Jeanine Buzali, Changemaker Companies Director at Ashoka on why we should all start with embracing a culture of changemaking.
Operating responsible businesses that positively contribute to society is increasingly becoming a necessity. The accelerated rate of change means organizations must learn to evolve from the inside out to respond and contribute to solving increasingly complex social problems. We know we need a profound transformation on how we do business, but there is no simple answer on the HOW. CSR won’t be enough. Kersia and Schneider Electric, supported by Ashoka, believe in the power of shifting mindsets, empowering employees to drive transformation from within, and be owners of change.
For over 40 years, Ashoka has supported transformative journeys. We work with a network of 3,800+ systems-changing social entrepreneurs, as well as advise and partner with dozens of companies globally to advance social and environmental impact.
Our Changemaker Companies Framework
Anchored in this experience, our Changemaker Companies Framework, which is being incepted in partnership with business leaders and social entrepreneurs, puts people at the centre of this work. It is designed to help companies expand their impact. Deep shifts happen as a result. Companies find their purpose, connect it with their core business, and turn positive impact into a competitive advantage.
Through a multi-prong approach in partnership with executives, HR, and internal impact champions, we work to develop an entrepreneurial culture, where employees are empowered to design socially relevant, innovative solutions that also contribute to business goals, and thus be owners of change.
By going through this journey with impact partners focusing on systemic change, employees develop core skills such as empathy, creativity, systemic thinking, and smart risk taking that are crucial to adapting to and being able to drive change. The company then develops new ways of thinking about their role in society, as well as a cohesive impact framework that has clear ties to core business.
It all starts with embracing a culture of changemaking
A “culture of changemaking” is an environment where employees at every level of a company are empowered to think differently and use their skills to make a positive difference, transforming the organization and its priorities as a result.
Creating this culture involves working to minimize siloed ways of working, including rigid roles and unnecessary hierarchies. People regularly come together, regardless of seniority, to reflect and learn from each other— allowing team members to adopt a mindset of possibility and problem solving for the common good. And when teams embrace changemaker skills, they take impact to another level.
Ashoka’s Changemaker Skills
After researching the skillsets of social entrepreneurs worldwide, Ashoka has identified four skills that lie at the heart of a culture of changemaking.
Changemakers try to recognize and understand other people, groups and perspectives in all of their complexity. They spot and learn from patterns over time to act for the wellbeing of everyone.
Based on a survey of 109 Ashoka Fellows and social impact leaders, McKinsey reported in 2019 that leaders who exhibit conscious empathy possess three key capabilities: they inspire others and build trust by finding common ground, develop a broader vision for the future, and lead by example towards this vision. Conscious empathy requires people to be open and self-aware and assume that others have good intentions.
A changemaking organization operates in a constellation of non- hierarchical teams that come together around specific problems or opportunities. This fluid, ever-evolving way of working allows employees to break out of silos and play different roles in multiple teams, spreading knowledge and ideas across the organization.
This approach also calls for collaboration across sectors, bringing down the walls between businesses, social enterprises, nonprofits, and other institutions to work towards a common goal. At Ashoka, 25% of all Fellows already focus on community participation and co-creation.
Shared leadership encourages others to replicate models in order to achieve wider positive impact — an approach modeled by 90 percent of Ashoka’s Fellows. Collective leadership means that team members are invited to the table as co-creators. Leaders facilitate open dialogues that build shared purpose and instill ownership. This, in turn, allows businesses to envision new possibilities, particularly for those traditionally denied agency.
When changemakers examine social and environmental problems as complex ecosystems with the attitude that every problem can be solved, the answer often involves systemic action – the highest form of practicing changemaking.
Since Ashoka selects its Fellows based on their systems-changing idea, we see 93% of Fellows successfully alter market systems by finding and addressing inefficiencies. They create novel solutions that are more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just.
Why is a culture of changemaking important?
Companies that champion changemaking skills play a leading role in addressing our collective challenges and advancing the common good. But there is also a strong business case: a culture of changemaking can be a powerful source of differentiation, helping companies attract top talent as well as clients and investors, in a world where delivering on purpose and impact goals increasingly matters to all stakeholders. With changemaking at the center, employees become more collaborative and entrepreneurial. Organizational models also become more flexible, allowing teams to quickly adapt and innovate.
By collaborating with social entrepreneurs, companies gain a window into future market trends and can more easily identify the right impact goals that align with their core business missions. Companies can generate new value and build market power with new and untapped customers.
Changemaking Culture in Practice
The partnerships that Ashoka builds with companies are innovative in that we partner not only to drive profound systemic social and environmental impact in areas relevant to the company’s work, but we are also committed to supporting the internal journey of individuals inside the company, to unleash their potential for impact at work. Corporate leaders know their business best, therefore real impact goals tied to core business opportunities and externalities must come from them – in partnership with social entrepreneurs who have on-the-ground solutions to difficult problems.
It is in this context that we then work towards reaching a tipping point of 10-15% of employees who understand this new way of working and have developed changemaking skills, and are able to work towards transforming internal priorities towards impact.
Ashoka identifies and supports the world's leading social entrepreneurs, learns from the patterns in their innovations, and mobilizes a global community that embraces these new frameworks to build an "everyone a changemaker world." Ashoka partners with companies to drive individual and organizational journeys of transformation that help deepen the impact work of social entrepreneurs as well as of companies themselves.
The Global Compact Network Switzerland & Liechtenstein organized an event on "Transforming business into a force for good: Learning future skills from Social Entrepreneurs" in collaboration with Ashoka Europe in April 2021. Watch the whole event here: