ASPIRe’s journey to support social entrepreneurs achieve impact at an exponential scale 


ASPIRe was launched in April 2020 as a joint initiative between Ashoka and Societal Platform (now referred to as Societal Thinking). The impetus for this collaboration came from two organisations with complementary goals, priorities, and ambitions and a catalyst that jump-started the co-creation. Reflecting on ASPIRe's first three years has been a valuable exercise in understanding not just our own journey but also the evolution of our partners, funders, and Ashoka Fellows.

Ashoka, with over 40 years of experience supporting social entrepreneurs in scaling systemic social change, was seeking pathways for fellows to leverage technology for impact. The question was who in the social sector had leveraged technology in a way that worked for all citizens. Societal Thinking (ST), an initiative of EkStep Foundation since 2016, aimed to help social entrepreneurs achieve impact at the population scale by leveraging network effects and co-creation ecosystems, enabled by digital infrastructure. The Societal Thinking team recognized that such ambitious endeavours would only succeed if led by exceptional and audacious leaders. The question was where to find the right people for such a challenge.

Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies (RNPF), a foundation known to both parties, brought Societal Thinking and Ashoka together to help the two organisations realise their mutual complementarity. RNP had successfully collaborated with Ashoka in the past and had seen firsthand that Ashoka fellows around the world represented the leaders who have the potential to create massive scale impact. They were also advocates of the potential of Societal Thinking to bring about a reimagination in the development sector. Once the two organisations agreed to co-create, RNP provided the seed funding to Ashoka to launch the ASPIRe program and run the pilot cohort. 

"We recognise the need for a collaborative approach to resolving large-scale social challenges - one that restores agency, provides choice and upholds the dignity of everyone. Excited about the possibilities that ASPIRe will unravel."

Sanjay Purohit
Chief Curator, Societal Thinking
Face of a man

"We are excited by the sense of possibility that the journey we are embarking on with Ashoka and all of you, change-makers, holds. You are perfect co-creators because you are a reflection of the values and principles we hold dear and that, like us, are unafraid to say that we do not know it all."

Rohini and Nandan Nilekani
A man and a woman