Ashoka Brings Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship to Agriculture in Sub-Saharan...

Wed Jan 7, 2009 12:35pm EST

* Reuters is not responsible for the content in this press release.

Ashoka Brings Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship to Agriculture in
Sub-Saharan Africa and India

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ashoka today announced a $15
million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support social
innovation and entrepreneurship in agricultural and sustainable rural
development.  The foundation's grant will allow Ashoka to elect more than 90
Fellows who will spread promising innovations aimed at helping small farmers
living in poor, rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and India move out of

Diana Wells, President of Ashoka states, "Aligned with Ashoka's vision of
forming an Everyone a Changemaker(TM) world, this partnership underscores that
the most important change must be to empower humans from passive recipients of
solutions to initiators and champions of innovation in the social sector. 
Instead of operating within the existing social-political framework using the
same incentives and elements that aren't producing results, these carefully
selected Fellows will help change the system and support new frameworks and
value chains that enable large numbers of citizens to participate in--and
drive--social change."

Ashoka's proven expertise and local and global networks -- approximately 2000
social entrepreneurs in 63 countries--are supporting the world's most powerful
new ideas and its leading social entrepreneurs. Through its wide-ranging,
global "nominators network," Ashoka finds individuals with transformative
ideas who lack financing, legal support, or the basic means for scaling their
work. After completing Ashoka's rigorous global selection process, Ashoka
Fellows are provided with the best intellectual and process leadership for
refining and replicating their successes, and for hatching entirely new ideas.

"The promise of agricultural development will be realized in part through the
spread of new ideas and solutions to the challenges facing farmers in
developing countries," said Dr. Rajiv Shah, director of Agricultural
Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Stimulating these
innovations has the potential to help thousands of smallholder farmers build
better lives for themselves and their families." 

Agricultural and rural sustainable development initiatives supported by Ashoka
will be oriented around key issues such as new technologies, farmer
productivity, key agricultural policies, and connections between smallholder
farmers and markets. Ashoka's network already includes many Fellows working on
agriculture and rural development related issues-- whether developing markets
for small farmers in Kenya, or using local knowledge to regenerate arid land
through natural farming and permaculture in India. 

Ashoka realizes that innovations alone do not create sustainable large-scale
solutions in agriculture and sustainable rural development. These new
solutions endure only when social entrepreneurs have a community-level
understanding, build a broad citizen base of support, introduce incentives for
participation, and topple traditional barriers to entry or involvement.  This
partnership will allow Ashoka to launch 90 social entrepreneurs and their
powerful, pattern- changing ideas that are built on this bottom up approach.
Additionally, as a product of the increased number of entrepreneurs in this
area and their broad base of supporters, Ashoka will be able to identify
transformative universal principles that will ultimately revolutionize the

Valeria Merino, Ashoka's Vice President leading this partnership, shares, "We
are committed to finding a solution and building a broad coalition to end the
cycle of poverty in India and Africa.  By refocusing agricultural development
initiatives around the needs and perspectives of smallholder farmers, it's
possible to build on systemic change from the bottom up. Ashoka is honored to
join this movement that looks towards permanently alleviating poverty for
rural communities." 

Due to these critical partnerships, the world's largest community of social
entrepreneurs is taking social innovation and entrepreneurialism to new
fields.  Ashoka has recently been able to elect new Fellows in the areas of
journalism and technology and now looks forward to bringing these
transformative principles to the areas of youth, climate change, and

About Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
Founded in 1980, Ashoka is the world's working community of approximately
2,000 leading social entrepreneurs. It champions the most important new social
change ideas and supports the entrepreneurs behind them to start, grow,
succeed, and collaborate on their ventures. As Ashoka expands its capacity to
integrate and connect social and business entrepreneurs around the world, it
builds an entrepreneurial infrastructure comprised of global initiatives that
supports the fast-growing needs of the citizen sector. Ashoka is creating
change today, for an Everyone a Changemaker(TM) society to become the reality
of tomorrow. For more information, visit 

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In
developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them
the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United
States, it seeks to ensure that all people--especially those with the fewest
resources--have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and
life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and co-chair
William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren
    For more information please contact:
    Natasha Khan
    Ashoka Global Marketing

    Beverly Schwartz
    VP of Ashoka Global Marketing

SOURCE  Ashoka

Natasha Khan, +1-703-600-8204,, or Beverly Schwartz,
+1-703-600-8227,, both of Ashoka
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