Founder: Bill Drayton
When: 1980 in Washington, D.C.
Bright Idea: Developed the concept of "social entrepreneurship" or investing in social change like a business and demanding measurable results. The program supports ambitious advocates not just with funding but also with a network of fellow do-gooders to call on for help as the entrepreneurs transform their initial work into large-scale movements.
Impact: Ashoka has funded almost 2,000 fellows in 70 countries over the past 26 years. The organization offers living stipends to people with proven, early-stage ventures they wish to expand. Muhammad Yunus, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his microfinance work, is just one of the established activists who serve as part of the Ashoka network offering guidance to others. Ashoka initially emphasized Third World projects, but in 2000 it expanded to the U.S.
The Next Wave: In addition to notable Ashoka fellows, the group has inspired a whole new generation of philanthropists who are seeking out and funding social entrepreneurs in a variety of fields.
The Skoll Foundation: Founded in 1999 by Jeff Skoll, eBay's first president, it provides three years of funding for social entrepreneurs to expand proven projects and connect them through its annual conference and its website, socialedge.org.
Omidyar Network: Established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, the group supports for-profit and nonprofit endeavors that give power to individuals. Its ventures range from an online community for patients to a mobile-phone-based marketplace.
Echoing Green: Since 1987, Echoing Green has supported young activists by investing in their ideas and connecting them to each other. It has awarded $25 million in grants to nearly 450 social entrepreneurs, who receive two-year fellowships.
New Profit: Venture philanthropy-inspired by venture capital's focus on high-stakes, high-impact projects such as KIPP, whose five-year plan will double its number of schools-gives multiyear support to a wide variety of groups. New Profit's blind fund lets individuals pool their resources and spread their risk by investing in tightly screened organizations.
Draper Richards Foundation: This group gives funding, business mentoring and fellowships to early-stage social entrepreneurs as they begin their organizations. Grantees tackle issues from AIDS education in Africa to music in U.S. public schools.
by Jeremy Caplan and Kristina Dell