Visionaries: Bill Drayton
1st April 2009
Bill Drayton is a slight, eager man who straddles worlds. He knows his stuff, having graduated from Harvard, Oxford and Yale, and has a theory of everything.
Or at least what counts. It goes as follows: the Industrial Revolution divided the western world in two. Industry leaped ahead, driven by the culture of competition written into its capitalist DNA and the new-found power of the furnaces themselves. Left in the starting blocks, society taxed the new wealth created by business to pay for its roads, hospitals and schools. Because the money was drip-fed in, the social sector had little need for competition and instead allowed itself to become sedate.
There were exceptions. In the late 19th century emerged a number of what Drayton calls social entrepreneurs, individuals who harnessed the self-starting, competitive charge of businessmen to do good. He suggests Florence Nightingale. Robert Owen, founder of the co-operative movement, is another. But they were few and far between.
Drayton decided to change this, and his inspiration was those most fiercely driven beasts of the 1980s corporate world: venture capitalists, Masters of the Universe who would pour money into a small company with big ideas and help it grow in order to reap a profit.
In 1980 Drayton founded Ashoka, named after a third-century Indian leader. With a $50,000 budget, it used the...
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