Finding the Best of the Best

My summer experience may make me a little biased when it comes to selection criteria for investing in social innovation, but I think Ashoka has the most robust and holistic criteria for this process. Those standards combined with the intensive selection process itself enable Ashoka to elect only the most promising social entrepreneurs.

To become an Ashoka Fellow, candidates and their ventures are evaluated against the following standards:

  1. A new idea: Is the candidate using a new approach to solve a social problem? This can be a new model or a new product, or it could be old models and products applied in new ways.
  2. Creativity: Is the candidate creative in the way he or she approaches setbacks and problems? Has the candidate show a history of creating and carrying out new visions? (Usually this creativity demonstrates itself at an early age).
  3. Entrepreneurial Quality: Does the candidate see opportunities where others see roadblocks? Is the candidate completely devoted to making the social change happen in whatever way possible? Would he or she be willing to spend the next 15 years (or even a lifetime) developing and expanding the change?
  4. Social Impact of the Idea: Will the idea significantly change the field or trigger a nationwide/regional impact? Can it be scaled sustainably?
  5. Ethical Fiber: Can the candidate be trusted absolutely? This is one of the most important criteria, but also the most subjective. “Gut” decisions of the panel judges heavily influence whether the candidate passes or not.

Each candidate is thoroughly vetted through months of preliminary research, initial interviews, panel interviews, intensive one-on-one interviews, and reviews by the board. It’s an exciting, introspective, and sometimes nerve-wracking time for both the candidates and employees. Ashoka uses a “knock-out” model, so if a candidate receives a “no” at any point during the process, he or she is not selected. Ashoka’s criteria combined with the intensive interview process is what ensures that the Ashoka Fellows are real game-changers.

For an inside look at Ashoka’s selection process, check out Ashoka’s Tumblr post, “What’s Like Finding 25 Needles in 600 Haystacks, but Fun?