Named after the Great Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BC, Ashoka is an organization that has greatly focused on its efforts on the social issues of today’s society in the underdeveloped regions of the world. It is the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with nearly 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries collaborating on a global level. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, the organization has provided start-up financing, professional support services, and connections to a global network across the business and social sectors, and a platform for “people dedicated to changing the world,” as their mission states. It can be debated that Ashoka itself launched the field of social entrepreneurship, activating multi-sector partners across the world who increasingly look to entrepreneurial talent and new ideas to solve social problems. Much of their model appear to me to stem from a Deontological Ethics viewpoint where these lower-class underdeveloped communities could’ve easily been seen as prime low-wage labor by other “Nike-esque” companies, but were instead treated as an end to a means instead of a means to an end. They saw it as their duty to help those who needed help, which is trademark Deontological ethics.
Maybe its because I live under the “analog rock” of the “digital age,” but I had never heard of Ashoka before. When I first read about them last class, I thought “Holy crap, this is the sustainable society’s best kept secret!” After this, I had to dig deeper into who they were, and I found an initiative they were starting called:
It started when a young boy with developmental issues named “David” was going to a public school in South Africa. The traditional school system’s initial reaction was to take him out and place him in a “special” school; however, Principal Ann Morton noticed that the fellow children classmates were helping David get the books that he needed, studied with him on the material to make sure he was caught up to speed with everyone else, and socialized with him on a constant level. This made Principal Morton realize that schools weren’t here just to teach stark curriculum, but they were there to facilitate the natural morals that came through the students. Now, the school teaches topics like “empathy” and “compassion” and “physical/mental diversity” to the students. The whole natural of the school went from stuffy faculty dryly and uniformly teaching curriculum, to an organization that teams with student-to-student mentoring with vibrant colors everywhere and children showing compassion and not indifference at early ages.
“I want to use empathy when I grow up out of school because it’s nice to be nice.” – Girl from the school
It was evident to me that Ashoka was operating out of more than just a Katian sense of duty that treated people as an end to the means, they were integrating Virtue Ethics into their Ashokan Fellows to see beyond the logical and instead determine with the emotional. If they had stayed with purely a Deontological standpoint, the reasonable decision from the beginning could’ve very well have been to fulfill the duty of keeping the atmosphere of the school a competitive one and place David in an institution where he could “fit in” better and keep their duties to the other classmates by having them unhindered by David’s inabilities. Instead, the virtues of the children broke through the mold and ultimately reshaped the structure and ethical standpoint of the establishment. The school is now currently continuing this model through Ashoka and hopes to be an example to other educational establishments around the world.
Picture source: Ashoka Changemakers