ASPIRe in the beginning
As the pathways of both organizations converged, ASPIRe's mission was set to discover how to help social entrepreneurs reimagine their approach, induce exponential change and aim for impact at scale leveraging and combining Ashoka’s knowledge in scaling system change and the insights from societal thinking. The goal of the partnership was to develop a body of knowledge combining these two practices based on the hands-on experiences of the Ashoka fellows selected for the program.
After a global call for applications through the Ashoka fellowship, a panel of outstanding leaders from Ashoka's and Societal Thinking's networks selected 33 Ashoka Fellows to join the first ASPIRe cohort. Just as COVID had put the world on hold, ASPIRe fellows started their journeys.
Over- the last three years, we have gone through an intense Learn > Reimagine > Design > Prototype cycle with our first cohort. Through studying several Ashoka fellows around the world, we learned what platforms for the good of all look like; with the Fellows, we reimagined how their audacious dreams could be supported by the use of technology and this thinking; with some we traversed the journey of designing such a mission and finally with a few we went all the way to prototyping, initiating a pathway to exponential scale.
ASPIRe’s journey has been a testament to the power of co-creation, collaboration, vision, and audacity. We learned new things every day and the program went through rapid evolution during the process. The invitation and the proposition of the program to create impact at scale were very compelling to the Ashoka Fellows. However, when it came to being able to convert the thinking into practice, we discovered that they faced many challenges and needed a structured process and expert support. ASPIRe identified and onboarded a group of more than 40 leaders, designated as Mission Allies, who provided thousands of hours in pro-bono time to support the cohort members. A scaffolding of the ASPIRe Accelerator started to emerge.
The ASPIRe Sprints (structured action-oriented workshops and exercises that fellow teams went through along with their Mission Allies) nudged them to think differently about their networks, the impact of technology, the need for co-creation, the role of their communities, and more importantly their own role to orchestrate exponential change. It started leading to better programs, more effective collaborations, new innovation ecosystems and a stronger interest in how technology could help them in their quest to activate the agency of communities to solve their own problems. While we started with societal platforms as the desirable outcome, many other manifestations and opportunities for exponential change emerged in this process.
As the ASPIRe fellows were pursuing their exploration, it became increasingly clear that, while building a societal platform was an outcome that could induce impact at a population scale, it required significant technology-related expertise and a pool of patient capital. Furthermore, they needed to build the capacity to prototype. Many Mission allies pulled the resources of their organizations to support fellows through the prototype stage, going far beyond their initial commitment to the program. The Societal Thinking team also set up a Value Lab to help several fellows. Some of these prototypes are in the pilot phase, some are already exploring opportunities for deployment with government and partner networks.