Established in 1980, Ashoka is a global network of social entrepreneurs and changemakers who lead effective positive change in the world. In 2022, a collaboration with The Leica Meet, the largest community of Leica photographers on Facebook, produced nine different stories focusing on, so-called, changemakers around the world. Whether dealing with sustainable supermarkets in Argentina, inclusive football teams in Italy, or images of Ukrainian refugees in Germany, this collaboration reveals very clearly, that any individual can be a changemaker. We spoke with Maira Cabrini (Ashoka Europe Communications Co-Lead) and Olaf Willoughby (co-founder of The Leica Meet) about this collaboration and its aims.
Ms. Cabrini, what does Ashoka stand for, and what are the goals of the organisation?
Maira Cabrini: Ashoka is a non-profit organisation that has pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship, based on the idea that the most powerful force is a social entrepreneur: a person driven by a new idea that can help solve serious social problems. We look for, select and support these social entrepreneurs, and invite them to be part of our global Fellowship — we call them Ashoka Fellows. Most importantly, Ashoka Fellows don’t only drive deep systemic change through their projects, they accelerate this change by activating others as changemakers and solution-providers as well.
What tasks and issues does Ashoka deal with?
We have spent over forty years supporting Ashoka Fellows as they shape the world for the better, counting on a community of 3700 people in 97 countries. Over time, we have seen a common denominator among them: their ability to empower others to be active contributors and make change; to become changemakers.
What does it mean to be a changemaker and how can you become a changemaker?
A changemaker is someone who imagines a new reality, takes action and collaborates with others to make that reality happen for the good of others. These are skills that anyone can practice and master. That’s our wish and vision for the future.
Mr. Willoughby, what is the main characteristic of The Leica Meet?
Olaf Willoughby: We are a group of enthusiast and professional photographers who shoot with Leica equipment. Our main characteristic is that we are serious about the quality of our work, take great joy in capturing the world around us, and in sharing the images with like-minded people.
How did the collaboration with Ashoka come about?
The collaboration came about when Karin Kaufmann (Art Director and Chief Representative Leica Galleries international) called me to talk through the project, and to ask if The Leica Meet would be happy to take part. And, of course, we were happy to support worthwhile causes.
How did you select the photographers for the project?
We advertised in our FB group for photographers who might be available to shoot each of the projects, and then conducted briefing sessions with each one. We also stayed in touch regarding logistics, and reviewed the final quality of the work.
Were there visual specifications/guidelines for the photographers or did they have free choice in shaping their work?
As you would expect, there was a full brief given to each photographer attended by myself, Daniela Herneth, (Ashoka Project Manager) and Ashoka people from each country. The essence of the brief was to capture changemaking and changemakers. This is deceptively hard. Particularly where we were photographing abstract concepts… for example, a colour blindness graphic sign language in Porto, Portugal.
Do you have personal favourites?
Photographically no; but, from among the Ashoka projects, I really liked the Italian assignment. Ashoka helped bring a community together through children’s football. They lived outside Rome in a huge ‘abandoned’ apartment block.
What is your overall impression of the results?
Overall I’m pleased; especially given the circumstances that most of the photographers were enthusiasts, giving their private time to shoot for a few days during the middle of the Covid pandemic, which effected both ourselves and the Ashoka staff in many cases. It was difficult in several cases to replace people who were unwell and where the timings had to change.
Further information about the project, and the complete gallery of photos, can be found on the page of Ashoka.org.
Information about membership in The Leica Meet can be found at theleicameet.com.