Call for Changemaker Schools

Transforming Education: Ashoka, Start Empathy, and Changemaker Schools

Ashoka is the biggest and oldest global network of social entrepreneurs. Over the past 30 years Ashoka has identified and supported 3,000 entrepreneurs who are applying creative solutions to the world’s biggest social, environmental and economic challenges.

In examining the stories of Ashoka Fellows around the world, we noticed that two themes kept reemerging in the stories of these leading social entrepreneurs. While the problems they seek to solve and the solutions they propose are diverse, fellows consistently (1) had the opportunity to make a difference - be changemakers - early in life, and (2) demonstrated empathy as a foundational and deeply motivating quality.

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Why Empathy?

Empathy gives us the will and the tools to be effective changemakers. It motivates us to imagine and then build something better together. But is also ensures we build well: informed by a deep understanding and respect for others, working collaboratively across disciplinary boundaries, and creatively addressing problems at their root. If we want a society of changemakers, where problems no longer outrun solutions, then we have to prioritize empathy because changemaking is essentially empathy in action.

The Great Reimagining

Inspired by and drawing on the work of Fellows, Ashoka’s Start Empathy initiative is selecting and partnering with schools who are leading a transformation in education, such that children grow up prepared to thrive in a world of accelerating change. Changemaker Schools prioritize empathy, teamwork, leadership, and changemaking as student outcomes. Through innovations in school curricula, culture, and systems, Changemaker Schools are pioneering how education can cultivate children as changemakers.

Changemaker Schools

Ashoka’s Changemaker Schools aspire to create a world where all children are empathetic leaders, capable of working in teams to solve problems for the good of all. Ashoka selects and supports schools that are ready and able to help lead the transformation in education. We work with these schools as thought partners to articulate this shared vision for education, amplify their best practices, and grow their impact by facilitating collaboration with Ashoka’s global community of leading social entrepreneurs, business leaders, and other innovators in universities, media, and many other sectors. Together, we can re-imagine, co-create and lead a transformation in education such that every child becomes a changemaker.



  • Nomination
  • Selection
  • Exploration
  • Self-Evaluation
  • Second Opinion
  • Site Visit
  • Panel
  • Onboarding

We look for schools of all types, geographies, and demographics with the following characteristics.

A Changemaker Elementary School has:

  1. Institutional characteristics that position it to help lead a transformation in education;
  2. An individual change leader within the school, who has the vision and characteristics to effectively guide institutional change; and
  3. A cross-stakeholder change team, which may include teachers, parents, students, staff and/or community members. This team is committed to working with the change leader to highlight and advance the school’s efforts to ensure students develop the skill of empathy.
  • Everyone a Changemaker Alignment: Changemaker Schools, in aspiration and practice, are cultivating students as changemakers. They are vision-oriented and focused on the “who” rather than the “what,” developing children as active contributors rather than passive recipients. They have high standards of excellence for students, teachers, and staff alike. They are also making the development of empathy a priority in their curricula, culture, and systems. They may be far advanced in these efforts or just beginning, but school leadership is committed to an aligned vision and has taken steps in pursuit of it.
  • Innovation: Changemaker Schools are innovating. They have demonstrated their ability and willingness to develop and test new ideas, rather than just following established norms. The leadership fosters a culture of innovation in the school.
  • Influence: Changemaker Schools have the authority, reputation, and relevance needed to influence others in the education sector. There is no singular measure of influence, but Changemaker Schools – whether public, charter, independent, large, small, urban, rural, low-income, or affluent – all have clear aspiration and either the demonstrated capacity or obvious potential to attract others to follow their lead.
  • Change Leader & Change Team: Within each Changemaker School is a Change Leader, an individual who serves as the main point of contact between the school and Ashoka. Additionally, each school has a Change Team, including the Change Leader and other members of the school community. The Change Team works with Ashoka to identify and share the school’s best practices, share those ideas with other educators, and leverage Ashoka’s network to support and advance the work already taking place at the school.
    • We seek Change Leaders with the following characteristics:
    • Commitment: The Change Leader believes deeply in the need and possibility for everyone to be a changemaker and the role of empathy inside and outside the classroom as a critical skill for life-long success. He or she is ready and equipped to champion changemaking as a key priority within the school and to serve as a spokesperson to other schools looking to follow its lead. If the Change Leader is not the head of school, he or she has the full commitment of the school leadership.
    • Eagerness to share and learn: The Change Leader brings a track record for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, but also an openness to new ideas. The Change Leader is both flexible and results-oriented, willing and able to evolve based on what is and is not working. He or she will be a collegial partner, eager both to share what his or her school has developed and to learn from what others have done.
    • Ashoka selection criteria: The Change Leader should meet criteria similar to those Ashoka uses to select its Fellows and staff:
      • Entrepreneur or intrapreneur: Compelled to cause major pattern change as evidenced by experience founding a new venture or re-shaping the work of an existing institution.
      • Understanding and belief in Everyone a Changemaker: as well as the Everyone a Changemaker vision.
      • Social and emotional intelligence: Works efficiently and respectfully in teams, putting organizational and team goals first.
      • Ethical fiber: Exhibits exceptionally strong ethical standards, empathy skills, and trustworthiness.
      • Self-Definition: Is out to change the world in big ways and has developed appropriate skills and ways of thinking to actualize that mission.

First Opinion Interview - 30 mins

Local Ashoka staff (and Fellows) evaluate a nomination against the selection criteria, check references, interview stakeholders (students, teachers, staff, parents) and start identifying the Change Team.

Self-Evaluation - to be completed with Change Team (1-2 weeks)

The Change Team completes a comprehensive set of reflective questions about their work. The purpose of this exercise is for the Change Team to have the opportunity to reflect on their work as a ground through a changemaking lens.

Second Opinion - Global Review

Before bringing school candidates to a selection panel, the staff championing the candidates present the cases to a person from outside their region who has been ‘certified’ by the Start Empathy and Youth Venture global program leaders to play this role. Hypo Sheets are based on information gathered from both the Exploration and Self-Evaluation stages. The Global Review step is both to ensure we maintain the same standards globally and to help us all learn together about the criteria and the best ways to assess them. The global reviewer does not meet the school change teams, but helps the diamond team make a decision about whether to advance the school to panel.

Site Visit - half-day

The Site Visit is a half-day visit by Ashoka’s Empathy team to your school. This is a time for the Ashoka Empathy team to meet with key champions at your school and for you to share how you are creating a culture where children are empathetic leaders, capable of working in teams to solve problems.

Panel - Three 50 minute time slots for schools and panelists (plus 30 mins of prep and 1 hour debrief for panelists)

Change Leader plus 2-3 Change Team members available to interview with three separate panelists

Onboarding - Welcome to the Network/ Google Hangout Session