Creating a hub for women social entrepreneurs

Jan 08, 2020

The story behind ChangemakHERS, an online community for women social entrepreneurs to make connections and co-create solutions.

By Ioanna Moriatis

Why does the success of women social entrepreneurs receive less notice?According to Iman Bibars, the regional director of Ashoka Arab World and the brains behind Ashoka’s global Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship (WISE), the reason is connected to how we think about “impact.”

The prevailing model of success in social entrepreneurship, Bibars writes, favors male-dominated notions of broad impact, achieved by scaling out and franchising — what she nicknames the “fast-food franchising model.” This paradigm, which prioritizes the number of people or regions impacted, renders invisible much of women’s success in creating deep transformation within communities and systems.

At the core of the WISE movement is a call for people across the social entrepreneurship ecosystem to reconsider our mainstream idea of success.

Introducing ChangemakHERS

What better way to fuel this movement than to build an online community that dismantles the very idea that impact requires physical reach?

Launched in 2019, ChangemakHERS is an online community dedicated to connecting women Ashoka Fellows from around the world. It’s a space for women social entrepreneurs to co-create with each other and exchange ideas. The community, which includes almost 200 users from over 30 cities around the world, aims to increase recognition for women innovators and elevate their impact.

ChangemakHERs community uses virtual huddles — conversations led by social entrepreneurs about overcoming challenges — and provides countless opportunities to share ideas and achievements, interesting articles, calls for funding, and project needs. We’re transcending physical barriers to create connections within Ashoka’s network of 1,200+ women Fellows.

The Power of Women Social Entrepreneurs

Ashoka’s network of women Fellows spans more than 90 countries, but these numbers mean little without diving deeper. We need to understand the shifts in mindsets, cultural values, and social frameworks these Fellows are creating in their contexts.

Through the WISE movement, Ashoka seeks to shed light on the unique changemaking qualities that enable women Fellows to infuse impact deep within their communities.

What are these qualities?

In its 2018 Global Impact Study, Ashoka found several distinctives among women Fellows:

-They are more collaborative than their male counterparts

-They exhibit a higher tendency to scale deep, impacting societal behaviors and values

-They are more likely to cite personal connections to the causes they champion.

The Celebrating ChangemakHERS report, produced in collaboration with the Citi Foundation, identified similar trends through qualitative interviews conducted with women Fellows from around the world. Fellows interviewed described practicing inclusive, collective leadership; empowering girls and women in their work; and asserting life experiences to advance their leadership and entrepreneurship.

At the heart of these leadership trends, we see a powerful commitment to spurring changing systems, shifting the way communities behave and operate. Second, we see women upholding the power of co-creation, empowering those around them to champion the cause and lead their own change.

WISE seeks to increase the recognition afforded to women social entrepreneurs’ unique changemaking abilities. In doing so, we will direct further resources to amplify the solutions they lead and encourage more women of all ages to scale their ideas and create deep impact.

Inside a ChangemakHERS Huddle

The ChangemakHERS community represents a hub for co-creation. Among the participants in ChangemakHERS huddles are women Fellows, Ashoka team members, and partners dedicated to elevating women social entrepreneurs. Together, these women work to build solutions for a myriad of challenges.

Each month, one Fellow takes the lead in a huddle, sharing her changemaking journey and presenting a challenge in her work for discussion. Our huddles have covered a range of topics, from the use of technology to create social impact in Ghana, to strategies for motivating civic engagement in Mexico, to ensuring policy change is reflected in real-world practice in Bolivia.

Each time, huddle leaders walk away with new seeds for future co-creation. Sometimes it’s a connection to a potential partner, an understanding of the challenge in a different cultural context, models of change that have been successful in other regions, or a simple question from a peer that prompts further reflection.

The ChangemakHERS community is steadily growing. And with each new woman social entrepreneur who joins in, the opportunity to co-create multiplies.

Members of the ChangemakHERS community are spread across the globe.

Who Says Co-Creation Only Happens in Person?

Just as WISE is redefining success through the lens of gender, ChangemakHERS is tackling the misconception that collaboration requires physical connection and geographical reach. Put two women Fellows on a Skype call and you’re sure to sense physical distance disappearing into the background as ideas reverberate around virtual space.

Over the last decade, it’s become clear that social media and online communities are changing the way we interact with each other. From Facebook to LinkedIn to Slack, digital platforms are continuously introducing new spaces for us to build relationships, exchange information, and even lead change.

Through ChangemakHERS, we’re carving out a new space dedicated to stimulating impact, blurring the distance that separates social entrepreneurs.

Since the election of our first Fellow in India in 1980, the Ashoka network has grown to include over 3,800 social entrepreneurs. With platforms like ChangemakHERS, we’re now looking to reshape what it means to be a part of this group and highlight the approaches led by women social entrepreneurs in our community.

As Bibars told Entrepreneur, “Networks are the most powerful systems that social entrepreneurs can leverage to elevate their work and transform communities.”

The network has always been there. The ChangemakHERS community is curating a new space for this network to live and evolve, drive change, and tear down mainstream assumptions around changemaking.

Creating a hub for women social entrepreneurs was originally published in A New Game on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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