Asheem Singh: millennials are mobilising for change

The world of business is shifting, according to Asheem Singh. The ex-CEO of Acevo, international activist and social entrepreneur sees a global generation of young impresarios who are mobilising towards a more ethical future. Pioneers Post spoke to him about this exciting new movement which he explores in his latest book, ‘The Moral Marketplace: How Mission-Driven Individuals and Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing The World’.


Asheem Singh, author of 'The Moral Marketplace'


So what is the ‘moral marketplace’, and why did you decide to write about it?

It’s a global movement of people doing good in the world around us. It begins with social entrepreneurship and social enterprise, but it also encompasses charities setting up their own social enterprise projects, government officials working innovatively, and companies acting for positive impact.

Employees of Vodafone are bringing money to the unbanked people right across Africa and the world; the mayor of Fukuoka transformed his city into a social enterprise city; hashtag activism is changing social attitudes. These are all these different manifestations of the movement, and at the core of this is an empowered generation of mission-driven millennials, acting as the torch bearers of change.


Why do you think it’s taken off with the millennial generation in particular?

People have always used the systems and tools of their time to change their situation and deliver justice. The generation before us did it through charities, and the post-war generation made huge progressions through the NHS. Now, millenials are saying, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ They’re doing it from the ground up, using the tools they’ve got and sharing it on social media, creating local hubs and getting behind sustainability and availability.


How do you think social entrepreneurs are changing the world?

How aren’t they changing our world? Seventy per cent of millennials would now prefer to buy ethical products, creating a huge change in consumption. Grassroots movements are changing how we interact with politics and the media, while there are social entrepreneurs like Laura Bates, who through her blog has become an incredible voice for changing the way men and women interact with each other. Bloggers and hashtaggers might not call themselves social entrepreneurs, but it goes to the heart of our collective psyche as a species. The parameters around how this generation achieves good are being redrawn; individual conversations have a huge power to spark wider change.


Are there any barriers to this movement translating into legislation and policy change?

Individual campaigns each have their own momentum and lifespan. Sometimes, it’s luck. Sometimes, an entire change in government is required for change to happen. I was part of Acevo until 2017, which lobbied against charities’ prohibited access to advocacy funds – we faced barrier after barrier, and it was only quashed when the government changed due to the EU referendum.

As a whole, there’s a real problem with the way the government views social enterprise as a ‘nice to have’. Politicians see it as a way of greenwashing their worst excesses without taking it seriously. As long as that attitude persists, we’re not going to get what we want out of government.

...there’s a real problem with the way the government views social enterprise as a ‘nice to have’

We have a huge public services infrastructure in the UK that has been pillaged by the private sector. What could be better than putting companies that have social value in charge of public services? Yet the government continually fails to take notice.


Was this underneath the burning desire to write the book?

I am interested in political change, but there was an even bigger reason for me to write the book. I meet so many young people who are still studying or in their first job and thinking, ‘There must be more to life.’ This book aims to be a primer for anyone interested to get a global sense of what they’re buying into when they say they are a social entrepreneur.

I also wanted to inspire and give practical information about what is possible. I’ve met people who dropped out of incredible college degrees to set up tech firms based on their science project at school. I’ve seen people who have lived in a particular neighbourhood and wanted to help out, have joined accelerator programmes, built their confidence and done amazing things. This needs to be shared more.


Could you share a favourite case study from the book?

I met a brilliant man in India called Vinod Kapur who was a poultry farmer and breeder. He came to realise that in some of the poorest villages in India, women were treated very badly and cut off from society because they had no economic independence. Animals couldn’t actually live in the villages because they were too remote. There were not enough services, and the harsh environments meant livestock couldn’t survive.

Over about 20 years, he bred a chicken that could. This chicken is huge, the size of a teen labrador – and it’s hideous. It can scare away jackals and snakes. His outreach workers started selling its eggs or chicks to rear, and the whole culture began to improve. The women who own these birds suddenly have independent income, and a huge gain in power and self esteem as a result. It’s a huge success story, having reached over a billion households, and it has expanded to Uganda too.


How do you think businesses as a whole are shifting?

One of the most interesting things for me is how technology is helping people come to terms with where their products are coming from. Often you have a sustainable coffee, t-shirt or bag, but you don’t know for sure how it’s sustainable. There are companies evolving which use blockchain to track how your product gets to you. As those kinds of technologies become more widespread, big companies will need to provide ethical options, and tell the truth about it. We will definitely see a rise of consumer movements calling out those who don’t.


What are your personal goals for 2018?

Writing the book is a start, but I want to keep growing excitement about this movement as a whole. I also run a social enterprise myself called GOtilo which highlights places around the city where you can have a great time and a positive impact the world around you. Otherwise, I’m just enjoying what 2018 has to offer. These are divisive times, but I’m seeing the best of human nature. It’s difficult to be despondent when there are so many creative people doing amazing things around you. It gives you hope.


Moral Markets by Ash Singh

Asheem Singh’s book, The Moral Marketplace: How mission-driven millennials and social entrepreneurs are changing our world, is available to Pioneers Post readers with a 30% discount. Use the code POPOST18 here.






Header photo: Vlad Tchompalov