Empowering Changemakers – Thoughts from Sushmita Ghosh,President Emeritus of Ashoka


Idea: What if the best way to impact a billion people is not to be the central commander, but to empower a billion people to impact themselves?

First day of second week at Singularity University. This morning, we had a thoughtful talk from Sushmita Ghosh, President Emeritus of Ashoka.

Technology versus Community. 

Sushmita on the different ways to change the world, though building a community that empowers other people. Living in Silicon Valley, it is very easy to build a techno-centric view of the world, where the breakthroughs happen through innovation in technology- bigger, better, faster things. However, Sushmita asked a thought-provoking question:

Can you imagine what would have happened if Gandhi had access to Facebook, and Twitter? 

Technology, fundamentally is an amplifier, an enabler of human ambitions. Gandhi, and MLK, and others, managed to mobilize millions of people without the easy reach of massive social media, by doing it the old way, gathering in meeting houses and holding rallies.

Now look at social media companies, and their “novel” idea of using content-driven strategies to get people’s attention. When we paid a pilgrimage to Ira Magaziner, to visit him at his estate and talk about his experiences of building political will at Brown, he made a similar comment about how much more powerful social media has made the average student, and how much easier it is now to organize.


Empowerment as a Platform

Returning to Sushmita, she tells a story of how she was once asked what Ashoka hoped to accomplish. And after a lot of soul searching amidst whiteboard markers, she found that what she thought Ashoka was really about, was enabling everyone in the world to be a Changemaker. Ultimately, this led her to step down from her president position at Ashoka, and focus on building out Changemakers, the platform that has funded 600 million dollars to individuals who are trying to accomplish something amazing.

Going forward, Sushmita offered three questions that guide her thinking.

1. Are you allowing Innovation by all? Or do you hang on to the center decision-making power?

2. Is there a culture of accountability and transparency?

3. Is there a clear community that is forming/emerging? In the natural scheme of things, there is no latent community for changemakers as there are for artisans, merchants, professionals. Creating and filling out a community might mean that you are on the right path.

There are many ways to play out a lasting impact. One way is to start a company, and create value through your products. Another is to build a community. If you are in the community-building business, then your metric is not really how you do personally, but how much opportunity and resources you can give to your members. Don’t hang on to the controls too tightly. Empower as many people as you can.