Bill Drayton on Becoming a Changemaker

by Scott London

Bill Drayton“An invasion of armies can be resisted,” said Victor Hugo, “but not an idea whose time has come.” This certainly holds true for social entrepreneurship, an idea that has attracted an enormous amount of attention—to say nothing of money and talent—in recent years.

The rise of social entrepreneurship reflects a growing sense today that many of the most promising solutions to global problems don’t necessarily depend on charity, government aid, or foundation grants. They come from individuals at the grassroots level willing to bring entrepreneurial thinking to bear on some of our toughest social problems.

No one has done more to put social entrepreneurship on the map than Bill Drayton. In fact, he’s widely credited with having coined the term in the early 1980s. He’s the CEO and founder of Ashoka, a global association of social innovators. Since 1981, the organization has elected some 3,000 leading social entrepreneurs as Ashoka Fellows, providing them with living stipends, professional support, and access to an outstanding global network of peers.

I caught up with him some weeks ago in Oslo, Norway, to talk about the movement he started and how it’s evolving. He told me that we live in a world structured around efficiency and repetition, yet the rate of change today is accelerating to the point where our institutions can no longer adapt fast enough. The only way to respond to the challenges we face is to become an agent of transformation and renewal.

“The biggest problem we have is that people don’t yet see the change that’s going on,” Drayton explained. “Once people understand that we are moving from a world of repetition to a world of change, then the role of the social entrepreneur becomes obvious. You cannot have the problems outrun the solutions when everyone is a changemaker. We become like smart white blood cells. We see a problem and move right to taking care of it.”

You can read the full interview with Drayton here.

For more on this topic, also check out “Riding the Rapids,” an interview I did some years ago with the late British economist Robert Theobald.