Spotlight on Ashoka Nominator : Judith Van Raalten, Jordan

In the first edition of “Stories from Ashoka Arab World’s Nominators Network and Spotlights on Ashoka’s Nominators” – we welcome Ashoka’s newly elected Fellow, Sami Hourani and dedicate this space to spot a light on Sami and his nominator Judith Van Raalten.

Want to be in the spotlight too?! Let us know about the social entrepreneurs you meet! You can nominate a social entrepreneur for the Ashoka Fellowship by clicking here.


Follow the interview below with Judith to know more about her changemaking journey!  and How did Judith know that Sami will make it to the Ashoka Fellowship?  

1- What social issue are you most passionate about?                                                          image013

I am passionate about youth’s social and political inclusion and civic engagement as a solution to the socio-cultural struggles youth face on their way to adulthood represented by restrictive mobility and unemployment. Societal challenges of marginalized young people across cultures and countries motivate me to work hard to make a difference.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States, from where I contribute to the Jordanian social entrepreneurship scene via strategic planning and fundraising to positively impact local communities across the Arab region.

2-   How did you know about Ashoka?

One of the long-term initiatives I am a part of is “Forsa –” Forsa is translated to English as “opportunity.” The overall goal of Forsa is to provide in an open, egalitarian and free way access to educational, professional, and skills development opportunities for young persons from any background in the Middle East and North Africa, and to build the capacity of underprivileged young people to thrive in their personal and professional lives.

For Forsa I am always looking for the latest opportunities, and, since the start of Forsa as a blog in 2008, I have posted about Ashoka, sharing the support opportunity for young entrepreneurs in the Arab world.

3-    Tell us about the situation when you first met Sami Hourani?

Over seven years ago I met Sami in Amman where I was conducting a three-month research on Palestinian refugee identity issues in Jordan. His extensive network and intuitive understanding of the social and political spheres in and outside of the Palestinian refugee camps contributed immensely to the data collection and analysis of the research and made him an invaluable collaborator. It was a great start of a fruitful partnership that developed into a pioneering social venture, called “Leaders of Tomorrow,” which has now become a leading citizen sector organization in Jordan and the Arab region.

4-    What drew your attention most about Sami as a social entrepreneur?

Sami does not believe in change by itself, but rather in empowering and mobilizing people to develop, invest and serve local communities. Sami has a warm personality; he cares for his family, relatives and friends, and extends this caring to his peers, his community and his society at large – you find this in all his work.

Sami is one of those rare finds—an emerging young leader with outstanding achievements who always performs with utmost personal authenticity and integrity. His honesty and lucid reasoning reaches across cultural and socioeconomic divides. He is obsessed by his cause of empowering young people and breaking the cycles of elitism. For that he has a listening ear for youth from any background and has the ability to generate new ideas and set those in motion through innovative projects and initiatives.

5-    How did you know Sami Hourani was a good “Ashoka Fellow fit?”

Ashoka looks for leading social entrepreneurs who are creating a system changing impact in society. Ashoka social entrepreneurs pioneer new ideas that are implemented for the first time in their communities and sectors; such ideas should solve the root causes of social problems and have the potential to be replicated and scaled up. Sami does exactly that; he is a leading innovator—creating groundbreaking ideas that address the problems of youth exclusion and apathy. Sami’s initiatives reach the hearts and minds of people at the grassroots level, inspiring and eliciting the citizenry to engage publicly and make a difference in their local communities. His visionary thinking and sound judgments tackle the challenges that youth and more, broadly, citizens in general face nowadays. As a strong leader he easily connects to others, and, with his intellectual talents, he quickly analyses social and political situations.

More about Judith Van Raalten:

Judith is a development professional; she currently serves as the Director of Development at Leaders of Tomorrow organization. She has co-founded several initiatives that support youth in the Arab region to jumpstart their professional careers and mobilize young Jordanians to take on changemaking roles around issues they care for in their local communities. Previously, Judith was a Fulbright Scholar to Jordan from 2009 – 2010 researching the social and political identity of young Jordanians of Palestinian origin and lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Hawaii. 


Judith is the nominator of the recently elected Ashoka Fellow: Sami Hourani.

Ashoka Fellow – Sami Hourani, Jordan                                                                                 Sami Hourani

Leaders of Tomorrow Organization

Website | Facebook  | Twitter

Sami is a pioneer in the Arab world, breaking the vicious cycle of elitism and nepotism in young people’s accessibility to education, skills development, and civic engagement opportunities. Within a context where opportunities for personal, educational, economic and civic engagement are only circulated within closed circles of the privileged, youth have become passive and apathetic towards the social and political scenes. Sami is creating a shift in the norms of thousands of youth by introducing a new way for youth to counter this disempowering trend and become an active, educated, and motivated generation.

Sami is Founder and CEO of Leaders of Tomorrow organization in Jordan. He was elected into the Ashoka Fellowship in March 2014.

Don’t miss reading more about Sami’s idea, strategy, impact and himself as a person on Ashoka’s website here.

If you know a social entrepreneur like Sami, Nominate them today to join the largest professional network for social entrepreneurs around the world, Ashoka Fellowship, by clicking here.


Searching for the Hidden Gems Across the Arab World!

The task of the Search and Selection team in Ashoka is to look, dig and search long, deep and hard for the hidden gems of the social entrepreneurship scene in the Arab region. Ashoka is looking for people who are truly, deeply and madly committed to bringing about positive change regardless of their gender, race, religion, ethnicity or socio-economic status. The entrepreneurship/start-ups scene is currently experiencing a boom and Ashoka is seeking the leading social entrepreneurs; Ashoka reserves the standard of choosing the leading social entrepreneurs that are characterized by their daring approaches in initiating unconventional methods towards solving social problems. Our definition of leading social entrepreneurs are those talented individuals who innovatively tackle social problems from their root causes, rather than deal with their symptoms, hence creating a real system change while tackling all system stakeholders and influencers; in other words, people who change the rules of the game.

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive as the Search and Selection team is what are the criteria we use to evaluate the endeavors of social entrepreneurs who want to join the Ashoka Fellowship? The first thing our eyes are drawn to is whether or not the idea is ‘new’. Is the idea tackling the social issue in a way that has never been done before in the Arab region, is it tackling it from a different angle, or is it just a repetition of previous efforts that aimed to solve the same issue in the region? We keep in mind that solving problems in the same way humanity has been using for decades and centuries will only produce the same undesirable results. When Marwa El Daly was elected as an Ashoka Fellow, her new idea was evident in her new approach to sustainable development through reviving and modernizing the traditional model of giving and local resource mobilization known as the Waqf Model.

ImageOur critical evaluation of the idea, after ensuring that it is in fact new, is that it is reaching out to solve a problem from its roots, tapping into existing systems to make them work. Looking to Ashoka Fellow Hisham Kharma, one can really see how his approach to the blood donation problem in Egypt is completely revolutionizing the system by addressing the very root causes of the problem. Rather than joining the numerous efforts aiming to encourage blood donation, or spending all of his effort in finding existing blood shortages, he pioneered the first effort to unify previously scattered and distrusted actors under one umbrella, connecting blood donors with recipients, aggregating all blood donation initiatives in one place, and mapping out areas of the country where there is availability or shortage of blood. He finally founded a centralized matching system that before him was non-existent and was limited only to scattered initiatives.

Fairouz Omar demonstrates the significant social impact achieved, which is another criterion necessary for the Ashoka Fellowship that ensures that the idea has been implemented on the ground and is proven to work with real results. At the time of her election in 2009, Fairouz’s model of the professional psychological counseling system for teenagers in Egyptian government schools covered Helwan governorate’s 60 government schools, and rehabilitated and trained all 95 counselors recruited by the Ministry of Education there. In this way, Fairouz penetrated and changed systems rather than establishing parallel ones.

Complementing the aforementioned criteria is the creativity of the idea itself, the entrepreneurial quality of the candidate, and their ethical fiber.

Our process is thorough and the criteria are very specific, all to serve our purpose of identifying the real leading changemakers of the Arab World. Upon achieving Fellowship, Ashoka offers our Fellows lifetime support and engagement, empowering them to have deeper social impact and wider scale reach. We always renew our motivation and remember the drive for what we are doing by looking at the map of the Arab World and seeing our gems, social entrepreneurs, spanning it, working around the clock and finding solutions for social challenges in all sectors of health, education, income generation and job creation, disabilities, human rights, environment, information communications and technology among others.

ImageAshoka Fellows in the Arab World range from people working on government  accountability and fighting corruption via civic engagement in Morocco,  and in Egypt our Fellows are empowering local people to establish alternative sewerage systems, building social capital to manage local disputes instead of waiting for court systems, unleashing children’s creativity in education, changing cultural norms and fighting stigmas against the marginalized, disadvantaged and HIV patients and fighting sexual harassment and abuse. In the Levant region within the Arab World you can find our Fellows spreading a culture of volunteerism, engraining tolerance and acceptance for diversity within their communities by gathering people around their commonalities, breeding a new generation of Arab leaders through establishing egalitarian systems. The gulf also contributes Fellows that empower women, both politically and economically, offer a healthier life for people through sports and others finding new systems for dealing with refugees.

At the end of the day, as the search and selection team, we go home with fascination and intrigue knowing that we have succeeded in finding these hidden gems and that Ashoka, along with its search process, will always continue to identify and empower them!


Help us find a hidden gem in your local area, city or region!

Do you know a Social Entrepreneur? Then, join our Nominators Network. Your insight is important for us! Send an e-mail for inquiries or details:



Search and Selection of Ashoka Fellows Team:           

Rana El-meligy

Nariman Moustafa

Searching for the Hidden Gems Across the Arab World!

Deadline Approaching for “WOMEN POWERING WORK” Competition!!

Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality Online Competition!

Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality Online Competition!

The online competition Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality, launched by General Electric and Ashoka Changemakers, that seeks innovative solutions that will advance economic opportunities for women in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan, is approaching its entry deadline of November 6, 2013.

The competition is calling for initiatives that enable women to achieve economic equality, strengthen their families and communities, and benefit equitably from economic growth. The judges will pick three winning entries which will be awarded US $25,000 in unrestricted funding each.

As the competition is focused on the MENA region, Ashoka Arab World is happy to spread the word and we call on any individuals, organizations or partnerships that aim to improve economic equality for women in the MENA region to enter the competition or for people to nominate any relevant initiatives. Entries will be assessed on the following criteria: Innovation; Social Impact; Sustainability.

Please hurry though, as the deadline for entries is approaching fast; the entry form must be completed in its entirety and submitted by 6 p.m. EST on Wednesday November 6, 2013.

To enter an idea or nominate an individual, organization or partnership you think may be eligible, visit Ashoka Changemakers website, which you can do here:

You will also find all information regarding the competition at this webpage, including more information on eligibility and criteria and how to present your entry in a way that gives it the best possible chance of succeeding.

Good Luck to all you Changemakers out there!

“The Meaning of Change”, by our new AWSIF intern Adrian Noronha

Around a year ago, I experienced a significant shift in my aspirations. As I read literature and articles about the struggles of marginalized women of rural India, and the human-trafficking epidemic in South-Eastern Asia, I was struck profoundly by how fortunate I am to live as comfortably and freely as I do. At the same time, doubts began to manifest in me as I felt that it was horribly unfair how luck had favored me, while the subjects I read about and millions of others continued to live in poverty, and amongst violence and unspeakable misfortune. I decided, perhaps somewhat naively and maybe a bit pompously that I was to change purpose in my life. I decided I wanted to help these people in whatever way I could, but I was at the same time unwilling to give up the comfort of my life. My head began to buzz with questions about how a single person could create legitimate change in the world. What is legitimate change? What defines a changemaker? What constitutes an authentic action of change in a world where the lines between authentic and inauthentic are so blurry? And what is required of the ideal changemaker? Should one spend two weeks building shelters and wells in rural Latin America? Or perhaps two months teaching English to orphans in the slums of India? Or is it handing out food packages in impoverished sub-Saharan Africa that facilitates change? Or, are the real changemakers the policy makers who make decisions on the grand scale? I was very confused and as I investigated further, I learned about many problems that existed in the international development spectrum – there was the sick cycle of foreign aid, the misguided industry of voluntourism, and the ineffective bureaucracies of governments and many international development organizations. I felt defeated and cynical to read about these but I resolved to find out some way in which there could exist authentic systematic change.

Ashoka Logo small

A few months into my first year of university, I was introduced to the idea of social entrepreneurship in a business class, and I was immediately drawn to it. As a business and economics student, I believed for long that I was destined for a life of financial figures, and market demand projections that meant little to me on a personal level. The work of social entrepreneur pioneers like Bill Drayton (Ashoka) and Muhammed Yunus (Grameen bank), demonstrate that inspired individuals can be some of the most ripe, idealistic and effective changemakers with the right ideas and experiences.

The name Ashoka came up a few times throughout my first year but it was not until I read a book on women’s empowerment, “Half the Sky” in which Ashoka is mentioned often on its work empowering social entrepreneurs, that I became more familiar with Ashoka and the rapidly growing movement of social entrepreneurship.

Ashoka’s theory of change and social entrepreneurship present a radical outlook on solving world problems. Social entrepreneurship reflects how business models and principles but most importantly, innovation can be applied directly to solving serious world problems. Ashoka’s founder Bill Drayton stated that, “social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” The best entrepreneurs disrupt the norms with innovative solutions. The difference with social entrepreneurs is that their disruptive solutions apply not to a market gap but to pressing social problems.

Ashoka refocuses the lens of changemaker onto the individuals in our societies that are disrupting the norms with the most innovative solutions. They are entrepreneurs, adventurous risk-takers who are revolutionizing their respective industries – health, environment, women – with paradigm-shifting ideas.

From my perspective, Ashoka’s theory of change, “Everyone a changemaker,” reflects two ideas. Firstly, that in the ideal world, each and every person must aim for change. And second, that every person, regardless of gender, social class, age, skin-color, religion can create change if they are motivated and empowered.

The motivation to change something, I believe comes from experiences. Perhaps it is the experience of young Craig Kielburger, who read an article in a newspaper about a 12 year old Pakistani boy who had been murdered for his fight against child labour; in his frustration, young Craig wanted to continue the legacy of this boy and he founded “Free the Children,” now an internationally recognized movement against child labour. Or perhaps it is the experience of young Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai who survived being shot by the Taliban because she spoke out about wanting an education; she has now become the voice of every young girl around the world who wants an education and she gave a speech recently at a UN Assembly about the need for action. Or it might be the experience of a woman like Sunitha Krishnan, an Indian Ashoka fellow, who witnessed the shocking sex-trafficking epidemic in her hometown of Bihar, India and founded Apne Aap, a relief centre for sex-trafficking survivors in the region of Hyderabad. Each of these changemakers has experienced a social problem in some capacity and has gained the motivation to pursue a solution to it.

An old conception was that one had to have power and wealth to have influence and to trigger any sort of systematic change. With the emergence of social entrepreneurship, this has been replaced by a new reality. It seems that the ability to make change comes from empowerment. And this is where Ashoka comes in. Ashoka empowers motivated changemakers to make the changes they seek through the recognition of fellows, seed financing, training and education, and collaborative platforms through a global network of changemakers.
Adrian Noronha PhotoAshoka’s vision of change reflects that ideas for change are born to individuals, but can only survive and thrive under collaboration of a community of changemakers. A revolutionary idea for change may begin with a single person but it  is only an idea until it is taken into action by the power of the collective movement. Ashoka’s collaborative platforms connect likeminded changemakers to work on shifting the paradigms in various sectors of development (for example maternal health or women’s empowerment). Successful models are then replicated by social entrepreneurs in other regions that are experiencing similar issues. Armies of social entrepreneurs are thus created, working towards common goals. The women’s suffrage movement in the United States of the 20th century was successful because of the support it had from a veritable army of women with revolutionary ideas about their rights. Ideas are powerful, but so are numbers.

A single stone hitting a pool of still water will create only a few ripples. But throw several stones into the water, and the ripples will multiply, weave together and after a few moments, the entire pool is in a disquiet motion. To me, Ashoka is the hand that throws these stones into the still water, enabling these ripples to be created, multiplied and connected.

Entering into my first week as an AWSIF intern at Ashoka Arab World, I remain curious and very open-minded to the concept of changemaking. I chose to work for Ashoka because it represented an organization that is not only reputable, but presents a very unique model of what change can be. As well, I wanted very much to learn about the strange and mysterious world of social entrepreneurship. Particularly in the Arab World, Ashoka focuses a great deal on the empowerment and equality of women, an area I am very interested in investigating.

It is my belief that if we were to eliminate the rigid bureaucracies of many aid and development organizations such as the UN and if we would instead employ the revolutionary ideas of social entrepreneurs and if governments shifted the focus from the intervention of military armies fighting people to the intervention of armies of social entrepreneurs fighting problems, we would trigger a new and far more effective wave of development.

I’m hoping that the next six weeks I spend at Ashoka Arab World will provide me deeper insight in what it means to create change. And I hope that by talking with existing changemakers connected with Ashoka, and by working within the domain of social entrepreneurship, I will learn and understand more concretely what I will have to do to become a changemaker myself.

Ashoka Arab World Launches the Ashoka Innovation Network for Young Professionals

On October 12th, 2010, Ashoka Arab World launched the Ashoka Innovation Network (AIN) in Cairo, Egypt.  AIN is the first forum designed specifically for young professionals in Egypt with an interest in social entrepreneurship to network, meet like-minded individuals from different sectors, and learn about the latest trends and initiatives in social entrepreneurship.  The 30 guests in attendance were strategically invited based on their professional background, as event organizers wanted to have a wide range of professional expertise represented.

The theme of the first AIN event was “bridging the gap,” between the public and corporate sectors to affect social change.  To highlight this theme, Ashoka Fellow, Raghda El Ebrashi, shared her story on how she is creating employment for marginalized youth through a market-based sustainable model.  She caters to business sector needs and market needs thus bridging the gap between the social sector and the business sector and professionalizing the citizen sector. Her model has as its workforce volunteer university students from the student clubs affiliated with Alashanek Ya Balady (AYB), her CSO. 

Raghda El Ebrashi speaks to young professionals at Cilantro during the innagural event of the Ashoka Innovation Network

 The event was perhaps most unique in the sense that it featured both informal and formal networking sessions.  After the initial meet and greet mingling period, AIN participants were divided into four “networking groups” that were facilitated by an AIN volunteers.  Participants were asked three questions whose answers spurred conversation about the importance of social entrepreneurship, and its relevance in solving many of the world’s social challenges.  The questions were also meant to provide a relaxed and informal way for participants to get to get to know one other.  

AIN will also offer opportunities for young Egyptians to volunteer directly with Ashoka Arab World Fellows, helping in their CSO, or offering consulting and mentoring services.   Mr. Sherif Hussein Yehia who works at HSBC and is the AIN volunteer coordinator said, “AIN provides me with the platform to meet other young people who are interested in getting involved with Ashoka and social entrepreneurship.  We have unique access to the Ashoka Arab World network and can use our skills to get involved with causes we care about deeply.”

Stay tuned for more updates from the event last night, including interviews with guests and information about upcoming AIN events.

The Story of Ashoka

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So, you might ask yourself from time to time, “What is it that Ashoka does, exactly?” or “Where did this CrAzy idea come from?” or “Social Entrepreneurship, that’s far too many syllables!” Well, take a look at “The Story of Ashoka.” It’s a catchy little video that does a great job of explaining what it is that we do here at Ashoka Arab World and across the globe. Enjoy!