Q&A with Ashoka’s Maria Escorcia: Boosting entrepreneurship for social change

Summary

Changemakers can come from anywhere, including the corporate world. Just look at Maria Escorcia, director of the South Florida chapter of Ashoka, a nonprofit that supports a network of 3,000 social entrepreneurs around the world.

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Escorcia spent six years managing a corporate social responsibility program for a large Colombian multinational corporation. During her first three years, she was based in Bogotá and was responsible for the company’s community relations and implementing social impact projects where the company operated. She designed and led a project that aimed to eradicate child labor in rural mining areas, for instance. As a result, she was invited to participate as one of the first private sector representatives in the government-led Colombian Forum of Child Labor Eradication.

During the company’s expansion in Latin America, she was offered the opportunity to create a corporate foundation in the newly acquired plant in Cabaret, Haiti.

“I arrived to the island in January 2009 and stayed until late 2011, which gave me a glimpse of the country before, during and after the 2010 earthquake. The foundation I established in early 2009 played an active role in the relief and reconstruction efforts after the earthquake,” she said.

After that, Escorcia learned about Ashoka while working on her master’s degree in international development at the University of Pittsburgh. Ashoka’s founder and CEO, Bill Drayton, was receiving an award and gave a keynote speech.

“Up to that point, most of my professional experience had been managing corporate social responsibility programs for large private companies, and Ashoka’s model of supporting social entrepreneurs seemed like a great next step for advancing my efforts of creating social change,” Escorcia said. “I felt inspired when I learned about an organization whose mission is to build a world where we all have the freedom, confidence and support to solve problems and make a contribution to the common good.”

She joined the organization in 2013 working for the Miami office, and took over as director in June when the chapter’s founding leader, Lorena Garcia Duran, moved on to an Ashoka leadership position in Los Angeles. The South Florida office is relatively new, established in early 2012, but actively seeks to broaden its network of entrepreneurs and mentors, produces programs for youth and is works with local universities to establish “Changemaker Campuses,” among other projects.

Escorcia recently discussed Ashoka South Florida’s programs with the Miami Herald for this Q&A.

1. You have an interesting background working for corporations and spending a large chunk of time in Haiti. What does that experience bring to the table in your role heading Ashoka South Florida?

I learned valuable lessons of what works best when managing organizations that create social change. I left the private sector reassured to see that a number of corporations understand their responsibility extends beyond their shareholders to the community at large. My corporate experience afforded me the opportunity to create change in the board room and on the ground working hand in hand with disadvantaged communities.

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2. What is the mission of Ashoka Youth Venture?

Youth Venture is part of Ashoka’s vision of an Everyone A Changemaker™ world. The mission of Youth Venture is to cultivate an environment that values and supports young people in their path to becoming Changemakers. We accomplish this goal by investing in young people and giving them the transformative experience of launching and leading their own social ventures. We hope that by creating a critical mass of young people, they will collective influence other youth and inspire them to take initiative to make a positive contribution to their community and society. (click here to learn more).

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 3. How and why was the Ashoka Support Network formed?

The Ashoka Support Network (ASN) is a global community of entrepreneurial business leaders who contribute their time, resources, networks and influence to Ashoka’s mission. The ASN offers its members the unique opportunity to contribute to social change by supporting Ashoka and its fellows with strategic advice, fresh perspectives, access to new markets and networks and much more.

The network was founded 10 years ago in Paris on the understanding that the business sector could play a key support role in a Changemaker revolution. From there, ASN quickly expanded across Europe. In 2009, the concept was brought to the United States, led by the Ashoka Miami team who saw the potential for building an ASN within the local community. The idea resonated among the business community in Miami. Currently, the network is comprised of 16 active and enthusiastic members.

In the future, we envision having thousands of entrepreneurial business leaders participating in ASN, which will serve to quickly and effectively help advance and scale the solutions of Ashoka fellows. Today, there is no other network in the United States that serves to connect entrepreneurial business talent with leading social entrepreneurs.

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4. How would you characterize the social entrepreneurial movement in South Florida, and how do you think it meshes with the tech entrepreneurial community that is developing here?

Rising, expanding and pulsing with activity. The social entrepreneurial movement is growing in tandem with the larger entrepreneurial movement which is grounded in technology. The explosion of the tech scene in South Florida has challenged people to create and build, and this has naturally extended to the social arena. Many young entrepreneurs care about the social and environmental impact of their ventures and are including the triple bottom line as part of their business model. We are excited to see this movement develop and the amazing innovative solutions the community will give us.

5. Why should investors invest in social entrepreneurs?

We are constantly searching for investors that invest capital with the intention of achieving not only a positive financial return on investment but also a social and environmental return. In certain parts of the world impact investing has grown exponentially and is driving social change.

The Ashoka South Florida office is leading the effort to identify socially-minded investors in the region and connect them with Ashoka Fellows. We are committed to making South Florida a leader in achieving sustainable social change by bridging the gap between impact investors and the social entrepreneurs in our network. After all, it’s hard to get a stronger social impact return than from an investment in a social entrepreneur.

See the original article on Miami Herald

Photo @ Richard Cavalleri