Top Social Entrepreneurship Fellowships

Social entrepreneurship refers to the practice of combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity to address critical social and environmental challenges.

The focus is on transforming systems and practices that are the root causes of poverty, marginalization, environmental degradation and accompanying loss of human dignity.  In so doing, entrepreneurs may set up for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, and in either case, the primary objective is to create sustainable change.

A few examples of social entrepreneurs and their systems-changing solutions include Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank which spearheaded microfinance globally, Carlo Petrini’s “slow food movement” which is committed to rescuing cultural traditions and the preserving of biodiversity, and Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America which transforms educational opportunities for low income groups whilst recruiting top university students to work in America’s worst performing public schools.

Not everyone should be a social entrepreneur but those who are, or want to be one need all the support they can get. Some business schools have fellowships for social entrepreneurs or offer modules on social entrepreneurship but for those who don’t want to get an MBA or have the chance to, fellowships can provide you with quality mentorship, and a launch-pad for aspiring social enterprise practitioners.

Different fellowship programmes are also suited to different types and stages of enterprise. Here are some of the best ones we’ve come across.…

Ashoka Fellows are leading social entrepreneurs who recognize innovative solutions to social problems and have the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate unrivalled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity, and collaboration are tremendous forces for change. Ashoka Fellows work in over 70 countries around the globe in every area of human need. Ashoka has several fellowship programmes that you can apply for including the Ashoka Fellows Program, Ashoka Social Investment Entrepreneur Fellows, Ashoka Invention and Technology Fellows Program, and the Ashoka News & Knowledge Fellows.

Unreasonable Institute Fellows exist to create a world in which no one is limited by their circumstances by unlocking entrepreneurial potential to overcome our world’s greatest challenges. The institute works tirelessly to get world-changing ventures and entrepreneurs the resources they need to scale their social and environmental impact. This year, the institute will only accept applications from for-profit ventures. The institute does not accept ventures that are in the idea stage. They look for ventures that are looking to scale in the very near future, who are significantly past their pilot or prototype stage. They want the ventures that they work with in 2013 to have significant market validation for their venture in the form of sales revenue.

MicroEmpowering Social Innovation Fellowship Program provides  a unique opportunity to travel to the region where their empowering projects are implemented (in the United States and abroad). Fellows are given an opportunity to learn more about sustainable development, work with a practitioner at the micro level and gain field experience in project management!


Rainer Arnhold Fellows are people with good ideas about change in the places that need change the most. The program gives them a chance to design for impact that can go big. The Fellows course brings Fellows and faculty together for a week to work on design for maximum impact and scalability. Held in a mountain nature preserve, the course gives Fellows the rare opportunity to focus completely on their ideas and a systematic way to apply them.

REDF Farber Fellowships Program offers MBAs a unique opportunity to use their business and management skills within a social enterprise. REDF offers full-year Farber Fellowships within REDF’s portfolio of social enterprises. Farber Fellows are hired on a rolling basis, based upon the human capital needs of REDF Portfolio enterprises. Once hired, each Farber Fellow is considered an employee of the REDF Portfolio non-profit organization for the duration of the year-long fellowship.

The TED Fellows program is designed to bring together young world-changers and trailblazers who have shown unusual accomplishment and exceptional courage. The program targets individuals from the Asia/Pacific region, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East, though anyone from anywhere in the world, age 18 and over, is welcome to apply.

Acumen Fund is a social venture capital fund; in other words the fund invests seed capital in businesses dedicated to improving life for those at the base of the economic pyramid. It has different fellowships including:

The Global Fellows Program, a full-time one-year fellowship focused on leadership development and operational experience. Fellows come from all over the world undergo two months of leadership training in New York and are then placed in one of Acumen Fund’s global investments for nine months.

The East Africa Fellows Programme, sponsored by the KCB Foundation & the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, is a one-year fellowship focused on leadership development and entrepreneurship training for members of the East African Community. Over the course of the year, Fellows remain in their jobs, and participate in a series of seminars, a regional trip, and an innovation conference.

The Echoing Green Fellowship program has provided more than $2 million in seed funding to a diverse group of the world’s most promising social entrepreneurs. Echoing Green’s central program is their premier two-year Fellowship, which provides seed funding to a diverse group of emerging social entrepreneurs. From thousands of applicants, typically fewer than one per cent are ultimately selected to receive up to $90,000 in seed support to launch new organizations.

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