Niswarth - Ashoka - Transformation

The fresh, cool air of Bangalore helped me clear my head and establish, yet again, some really interesting connections between different aspects of our program. Though we’re back in Mumbai now, many of my thoughts keep returning to our meeting regarding Ashoka India Fellows in Bangalore.  Founded by PA alum Bill Drayton, Ashoka is a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. Those words didn’t really hold any significant meaning for me prior to our meeting, however after many discussions and personal reflection, I have come to realize that the very definitions Ashoka uses to define it’s mission are applicable to Andover’s Niswarth program. Though I’ll try to provide my own context for the work that Ashoka does, please refer to their website for more information ( Basically, Ashoka actively seeks out and supports motivated individuals who have innovative solutions to social problems. Sounds straightforward enough, however the slew of lingo that Ashoka uses to describe itself sometimes complicates the perfect simplicity of its efforts. For example, at the crux of Ashoka’s mission lies the idea of “social entrepreneurship,” which despite heated discussion, the group of PA students, faculty, and Ashoka employees could not succinctly define. In many ways, social entrepreneurship cannot be defined because it cannot be quantitatively measured; it’s a difference that isn’t purely financial but rather brings about a repeating, functioning institution that creates change. At the basic level, isn’t that the function of a summer program like Niswarth? While we may not have monetary resources or logistical liberty right now, year after year this programs begins to create ripples of change in the communities it visits and more importantly, plants the seeds for immense personal change and growth within ourselves.

The analogy can be extended even further. Ashoka has helped coin the term “changemaker,” though instead of using it as a cliché, the foundation deliberately and effectively incorporates it into their core values. Perhaps the rectangle-square relationship can best elucidate “changemaker” with regard to Ashoka: all social entrepreneurs are changemakers, but not all changemakers are social entrepreneurs. Ashoka strives to create an environment and network in which changemakers can thrive and succeed, thereby bringing about important social change and approaching “social entrepreneurship.” This idea also applies to Niswarth, by exposing a diverse group of PA faculty and students to the complexity that is Mumbai, we are creating a really exciting dynamic through which we can discuss the many obstacles of the world’s fastest growing nation. I have felt the promise of our program repeatedly: when engaging with Gateway House (India’s first think-tank), when discussing the intricacies of the India-US relationship at the American consulate, and even when struggling to control a classroom of 40 8-year olds with our rudimentary Hindi.

Finally, Niswarth can yet again be captured by Ashoka’s newest initiative, its Youth Venture program. Basically, Ashoka wants to tap into India’s youthful potential by recognizing young Indians from a diverse array of backgrounds who are contributing in a meaningful way to their societies. The Youth Venture program is supposed to foster “young people going through a transformative experience in a team.” When I am in the classroom at the American School of Bombay discussing the limitations of the Indian democracy to enact sweeping social change, I feel like I am a young person going through a transformative experience in a team. When our crowded bus drives past the Bombay skyline, the Ambani’s billion dollar mansion interspersed between the blue plastic roofs of slums, I feel like I am a young person going through a transformative experience in a team. When I realize that what we’re doing on this program is essentially Ashoka’s definition of innovation: bringing about a creative adaptation to a particular context of an existing problem, I feel empowered to fully engage with my immensely talented peers, kind and caring adults, and the inspiring people I meet on this trip…I feel like I am a young person going through a transformative experience in a team.

Whew! I apologize for this lengthy blog post, but since it’s often difficult to find time to meaningfully reflect amongst everything that we’re doing, I decided to go all out. I’d love to hear from you with any comments or questions…