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Start a Revolution: Through GDLN, Ashoka and World Bank Institute Tap Social Entrepreneurs for Development
The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck. Inspired by the philosophy that guides the Ashoka fellowship program, social entrepreneurs from Bulgaria, Canada, France, Tanzania, and the United States came together in a GDLN videoconference on January 30, 2006. Together with World Bank Institute staff in Paris and Washington, participants shared the creative approaches they are using to address development issues in their communities. The session was organized by the World Bank Institute’s Paris office.

Social entrepreneurs are people who are changing their communities through innovation and creativity. Take Canadian Mary Gordon, who talked about the “Roots of Empathy” program she created in 1996. The program engages children from kindergarten to eighth grade in rural, urban, remote, and Aboriginal communities. Teaching children about empathy, believes Gordon, builds their capacity to become compassionate citizens and caring parents. Ashoka supports leading social entrepreneurs such as Mary Gordon through a life-long fellowship program.

By connecting people like Mary Gordon through GDLN, the World Bank Institute team hopes to encourage a sharing process among Ashoka fellows around the world. In this first session, Gordon was able to explore with other fellows how to apply the "Roots of empathy" approach in post-conflict situations. Tanzanian fellows described how they are talking to young women about family planning. In Bulgaria, fellows are retraining female workers who have been laid off from jobs in the social, health, and education sectors. And U.S. fellow David Green is finding creative ways to make low-cost eye care and cataract surgery available to poor people in Egypt, India, and Nepal.

Through our partnership with Ashoka, we can help people share with others how they are changing their communities through innovative ideas, says Jean-Eric Aubert, lead specialist of the World Bank Institute’s Knowledge for Development program and the architect of the initiative. And showing how these ideas solve concrete development problems is the best way to promote social entrepreneurship.

Subsequent GDLN sessions will focus on specific issues and involve broader communities of social entrepreneurs. A follow-up activity will likely take place in June 2006, involving Ashoka fellows, policy makers, andљrelevant World Bank teams such as the Community Empowerment and Social Inclusion (CESI) Program of the World Bank Institute.
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