ChildFinance International

(Ashoka Entrepreneur)


Virgin Group


Transparency International

(Ashoka Entrepeneur)


Zip Car


ChildFinance (Ashoka Entrepreneur)

When They Started


Virgin Group

PETER EIGEN (Age 17, 19)

Transparency International (Ashoka Entrepeneur)


Zip Car

Great Entrepreneurs Start in Their Teens

If you want to be an entrepreneur, you better start in

your teens.

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

investment flows.

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

anti-bribery penalties.

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

to her.

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.”

Bless him!

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

playing field?

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