature leads to a rebalanced PLANET; where the design and use of TECHNOLOGY amplifies the good of HUMANITY and not the bad.”

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