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Opinion

Changing the world: 7 Social Innovators you should know

Get inspired by these seven social entrepreneurs from Ashoka’s global network and find out how they want to make the world a better place

They reimagine markets to serve all, empower prosperous livelihoods, make us rethink growth and create equal chances where they don't exist: Social Innovators use their entrepreneurial power to update our social systems. “There is nothing more powerful than a system-changing new idea in the hands of a social entrepreneur”, says Bill Drayton, founder of the global network Ashoka. 

Here are 7 innovators from around the world you should know – movement makers, culture shapers, data drivers and tech adapters. Inspiring people and fascinating stories of change. 

1. Humanity over bureaucracy

This is what you read first when visiting Buurtzorg, founded by Jos de Blok. Not only bestselling author Rutger Bregman of “Humankind” and “Utopia for realists” is a fan. Jos de Blok and more than 10,000 professionals who shape Buurtzorg today are changing the way work and management are organized in the field of eldercare. In a sector that is broadly challenged economically yet growing fast, Jos and his team show how inner motivation and entrepreneurial spirit of professionals can be set free within new forms of company building.

2. Shifting market power at scale.

Nicole Rycroft has been an activist saving forests long before she found a way to beat tree-eating businesses with their own strategies: shifting market powers at scale. Known for “greening Harry Potter”, she and her team at Canopy Planet convinced the publisher of the stories about the famous magician to print on recycled paper, thus creating a pull for new products of recycled fibers. Moving on, she now works with the next big industry using trees for consumption: (fast) fashion. Shifting one big player at a time, she finds key leverage points.

3. Democratizing access to high-level training for young entrepreneurs. 

To get your venture off the ground, good support and mentoring often is key. Yet, many early-stage entrepreneurs are excluded from traditional entrepreneurial ecosystems due to gender, racial, and socioeconomic reasons. Pablo Santaeufemia founded Bridge for Billions to change that. Thanks to his accessible and scalable online incubation programs, Pablo and his team foster employment creation, positively affecting the lives of thousands by unleashing the power of entrepreneurship to create social and economic growth. 

4. A framework for sustainable development. 

Over the last 25 years, Sue Riddlestone has been a leader in the sustainability movement. She’s grown multiple successful businesses that provide models for sustainable living. Her company, Bioregional, pioneered the One Planet Living framework that consists of ten simple principles that make it easy to plan, deliver and communicate a commitment to sustainability. The framework is used by individuals, communities, corporations and national governments to act. From one community in her country she has spread this model to the UN and played a pivotal role in the development of Sustainable Development Goal 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production.

5. Saving food from waste on a large scale. 

Raphael Fellmer is a serial social entrepreneur finding answers to the current practice of about 1/3 of our food going to waste. With foodsharing, he started a now international movement of food savers. His current enterprise SirPlus is not only creating a B-to-C solution with grocery stores and delivery of saved food but also new B2B value chains for food working with producers in various fields.

6. An ecosystem that grows demand for urban gardens. 

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, the world’s most densely populated city, social entrepreneur Ahsan Rony builds a blueprint for green urbanization by creating demand for urban green spaces. With Green Savers, he shows entrepreneurial ecosystem building at its best. In schools, “The Oxygen Bank program” teaches children how to participate in the school and roof gardens. In parallel, a city-wide initiative mobilizes microentrepreneurs to provide maintenance, emergency support, and workshops for residents and help start urban gardens. In short: Every kind of urban Bangladeshi citizen; young and old, affluent and poor, educated and uneducated, plays a role in the systemic and cultural tapestry that Rony is building.

7. Reimagining healthcare. 

With loneliness and depression being severe social issues, Wellbeing Enterprises CIC is a people-powered social enterprise with the mission to help people live happier, healthier and longer lives. The clue is to reimagine the healthcare system and make well-being and human connection prescriptible. Wellbeing officers unlock the assets and resources in communities and work together with partners in national health systems to tackle the root causes of poor health.


This social innovation insight is part of our series with the global network Ashoka – Innovators for the Public, through which we bring stories of social entrepreneurship and social innovation to you. Written by Laura Haverkamp, Partner at Ashoka Germany.