Bill Drayton founded Ashoka and the Fellows program in 1980. He believed that while good ideas are essential, they can be leveraged by especially effective people. The Ashoka Fellows approach, adopted by enough organizations now that it is no longer considered novel, is to fund and support individual social entrepreneurs and their ideas rather than particular social needs, programs, or organizations. The Fellows process identifies promising social entrepreneurs, nurtures them so they can pursue their ideas, and fosters global collaboration among entrepreneurs to maximize impact and sustainability of those ideas.
Ashoka chooses Fellows using a five-step process:
- Nomination: Ashoka has a global network of regular nominators and also accepts nominations from the general public.
- First review: Ashokas country representatives review applications, conduct independent reference and background checks, make at least one site visit, and complete at least two interviews with candidates; only about 20-30 percent of applicants proceed past this step.
- Second review: After the first review, an Ashoka board member or senior professional, from a country other than the applicants, reviews the application and then conducts a three- to five-hour interview with the candidate.
- Selection panel: A panel of senior social entrepreneurs, led by a board member or representative from another continent, decides whether the candidate is likely to become a truly outstanding, large-scale social entrepreneur.
- Board decision: Ashokas international Board of Directors makes the final decision to ensure worldwide standards and consistency.
Consistent with Ashokas philosophy, the reviewers and panels evaluate applicants on five criteria, which focus on the entrepreneur and the idea. The candidates must exhibit:
- System-changing new solutions or approaches at the regional, national, or international level (new idea);
- Individual creativity, at both the vision and problem-solving levels (creativity);
- Dedication to both their idea and to the diffusion of their idea (entrepreneurial quality);
- Ability to attract replicators (social impact of the idea); and
- Individual ethics and trustworthiness (ethical fiber).