Beeta Ansari

Beeta is Ashoka U’s Exchange Director, the world’s largest global convening for social entrepreneurship education.

Welcome Jess – Our New Growth & Partnerships Director

Jess Lax recently moved into the role of Growth & Partnerships Director with Ashoka U.  Let us introduce you!

What drew you to work with Ashoka U?

My university experience sparked my first journey as a social entrepreneur. I did a field semester in Kenya which led me to start The Otesha Project.  I then spent seven years training hundreds of young people to bike across the country and perform a play about how our consumer choices shape the world.

That was 15 years ago. But to this day I credit the start of The Otesha Project, and the direction of my career, with my changemaking experience in university.  That field semester was a key turning point in my life and solidified my identity as a changemaker.

I’ve always believed that the years between 18-25 are an incredibly formative period. They are also a time in a person’s life, including my own, where people tend to take more risks, and are more likely to challenge the status quo.

That belief drew me to Ashoka U.

Ashoka U indirectly impacts the educational experience of millions of 18-25-year-olds all over the world. The faculty and administrators we support help young people to identify as changemakers. They also create opportunities for young people to channel their innovative energy into social impact.

I’ve come to believe that influencing the higher education system to leverage these critical years in a person’s life is one of the most powerful ways I can create change.

How did you get involved with Ashoka?

Ten years ago, when I was still the Executive Director of The Otesha Project, I was connected to someone at Ashoka who encouraged me to apply for a Changemaker Challenge.  They also planted the idea that Ashoka might be a good home for me in the future.

I took their suggestion, and eventually joined Marina and Erin as part of the Ashoka U start-up team.  I couldn’t stay for long as I was headed to Oxford to do my MBA as a Skoll scholar.  But I left Ashoka hoping that one day I would return.

Over the next couple of years, I started an online school for changemakers, built a city wide collaborative to support social enterprises, and lead my own consulting practice.

But eventually, I did make my way back to Ashoka.

In 2015 I joined Ashoka as the Canada Director of Ashoka U. I then moved into the Growth & Partnerships Director position in April 2017 to advance our global reach and further spread Ashoka U’s ideas.

What will you be focusing on in your new role?

There are two key areas I’ll be focusing on through 2018.

The first is thought leadership & storytelling. Right now, I’m driving the launch of a new communications strategy and a website redesign. I’ll be making it easier to access resources, find stories of impact, and build off of the best practices in our network. I’ll also be using a variety of content to make a stronger case for the power of a changemaker education in colleges and universities.

Dramatically increasing the number and diversity of campuses we work with is another focus. I’ll be building strategic partnerships with other higher education networks to help scale our impact.

I’m on the lookout for people who can help bring new perspectives and institution types (i.e. community colleges, HBCU’s, tribal colleges, women’s colleges) into the Ashoka U network.  If you are one of those people or can connect me, please let me know!

What do you love most about working with Ashoka U?

There are a lot of things I love about Ashoka U – but one of the big ones is the relentless focus on the systems change we are trying to create. Rather than falling into the trap of chasing grant funding, or sales opportunities, there is a strong practice of strategic and long-term thinking. I love being a part of a team that is always questioning if we are doing the best we can to influence the field of higher education, and society as a whole.


Jess is based in Ottawa and lives there with her husband and two kids.  She doesn’t get to bike across the country much these days but does spend a lot of time holding the back of tricycles at the park.

If you are interested in getting the best practices and resources Jess will be pulling together over the coming year, be sure to sign up to our list.