Planet & Climate

For the first time in its 40 year history, Ashoka is galvanizing the strength of its global community on a handful of globally urgent themes. Climate action is one of them. Through Next Now: Planet & Climate we aim to identify the key insights and mindset shifts that will revolutionize the field of climate. Equipped with a new vision for Planet & Climate, we will mobilize teams of outstanding changemakers to make it a reality.  

The power of social entrepreneurship and of Ashoka’s wide network of changemakers (from Fellows to business entrepreneurs,changemaking universities,corporate intrapreneurs and young changemakers) in the field of planet and climate is vast and and has enormous potential. In the past forty years, we’ve elected more than 600 fellows for their systems-changing solutions in the environmental field. They include Harish Hande in India: the world’s pioneer in renewable decentralized energy for the poor and Sue Riddlestone in the UK: the godmother of the Sustainable Development Goals. What’s more, many Fellows who were originally selected for their new ideas in fields outside of climate are now dedicating more time (up to 100% in some cases) to planet and climate. Ultimately, all social entrepreneurs within and beyond the Ashoka network should become aware of the climate crisis and must work to empower citizens of all ages to act on it, to shift their behaviours and to become environmental stewards. One of the key paradigm shifts needed, which builds on Ashoka’s proven success in the purpose revolution, is “Everyone a Climate Changemaker.” 

Upon election, a Fellow scales her/ his solution on average in nine countries and directly impacts 220,000 people. This immense power of our 3,600 Fellows could be steered towards global actions that reconfigure the human-environment interface. This compelling alliance will bring about a new way of seeing the field.  The ability to see differently will help us do differently. We are therefore setting out to identify key incentive structures and new decision-making frameworks that enable greater agency and favor action over complacency within the Planet & Climate field. 

We have a big opportunity to leverage Ashoka’s full network effect towards these ends. We are beginning by modernizing our network of nominators and the way we search for innovators. In order to stay ahead of the social innovation curve we must elect Fellows in climate areas critical for our times (e.g: transportation, packaging, energy transitions, new economic systems). These leading social entrepreneurs need to be strategically connected with each other, and other changemakers. We are putting the building blocks in place to connect the Ashoka constituents  – be that virtually or through in person events - so that the impact of their work can become greater than the sum of its parts. This powerful network of innovators is also an incredible Research & Development engine. By synthetizing the design principles behind the solutions of leading social entrepreneurs, Ashoka is uniquely positioned to unearth the types of insights that can inform a global paradigm shift to (re)balance the relationship between us and the planet. A strong vision for the field will enable Ashoka to distil its knowledge more effectively than before and to coordinate its actions across corporate partnerships and programmes. Ashoka will use its unique platform to amplify the work of the changemakers in our network, shining a spotlight on their work and the framechange insights that come from them so that these ideas are heard by the most relevant actors in the field of Planet and Climate (e.g. at the COPs). 



Next Now: Planet & Climate wants to create the needed synergies and strategic alignment between Ashoka teams and programmes in order to fuel the following action plan.


Map & grow the network

Systems-changing social entrepreneurs don't just solve pressing social problems at scale, as an aggregate they also signal the patterns emerging in their fields. They are our best trendspotting engine and their insights are essential in determining Next Now’s most strategic interventions.

We must therefore map our network to identify scalable insights & solutions that can guide the future of the field.

Ashoka already has more than 600 Fellows tackling issues related to climate change. However, we know from an initial mapping that many of solutions in our network are concentrated in the field of bio-diversity, and very few tackle innovations in transportation or new economic systems, for example. We are therefore endeavouring to grow our network of innovators to stay ahead of the social innovation curve. Within 5 years, Next Now will have added more than 60 new visionary innovators,connected the network and piloted a new teampreneurship approach to the field.


Connect the network & pilot teampreneurship approach

This ongoing mapping process will enable us to connect current and future Ashoka Fellows in the field of Planet & Climate to co- create shared solutions with the world’s leading corporations, investors, academics and young changemakers.

The first step in that direction entails leveraging technology (and digitizing Ashoka) to automate and decentralize connections between Fellows and other members of Ashoka’s community. We must stop relying solely on Ashoka staff as the network’s main “switchboard.”

Secondly, our vision includes prototyping new, fluid and open ways of organizing changemakers around collective impact moonshot goals. We call this approach “teampreneurship” and we anticipate it will be a critical building block in all Ashoka’s future partnerships.

Both of these elements will strengthen Ashoka’s network effect and power innovation for the Planet & Climate field.


Amplify insights & lessons learned 

Ashoka’s vision is an Everyone a Changemaker world. We believe that the most effective way to enact this vision is to bring forth a few mindset shifts in a variety of fields, including the Planet & Climate field. The mapping exercise mentioned above is designed first and foremost to help us identify new ways of seeing the world that will enable us all to act in ways that rebalance our relationship with the planet. Over the next five years, we commit to:

•    Capturing and sharing the solutions and patterns we’re seeing
•    Highlighting key innovators and new insights via thought leadership campaigns
•    Enlisting the support of mavens and influencers to influence the global climate conversation


The revolution: Our Jiujitsu strategy 

Having studied the successes of social movements such as the abolition of slavery, the women’s rights movement, and the civil rights movement, among others, we know that a few key elements determine how new worldviews take hold at a societal level. 

Storytelling mentioned above is one of these elements. New narratives need to replace old ones and become part of the public discourse. 

Equally important is the need to identify those actors in society capable of driving social demand for a new reality. In the case of the civil rights movement in the U.S., the education system was one of the key drivers of social demand for a desegregated society. Targeted legal action against the education system (Brown v. Board of Education), banned racial segregation in schools and eventually led to a series of laws that banned the same practice in public accommodations, marriage, voting and employment. We call those actors capable of altering social demand “jiu ji tsu partners.” Through a strategically directed effort, they have enough leverage over a system to tip it towards a new reality. 

Though we do not yet fully know what this mindset shift will entail for the Planet & Climate field, we do know that embedding it at all levels of society will require us to a) identify jiu ji tsu partners for the field and b) create new ways of teaming them up with leading changemakers around collective goals.


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The Covid pandemic is making it impossible for us to ignore the link between health and environmental degradation. Ashoka Fellow Dr. Kinari Webb, founder of Health in Harmony, has been working at that intersection for decades. We sat down with her as part of our series on the future of Planet & Climate.Read the full interview on Forbes.

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The path to averting the climate crisis can create a future we want to run towards. Sue Riddlestone – co-founder and CEO of Bioregional, initiator of the famous eco-village BedZED, one of the architects of the UN Sustainable Development Goals - talks to Pip Wheaton, Ashoka’s European Venture Director, about what that future looks like. Read the full interview on Forbes.

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Melanie Marcel is a social entrepreneur pioneering the field of “Responsible Innovation” in Europe’s scientific community. We caught up with her to reflect on the role of scientific research in the climate action field. Her take on it? "“We need to start valuing all kinds of knowledge,” including lived experiences. Read the full interview on Forbes.

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Harish Hande is an engineer and social entrepreneur working with underserved communities. He is the co-founder of SELCO whose interventions have impacted more than 800,000 poor households across 6 Indian states. We caught up with him a couple of weeks ago to reflect on the relevance of sustainable energy during the Covid pandemic and after.

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What will it take for things to start changing? This is the question that Ashoka has been asking for 40 years. Our search for social entrepreneurs has been, at its heart, a quest to find the individuals among us who see what’s underneath social challenges and work to change the systems that are at the root of these problems.