Jessica Lax

Increasing Ashoka U's breadth of impact

Changemaker Institutions: Re-wiring higher ed

The current structure of higher education was set up in the late 1800s and early 1900s to meet the needs of the industrial economy. Success was measured by levels of efficiency and productivity. Standardization and hierarchies were the norm as more and more people took roles in factories and on assembly lines.

Moving forward more than a hundred years, the dominant teaching and learning model of higher education has not changed much. Classroom design, disciplinary silos, and lecture-based teaching still reinforce industrial-age thinking.

This model of higher education is designed to prepare students for a world that in many ways no longer exists.

Academic institutions must reimagine themselves. The question, of course, is “How?”

At Ashoka, we believe the answer lies in seeing everyone as a changemaker.  

We must rewire our colleges and universities to enable, empower, and catalyze changemakers across our institutions. We need more Changemaker Institutions. 

What does a Changemaker Institution look like?

Changemaker Institutions prepare students to thrive in a world where rapid change is the norm. They are purpose-driven organizations in all respects and unlock their assets to support their community. Rather than embodying disciplinary silos and rigid hierarchies, they model an open and adaptive approach that sparks innovation and creates space for everyone to contribute.

Education Framework

Changemaker Institutions provide all students with the opportunity to have a changemaker education. This type of education cultivates the skills of empathy, collaboration, creativity, systems thinking, risk-taking, and new leadership. These competencies are combined with dialogues about the importance of civic engagement, seeking out the root cause of social problems, and leading in a way that empowers others to be changemakers.

Pedagogy is as valued as much as the content of the educational experience. A changemaker education prioritizes learning by doing, student-driven experiences, and supporting the development of the whole person.

For more about changemaker education and learning outcomes check out our upcoming publication.

Culture & Operations

Changemaker Institutions embed social innovation into their operating DNA.  Policies, practices, and culture unleash changemaking at all levels. Operational practices such as hiring, investments, and procurement processes model the institution’s social and environmental consciousness.

At a cultural level, all stakeholders are valued.  This challenges the assumption that only those with formalized power can contribute in a meaningful way. Each person is empowered to take responsibility for solving problems and making progress.  Everyone is expected to lead as agents of change, rather than reacting to change.

Putting the Theory Into Practice

Over the last decade, Ashoka U has created a Changemaker Institution learning lab. Through Ashoka U’s partner institutions (Changemaker Campuses), our annual conference (the Exchange), and our virtual learning community (the Commons), we’ve supported hundreds of higher ed innovators to apply the Changemaker Institution framework.

At a campus level, the results have been incredibly powerful. Strategic benefits include an increase in recruitment, fundraising, community influence, student outcomes, and engagement at all levels of the institution.   

At a field level, the results are even more widespread.  Hundreds of institutions have joined a growing movement to build a world where everyone is a changemaker.  But we’re just getting started. We need many more Changemaker Institutions, and millions of student changemakers to reach the scale the world needs.

Changemaker Institutions, our latest publication, is our call to campus changemakers.  It asks all of us to step out of our institutional corners and help lead in more powerful and more visible ways. We hope you’ll join us.

Get your free copy and see how the Changemaker Institution model can take your impact and that of your institution to the next level. 

Changemaker Institutions provides the needed language and insights to move us forward.“

Cheryl Kiser, Executive Director of the Lewis Institute, Babson College