For the past 12 years, the Creativity Foundation and The Smithsonian Associates have presented the Benjamin Franklin Laureate Prize to an individual who is an innovator and creative thinker in the arts, humanities, sciences, technology or public service. This year the committee selected Bill Drayton, CEO and Founder of Ashoka, as the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Laureate winner.
On April 19, Drayton was honored for his work pioneering social entrepreneurship, encouraging and supporting citizens to change social problems. Supporters gathered to see Drayton receive the award and to learn more about social entrepreneurship and his thoughts on our fast-paced world.
Drayton joins an esteemed group of artists, thinkers and change makers. The award named after Benjamin Franklin honors people who follow in his path of creative thinking and public service. When deciding on this year’s fellow, the Creativity Foundation’s Junto, or board of directors and thinkers, searched for an entrepreneur who represented the foundation’s mission.
“His idea of social entrepreneurship brings both the principals and ideas of a well-run business to changing the world and creating a better place to live. That just seemed in keeping with the whole foundation and its mission,” said Laurie Kahn, chair of the Creativity Foundation Junto.
In 1980, Drayton founded Ashoka on the principles that everyone is a change-maker and that by investing in social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and solutions he could effectively promote positive social change. Thirty years ago he started with an annual budget of $50,000 and it has now grown to more than $30 million. With a staff of 200 placed all over the world, the organization has established programs in more than 60 countries and supports the work of nearly 3,000 fellows.
Drayton talked about some of Ashoka’s fellows and their international work. One fellow, Mary Gordon, and her organization Roots of Empathy, teaches empathy and social/emotional competence to children in the hopes of decreasing aggression among schoolchildren. Her program brings a baby into classrooms throughout the year and school children learn to focus on the needs and emotions of others.
For Drayton, Gordon’s program is a strong example of Ashoka’s mission to change the world by mastering empathy and love for others. His talk with Bornstein focused on his belief that we live in a fast-paced world of change. We no longer live in an industrial society with a focus on repetition. Today our future depends on shifting our framework to one of change.
Drayton says that social entrepreneurship requires individuals to persistently look at and listen to their communities. Then with a creative idea and a deep and honest desire to fix a problem, one person can create change. For Ashoka, this model has worked well for the last 30 years. But recently Drayton and Ashoka began to realize that they could support their fellows more by connecting them with each other. As a collaborative collective, like-minded fellows can support one another, improve ideas and be more effective. Ashoka is in the process of making those connections and looking toward the future of their organization.
Kahn said that while listening to Drayton speak with Bornstein, she was struck by just how different his message was from past awardees.
“People talk about vision and failure and new ways of doing things, but the words empathy and love don’t come up all the time. It was really striking to have that be an essential element that he is trying to promote,” said Kahn.