Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bill Drayton- The Gentle Visionary

By Courtney Montague
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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 Drayton
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 thirty years ago Ashoka has provided seed capital to over 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 Dr. 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:
1. The Biggest Barrier to Creating Change is Not Giving Yourself Permission
Our biggest barrier to creating change is actually ourselves.  Dr. 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.  Dr. Drayton explained that when these visionaries work in teams they have an even greater exponential effect on changing a particular system. Therefore, Dr. Drayton encourages social entrepreneurs to consider ‘collaborative entrepreneurship’ and openly admired Wagner and The Reynolds Program’s commitment to team spirited innovation.  
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3. Learn it Young 
Dr. 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 changemaking skill set.  This idea forms the basis of Ashoka’s Youth Venture Program. A program 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
Dr. 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 Dr. 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, Dr.  Drayton believe it is time we embrace every person’s voice. 
5. NYU Wagner and Reynolds are ‘Islands of Change’

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Throughout our interview and throughout his speech Dr. 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.  As an individual that has learned a tremendous amount from Wagner and Reynolds, I know I am already indebted to not only a great school but a leader among socially focused entrepreneurial institutions.  It is no wonder NYU Wagner and NYU Reynolds are already such close friends of Ashoka.
Check out the video and podcast of the event at or on iTunes.
All photos credit Annie Escobar - Founder of ListenIn Pictures: