Ashoka U Working Definitions

Ashoka U uses the following working definitions:


Founded in 1980, Ashoka is the largest global network of social entrepreneurs and changemakers. Ashoka seeks to contribute to an Everyone a Changemaker world where every young person grows up to become an adult changemaker, capable of taking creative action to solve a social problem; a world where the development of young changemakers and the practice of changemaking are the norm.

Ashoka’s vision and understanding of the world comes from its experience in pioneering the field of social entrepreneurship over the last 35 years—finding, selecting, and supporting the world’s leading social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows). The network of more than 3,300 Ashoka Fellows is implementing system-changing solutions to human and environmental problems in over 80 countries.

Ashoka’s work with Ashoka Fellows helps it see patterns of social development across various fields, providing key levers and a new framework for living in the world as a changemaker. Ashoka helps people see the world differently so they can do differently, fully participating in the new environment. For example, Ashoka is building and activating networks to create fundamental changes in the growing up experience of children and young people so that everyone can become a changemaker.


Ashoka Fellows

Leading social entrepreneurs who are recognized by Ashoka as having innovative solutions to social problems with the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity, and collaboration are tremendous forces for change. More than 3,300 Ashoka Fellows are implementing system-changing solutions to human and environmental problems in over 80 countries.


Everyone a Changemaker world

Ashoka’s vision for a world where every young person grows up to become an adult changemaker, capable of taking creative action to solve a social problem; a world where the development of young changemakers and the practice of changemaking are the norm.


Social entrepreneur

A type of changemaker who creates widespread impact by being focused on systems change. Every social entrepreneur is highly skilled at collaboration, and is often focused on equipping others to thrive and collaborate in solving social problems (i.e. to be changemakers). (see More than Simply “Doing Good”: A Definition of Changemaker)



Someone who is intentional about solving a social or environmental problem, motivated to act and creative. (see More than Simply “Doing Good”: A Definition of Changemaker)


The Four Levels of Impact

A framework Ashoka developed to categorize different approaches at different levels to social impact. (See the Rethinking the Impact Spectrum by Marina Kim)

  1. Direct Service
  • Work in populations needing services, food, and/or a direct benefit to their wellbeing. Direct service has a clear and concrete feedback loop – you can see hungry people being fed; students are gaining skills and confidence through mentorship; or the clients getting legal help.
  • Examples: Soup kitchens, small-scale mentoring programs for students, legal services for community members
  1. Scaled Direct Service
  • Models that unlock efficiency and impact through well-managed logistics of an intervention or solution. Scaled Direct Service benefits large numbers of individuals.
  • Examples: The Red Cross, AmeriCorps, or large-scale refugee resettlement programs.
  1. Systems Change
  • A new model that is addressing the root cause of a problem. It often involves policy change, widespread adoption of a specific methodology by leading organizations in a sector, or creates new behaviors within an existing market or ecosystem.
  • Examples: Micro-credit was a fundamentally new innovation for women to lift themselves out of poverty. B-Corporations rethink corporate responsibility. Wikipedia democratizes the way information is shared online.
  1. Framework Change
  • Framework Change affects individual mindsets at a large scale, which will ultimately change behaviors across society as a whole. While Framework Change is not a specific field-level or country-level intervention, it compounds the work of many individual organizations to create a paradigm shift.
  • Examples: Universal Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, Democracy, or the idea of Social Entrepreneurship.


Ashoka U

Ashoka U is an initiative of Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs and changemakers. Building on Ashoka’s vision for a world where Everyone is a Changemaker, Ashoka U collaborates with colleges and universities to impact the education of millions of students by fostering an ecosystem for social innovation and changemaking. Ashoka U gives emerging young leaders the freedom, confidence and support to address social problems and drive change.



Effective organizational or societal change.

In the context of higher education, it includes the following:

  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Social Innovation
  • Service learning
  • Civic engagement
  • Social justice
  • Philanthropy  


Social Innovation

Methodology to create social value and potentially economic value at the systems-change level, which addresses the root cause of a problem. It includes new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that address social needs of all kinds – from working conditions and education to community development and health.

In the context of higher education, it includes the following concepts (see The Rise of the Sophisticated Changemaker by Marina Kim and Erin Krampetz):

  • Systems Thinking: To identify new ways of addressing complex problems, social innovators need to understand how elements within a system are connected. Systems thinking requires mapping the stakeholders involved, understanding how incentives are aligned, and identifying root causes in order to propose interventions for systemic transformation.
  • Solutions: While it is always important to understand problems—and existing approaches—before offering solutions, change efforts too often stop at the research phase. Social innovators give themselves permission to relentlessly learn, adapt, find, and implement solutions.
  • Innovation: While many social change models and strategies exist, new and creative approaches are sometimes needed in order to address intractable problems. Assessment of whether a new approach is more effective or more efficient than pre-existing solutions is necessary in order to justify pursuing an innovation over existing alternatives.
  • Scale: Social innovation models typically have relevance beyond one particular situation (e.g., a school) and can be applied at a systems level (e.g., to an entire school system). Yet innovations that occur at scale can offer both breadth (affecting a significant number of people) and depth (transforming relationships, structures, and systems in a particular place).
  • Financial Sustainability: Social innovation aims for a triple bottom line of economic, social, and ecological value. Achieving this bottom line requires securing and aligning resources of all kinds, combining private, public, and philanthropic support with income generation to ensure ongoing sustainability.
  • Impact Measurement and Assessment: When trying to use resources wisely and deliver results, learning what works and what does not work is of utmost importance. For example, formative and summative assessments offer critical information to guide continuous feedback and improvement.
  • Collective Impact: The most difficult and important problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without involving multiple sectors (nonprofit, public, and private) and diverse stakeholder perspectives. Social innovation encourages collaboration across organizations in order to use resources effectively and efficiently, and to achieve significant lasting social change.


Social Entrepreneurship

A market-based, usually sustainable methodology to create social value at the systems-change level.


Changemaker education

An educational approach that provides a robust toolkit of skills, strategies, and analytical frameworks for social change and is highly accessible to students and other university stakeholders. If community partners are involved, it ensures mutually beneficial partnerships. Ideal student learning outcomes include:

  • Critical reflection around changemaking experiences;  
  • Self-reflection and mindfulness;
  • Global awareness and cultural understanding;  
  • Creativity and imagination;
  • Human-centered values and prosocial behavior, including respect and empathy;  
  • Teamwork;
  • Practicing both leading and following; and
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills.



New models or existing models adapted in a new context. In the context of changemaker education, this may be a new methodology or program (i.e. Arizona State University (ASU)’s Changemaker Central) or adapting an existing model in a new context (i.e. adapting ASU’s Changemaker Central in Mexico).


Change Leader

Faculty, staff and/or administrators with complementary perspectives and influence, and the institutional mandate, vision and grit to advance social innovation and changemaking across the institution and beyond. Change Leaders have the following characteristics:

  • Intrapreneurial/entrepreneurial track record
  • Experience in social innovation and changemaking in higher education
  • Alignment with Ashoka’s Everyone a Changemaker vision and commitment to social innovation and changemaking in higher education
  • Social and emotional intelligence
  • Fluid or adaptive leadership
  • Collaboration and team of teams orientation
  • Ethical fiber / trustworthiness
  • Self-definition, with the ambition for large-scale impact in higher education and beyond


Change Team

A committed, inter-disciplinary group of faculty, staff, administrators, students and community members who help grow and strengthen the campus-wide ecosystem for social innovation and changemaking.