Knight Foundation to Fund Ashoka Social Entrepreneurs In Knight Communities

MIAMI — To encourage innovative solutions to community problems, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $3.2 million in Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. Ashoka will select 15 promising social entrepreneurs in the U.S. communities where Knight serves as a funder and elect them to the global Ashoka fellowship.

Each Fellow will receive a three-year stipend, allowing them to focus full-time on their effort to provide systemic change to a problem affecting each Knight community. They also become life-long members of the Ashoka community, sharing and learning with the more than 1,800 Ashoka Fellows in the United States and around the world, and having access to consultative help from leading social entrepreneur experts.

“A social entrepreneur is someone who combines the risk and passion of a business entrepreneur with a passionate social mission to create systemic change. It is someone who wants to solve a problem once, not over and over again,” said Trabian Shorters, co-director of Ashoka-US. “Our goal is to unleash the power of entrepreneurship to make the greatest network for social innovation in America.”

Through a rigorous nominating and selection process, Ashoka will elect outstanding individuals with ideas for far-reaching change, as well as four key attributes:

  1. Creativity – An ability to combine visionary goal setting with a practical approach.
  2. Entrepreneurial quality – A total commitment to changing patterns and systems.
  3. Commitment to social impact – The potential of the idea to solve an endemic problem.
  4. Ethical fiber – An ability to inspire others by strength of character and integrity.

“The fellowship is about providing these creative, dynamic minds with a lifetime of continuing intellectual and social capital, from both Ashoka and Knight. It’s about making their ideas more sustainable and effective. It’s about achieving real, lasting change in our communities,” said Paula L. Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for national and new initiatives.

What if charities ran like eBay?  What if violence was treated like a curable illness? These are just some of the questions Ashoka Fellows already working in Knight and other U.S. communities are trying to answer. In San Jose, Ashoka Fellow Suzanne McKechnie Klahr is working to keep low-income kids in school by using money-making as an incentive: through coursework and mentoring, the students launch and operate their own businesses in ninth grade. So far 100 percent of the students who have completed the program have gone on to college. In St. Paul, another Fellow, Steven Clift, has increased civic participation by turning town hall meetings and debates into online e-forums. Four other communities have followed St. Paul’s lead and set up similar systems.

Ashoka: Innovators for the Public is a global community of social entrepreneurs who deliver innovative solutions to social programs. In the 25 years since its founding, Ashoka has provided start-up financing, professional support services and connection to a global peer network for more than 1,800 leading social entrepreneurs in over 70 countries. Ashoka began its U.S. program, which currently has 70 Fellows, in 2000. Ashoka’s global fellowship is privately financed by individuals, venture networks, foundations and leading business entrepreneurs. To learn more, visit

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. To learn more, visit,