Bill Drayton: The Gentle Visionary

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If your idea isn’t fitting (your vision), you can change
it. If the world isn’t fitting you idea, you can sometimes change it as well.” -Bill

To many in the field of social entrepreneurship, Dr. Bill
Drayton is not only a founder of the field but also a visionary. He has
consistently iterated his approach to social change and in the process assisted
millions of people in countries across the globe. 

NYU Wagner and the Catherine
B Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship were lucky to host Dr. Bill
Drayton for a series of events last week. Since it began 30 years ago, Ashoka has provided seed capital to more than 7,000 high-impact social entrepreneurs. The average number of people served by
these high-impact social entrepreneurs is 174,000 and more than half of them
change government policy through their innovation. These entrepreneurs don’t just teach a man to
fish; instead they change the entire fishing industry, government fishing
policies and ultimately the world’s perception of fishing.

After spending time interviewing Drayton, who insists on
being called Bill, here are some tips this gentle, humble, kind and powerful
visionary feels like all of us at NYU need to consider:

The Biggest Barrier to Creating Change is Not
Giving Yourself Permission

Our biggest barrier to creating change is actually
ourselves. Drayton advises, “All
those people who tell you you can’t do things. Be polite; but ignore them.” So
stop listening to the naysayers. Allow yourself to look at a problem, develop a
large scale solution, implement that solution and then constantly refine it as
you work to change the system. Give yourself permission to be great, and just
go do it.

2.        Collaborative Entrepreneurship is Key

If you’ve been at NYU Wagner for any period of time you’ll
have already been in a number of group projects. Although we might all struggle
with Wagner’s obsession with teams Dr. Drayton agrees that collaboration is
key; “We’ve learned (at Ashoka) how to create the most powerful force in the
world- collaborative entrepreneurship.”

Five years after receiving an Ashoka Fellowship an average
of 97% of Ashoka Fellows are still working on their project, 88% of their
projects/organizations have been copied and 55% have changed government policy.
These are extremely powerful people, correcting ineffective systems or simply
creating new ones. Drayton explained
that when these visionaries work in teams they have an even greater exponential
effect on changing a particular system. Therefore, Drayton encourages
social entrepreneurs to consider ‘collaborative entrepreneurship’ and openly
admired Wagner and The Reynolds Program’s commitment to team spirited

Learn it Young

Drayton also emphasized how incredibly important it is
for children and young adults to learn that they can create change. Most, if
not all, of Ashoka’s fellows started their changemaking path very early in life
and can trace when their hunger for change first began. He noted how those
experiences, at a young age, serve to enforce a person’s empathy, their
confidence and helped to develop their change-making skill set. This idea forms the basis of Ashoka’s Youth
Venture Program, which is designed to give young people an opportunity to
implement their vision of change and learn the associated skills before the age
of 20.

So the next time you are working with a youngster, whether
they’re your student or your younger brother, try to create conditions whereby
they can realize their power to change the world.

4.       Times are Changing and Everyone is a Changemaker

Drayton firmly believes that society’s traditional
hierarchal structure, in which most of the world’s resources are concentrated
in the hands of a few, is quickly disintegrating. As information technologies shrink the
boundaries between cultures and countries, Drayton firmly believes that the
world will soon be a much ‘flatter’ place (I mean he’s right- just look at Egypt). And
those who cling to the old, hierarchal way of doing things will be lost along
the way. He emphasizes the need for the world to change into a place where
‘everyone is allowed to be a changemaker.’ 
From businesses that allow each employee, from the janitor to the CEO,
to voice their vision for the company’s future to a country’s democratic,
government structure, Drayton
believe it is time we embrace every person’s voice.

NYU Wagner and Reynolds are ‘Islands of Change’

Throughout our interview and throughout his speech Drayton continued to praise the entrepreneurial and collaborative efforts of
NYU Wagner and the Reynolds Program. He even suggested that, “The Reynolds
program is an island of what the world will be like.” He believes that only a
university committed to social innovation, entrepreneurship and empathy will
succeed in the coming years. And he believes that NYU is perfectly situated on
the cusp of that paradigm shift. 

It is no wonder NYU Wagner and NYU Reynolds are already such close
friends of Ashoka.

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