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The Makings of a Social Innovator

In its selection of Fellows, Ashoka measures social entrepreneurs against five essential criteria.

1. Is there a new idea?

If there isn't, the rest doesn't matter. If it's new, is the idea going to fly? And will it be big enough to truly change society?

2. Is this person creative?

What is the quality of thinking? What is the history of her creativity? Experiences early in life are the best indicators.

3. Is this person an entrepreneur?

True social innovators need to change a pattern across society. They are drawn to problems, constantly searching for the next advance.

4. What's the impact? Will it spread?

Most entrepreneurs can easily seed their idea in one place. It's another thing to come up with a solution that will get traction elsewhere.

5. Is there ethical fiber?

To be effective, leaders have to be on the up and up. They must change relationships — and that won't happen if there's no trust.

A version of this article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.