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Helping Social Entrepreneurs Create Lasting Change

Diana Wells ’88

Soon after her Brown graduation, Diana Wells found her way to a life-changing internship at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, which in many ways parallels Brown – giving people the opportunity to create their own paths, the confidence to be changemakers, and the resources to pursue their dreams.

Today, Wells serves as the president of Ashoka, an organization that helped shape the global development of social entrepreneurship and continues to support people around the globe who are building transformative social change.

Growing up in a small town in Connecticut, Wells was often curious about the wider world. As a student, she wanted to learn every language that her school offered—and then some.

When it came time for her to tour colleges, she had never even heard of Brown. But after an impromptu meeting with a Brown admissions officer during a trip to Providence, Diana knew she had found her home for the next four years. “The interviewer really wanted to know about me. My interests and how I grew up mattered! That, paired with the open curriculum, was the piece that really made me feel in charge of my learning and my experience here.”

That open curriculum allowed Wells to study the Hindi language, which eventually led her to design an independent concentration in South Asian studies. She spent her junior year abroad in India—something she says still surprises people to this day.

On Brown’s Influence:

“I credit Brown in many ways for giving me the confidence to pursue what it is that I wanted to. It’s a brilliant recipe…Brown’s reputation as being an innovative place comes directly from the ability for people to work across vastly different disciplines and make connections without being so narrowly channeled early on.”

After she returned to Brown campus for her senior year, Wells knew that she wanted to stay connected to India, though opportunities were hard to find. Luckily, not long after graduation she heard a radio spot about an organization called Ashoka that was working in India, Indonesia, and Mexico to support individuals who had ideas to transform their societies. She pulled the car over, took a few notes, and started on a path that would change her life. “I quit my summer job, borrowed my mother’s car, and started my internship at Ashoka, sleeping on a friend’s couch. The rest is history!"

When Wells began her internship, Ashoka focused mainly on identifying and providing financial support (fellowships) to individuals who were changing their societies from within. Wells’ charge was to determine what kinds of non-financial support might best help the fellows succeed. Much as venture capitalists supply new business entrepreneurs with advice and mentorship – human capital – along with their funding, Wells found that connecting the fellows to one another in a network of peer support was the most powerful boost Ashoka could give its social entrepreneurs. This rich exchange of insight and experience has also given Ashoka a deeper understanding of the fellows’ impact on their communities – and on how to encourage changemaking more broadly.

On Leading Ashoka:

“Leading Ashoka is a unique privilege in that allows me to see the world through a lens of solutions rather than problems.”

Due in no small part to Wells’ contributions, Ashoka’s mission has grown from supporting individuals who are already creating change to building a world where everyone can make a difference. “We are trying to build a global movement and a very different kind of institution,” says Wells, “one that deliberately gives people the ability to entrepreneur within and for everyone to be a changemaker.”

Final Words for Students:

“Hold what Brown has given us the privilege to explore as part of your career path going forward.”

On October 26, 2012, Diana Wells received the Brown Alumni Association’s William Rogers Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a Brown graduate who exemplifies the University's mission to prepare alumni, in the words of the Brown charter, for lives of “usefulness and reputation."