JEROO BILLIMORIA (Age15)
ChildFinance (Ashoka Entrepreneur)
When They Started
RICHARD BRANSON (Age 16)
PETER EIGEN (Age 17, 19)
Transparency International (Ashoka Entrepeneur)
ROBIN CHASE (Age 19)
Great Entrepreneurs Start in Their Teens
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you better start in
Over 80 percent of Ashoka’s top social entrepreneur
Fellows started their first organization before 20. This
pattern also holds true for business. Four great stories
Indeed, if a young person today wants to be a valued player
at any level tomorrow, she better be practicing having an
idea, building a team, and changing her world now.
The rate of change is accelerating exponentially. The new
game is change. These are facts. When anyone builds a
team now, they need everyone on it to be ready to play in
this game, i.e. to be a skilled changemaker.
The other side of this coin is that the repetition-based
jobs are going away -- fast. Two examples: First, Alibaba is
now lending billions – with zero loan officers because its
self-correcting algorithm is faster, cheaper and produces
better results. Second, IBM’s Watson software will
shortly cut out half of what doctors and nurses do.
That’s why almost all of the roughly 1,000 Ashoka Fellows
focused on children and young people put them in charge.
The results are dramatic and marvelous, even in terms of
math and literacy scores.
A hundred years ago accelerating change had reached the
point that society needed everyone to be literate. Now it
needs everyone to be a changemaker.
That’s why Ashoka’s Youth Venture, it’s Changemaker
Schools and hundreds of Fellows are working together
to help every young person, parent, and educator grasp
this new paradigm for success in growing up -- and in life.
A social entrepreneur known for building huge, global coalitions,
Jeroo first started in Mumbai, working with street children. She
gave them her private phone number in case of emergencies. Soon
every night it was ringing.
From that caring and then recognition of system need came
Childline. Any street child could call a free number and be answered
by a trained and sympathetic street child. Shortly thereafter help
would be on the way.
The consequences were profound. Services could connect with
need. Bad and good performance became clear. Areas of shortage
gained resources. And police exploitation fell sharply because a call
to a sympathetic operator from half a block away about what officer
x was doing to a friend would quickly bring trouble to officer x.
Free Childline service soon spread to over 50 Indian cities. And
then to 143 countries.
More recently Jeroo has focused on helping all young people
understand and have access to financial services. This makes a huge
difference to their safety and ability to have a future. This work
is embodied in ChildFinance International, another extraordinary
global coalition, which reached 36 million children and young
people in 2014.
What led Jeroo to break out from being a good professional like
all those around her? It was because she knew from long before
that she had a far bigger power. Around 11 she organized all the
domestics in her apartment block to get bank accounts. She traces
her interest in financial literacy and access back to this intervention.
She truly stepped out fully when she was 15. Her mother, a social
worker in the schools for poor members of the Parsi community,
focused on family and other non academic issues. Jeroo felt this was
a mistake. Because half the students were dropping out because
they were failing math or English, she felt that this is where the
effort should go.
Her mother, who was brilliant at helping Jeroo become an
entrepreneur, asked her daughter to design how to go after her
objective and introduced her to faculty at the Tata Institute. As
Jeroo asked how to teach English and math better several faculty
members there suggested that she go to see Gloria de Souza, who
was just then introducing “environmental education”, an alternate
to note repetition based on problem-solving in the real enviroment.
Jeroo went to see Gloria; they formed an alliance; and Jeroo sold
the new approach to the head of the Parsi schools, her mom
encouraging her on and not stepping in for the big meeting. Gloria
trained Jeroo, and they worked together on implementation.
Gloria was Ashoka’s first Fellow.
There are few if any entrepreneurs who have ventured
more successfully in more businesses than Richard
Branson. And who can compete with him in terms of flair?
As important, he has long brought this entrepreneurial
energy and skill to bear on social problems as well as
business. Inspired by Nelson Mandela, he helped launch
The Elders, an independent group of top global leaders
tackling key world problems. In 2009, frustrated by inaction
on climate change, he set up the Carbon War Room to cut
global emissions by scaling market-based, entrepreneurial
solutions. In 2013, Richard and Jochen Zeitz established
the B Team, a platform pressing for new ways of doing
business that benefit people and the planet.
Entrepreneurship is so central to Richard that it is hard to
imagine him being anything else as a young person. Sure
enough, at 16 he started a magazine, Student. Also as you
would expect, it was not conceived small or amateurish.
The first issue ranged from Vanessa Redgrave to White
Slavery Today. Student was not narrow, and it had flair and
was not afraid of controversy.
Once engaged, again a harbinger of many things to come,
Richard was all in. He persuaded his parents that he needed
to work full time at his creation and shifted his office
from a school phone box to a London basement. Always
willing to learn and adapt, he began selling discount music
records in the back of the magazine, and quickly founded
Virgin Records, which he later sold for $1 billion. It was
the launching pad for hundreds of businesses around the
“Richard Branson is the only entrepreneur to have
built eight separate billion-dollar companies in eight
different industries .”
Corruption long was a taboo subject. Bribes in some countries were
tax deductible. That mindset changed when Peter, having seen the untold
damage it was doing, especially in his earlier work in development, founded
and built up Transparency International.
Transparency built chapters in almost every country. It drew in government,
the citizen sector, and business. It turned on a giant spotlight. Its regular
surveys of perceived levels of corruption in each country and its then
ranking countries from the least to the most corrupt draws enormous
global attention every year. And it affects a myriad of decisions, not least
It complemented this overall rating with in-depth analysis of countries and
all sorts of institutions, ranging from businesses to sports federations. In
recent years Peter has led global industry-wide efforts to make all existing
arrangements transparent and move to far better patterns. These range
from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to one for fisheries.
Transparency has also been a central force pushing for changes in
government policies. Its first success was the OECD Anti-Bribery
Convention in 1997. Today 41 countries (with 90 percent of investment
outflows) have ratified the convention. In 2003, the UN Convention
Against Corruption followed. In 2014 the U.S. alone collected $1.56B in
Peter’s success in changing the world’s mindset about corruption required
the deep and values-supporting confidence of high-level entrepreneurship.
And that comes from deep roots.
Peter grew up in Erlanger (near Nuremberg) and started ventures
at 13, 17, and 19. At 13, he led a group of seven friends on a series of
explorations, including pitching their tents on the deck of a boat headed to
Amsterdam. At 17 he founded a jazz club (and played clarinet there). They
lost their building twice but persisted -- so much so that their Strohalm
Club flourishes there to this day.
He was also an avid horseback rider. To be
able to pursue the sport at 19 he formed a
riding club, initially of ten friends, and then
persuaded a prosperous farmer to build
stables and other facilities in part based
on his club coming regularly as customers.
Within a year, the farmer had a successful
new business, and Peter at 23 became the
head of the National Riding Association.
When confronted with the challenge of corruption, Peter knew from deep
within that he had the power to take it on and win.
“No country can afford to ignore its reputation for corruption.
That means no country can ignore Transparency International.”
If anyone understands the profound transformation of society that is now
upon us it is Robin Chase. (See her admired book, Peers Inc.)
She not only sees it clearly; but she also, in one entrepreneurial coup after
another, is putting its new architecture in place.
Who now is not near a Zipcar stand? She co-founded and was its first
Then she created and led Buzzcar. A bit like AirBnB, it allows you to rent
out your idle car or truck to others.
Now she is leading Veniam, which has found a way to create city or portwide
steady wifi coverage (using both stationary and mobile routers in
a mesh network). Its dramatically faster, cheaper service enables huge
efficiencies in, e.g., vehicle routing and rider digital access.
Where did all of this begin?
At nine she created and sold book marks.
As a 19 year old sophomore newly arrived at Wellesley College, she
created the Philosophy Club -- and quickly made it the largest organization
on campus. (Was the Philosophy Club the biggest organization where you
went to college?)
Her goal, she said, was “to make being intellectual cool.”
More important, it was about women being strong, not weak.
“The idea that we have brains in our heads” struck a chord, drawing others
That this both gender and universal statement was important is captured in
what was on the T shirts Robin sold to roughly 10 percent of the students:
“Res Cogitans” (Thinking Thing). It was not pink or frilly. (See photo)
Robin was the one who conceived and, week after week, designed the
program, the message and the marketing. She also ensured quality delivery.
Showing a film and drawing out the deeper issues. Researching and inviting
guests who would advance the conversation and do so skillfully. She knew
how to deliver then and does now.
Robin defined herself as a Res Cogitans. And she learned that she had the
power to change the world because she just had.
“Chase thinks big, and she’s got the cred to back it up. She
created an improbable network of automobiles called Zipcar.
Getting it off the ground required not only buying a fleet of
cars, but convincing cities to dedicate precious parking spaces
to them. It was a crazy idea, and it worked.”
Don’t Show You’re Anxious
by Bill Drayton
In elementary school I could not imagine why I was being tortured
by Latin or Math, and my perception of soccer was chiefly that of
being a crashee.
But I loved starting things, especially newspapers. Once I had saved
enough to buy a mimeograph machine (the prior technology being
typing hard with as many carbon copy sheets as possible), I was
The logic of producing what became a 32- and then 50-page
newspaper with writers and circulation well beyond my school was
also irresistible. I had to go out and get advertisements, and I had
to organize peers in many places. All this was obvious to me, but it
meant not always being where I was supposed to be.
Many years later when my mother died I found correspondence
with the principal of my school. My mother was more than a little
worried. (Why is my fifth grader neither in school or at home?)
However, the principal patiently and ultimately successfully argued
that everyone should trust me. In fact, he advised: “Don’t even
show that you are anxious.”
Once a young person has had a dream, built a team, and changed his
or her world, he or she has the power to express love and respect
in action -- the heart of what brings health, longevity, and happiness.
He or she will be a changemaker for life. Which is to say s/he will
be a real contributor in a world where value increasingly comes
from changemaking and not, as it has for millennia, from efficiency in
repetition. It is no accident that over 80 percent of the 3,000 Ashoka
leading social entrepreneurs (over half have changed national policy
within five years of launch) Fellows started something in their teens,
usually early teens.
I and Ashoka believe that the education reform discussion has
long largely missed the boat. It is focused chiefly on access to
schools driven by an outdated set of objectives, mastering a body
of knowledge and a set of rules. That makes sense in a static world.
But not in one defined by accelerating change.
Now we must ensure that all of this generation of young people
are changemakers before they turn 21. That means that they must
master the core changemaking skills -- empathy/teamwork/new
The only way they can is by practicing and practicing, by in fact being
How many principals today know that they are on this very different
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