Social Entrepreneur Bill Drayton ’61 Receives Fuess Award

Bill Drayton ’61 received the Claude Moore Fuess Award, Phillips Academy’s highest honor, yesterday at All-School Meeting. Barbara Chase, Head of School, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “The Fuess Award…was created to recognize public service. Over the years, we have honored many who have served their communities in diverse and interesting ways.” Chase said she decided to give Drayton the award because of his “tremendous impact on solving human problems, especially in the developing world, through his organization, Ashoka.” Chase and Celia Lewis ’10, a Managing Editor of The Phillipian, presented Drayton with the award before he addressed the PA community. In 1980, Drayton founded the Ashoka Foundation, an institution for supporting a network of social entrepreneurs to improve society. According to the Ashoka website, social entrepreneurs are ambitious and persistent people with “innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems.” Drayton said that he unofficially formed the basis of Ashoka during his time at Andover. “[Ashoka] started right here, [with my] understanding that Asia is two-thirds of the world, being interested, building the Asia society, learning more, [and] going to India,” he said. Drayton said that since students oftentimes do not have much power, it is important for them to use the most effective tools possible to make change. “That’s where Ashoka comes from,” he said. “Because what’s the most powerful force in the world? It’s the big new idea, a real idea, but only if it’s in the hands of an entrepreneur.” Ashoka has more than 2,500 Fellows in over 70 countries around the world. According to Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School, Rajesh Mundra, Instructor in Biology, and other members of the faculty originally brought Drayton to Chase’s attention. Jeton said, “Mrs. Chase wrote to [Drayton in the] fall of 2008, where she basically expressed her admiration for what he did and how proud the academy was that he’s an alum.” Jeton said that Chase offered Drayton the Fuess Award in the letter, and he accepted. She added that it was difficult to find a suitable date for both Chase and Drayton to be at Andover. “It was really hard to pin him down for a date because he’s so busy, and the reason we got him now is because he was at a social entrepreneur conference [at Harvard this weekend],” said Jeton. “We had to do it at a time when he could be here and Mrs. Chase could be here, too,” she added, because Chase had to present the award. As Drayton said in his ASM speech, he believed that anyone could make a change. “Think about the Ashoka fellows. They are not astrophysicists. Their ideas are really quite practical and simple. Big, but simple. You could have thought of every one of them,” he said. “The only thing that holds people back is everyone telling them ‘Oh, you can’t do that. Think small, be small.’” He continued, “You’ve really got to take that step, and if you give yourself that permission [to make a change], you can do it. It is so much fun and so powerful.” David Bornstein profiled the Ashoka Foundation in his book “How to Change the World.” According to Bornstein, Drayton had an entrepreneurial mindset starting at a young age because his parents pursued their own dreams. Bornstein wrote that Drayton started his entrepreneurship in the fourth grade when he started a two-page class newspaper and expanded it until it was a thirty-two-paged monthly publication. Drayton described himself as social entrepreneur even during his time at Andover, where he started the Asia Society, joined the NAACP and organized a boycott against segregation at a local convenience store. Drayton further explained how he decided to pursue “change-making.” “I’m not a particularly great prospect for football [or soccer, so that] gets to be limited fun after a while. I really did not like Latin and Math, I couldn’t understand why I was being tortured to memorize these things. I liked starting things and building things,” said Drayton. Drayton said he thinks Andover “is an environment that makes [it] possible [to be] a change-maker.” “This was a place that respected me for me. I had these strange interests and they said ‘Yes, go for it,’” said Drayton. He continued, “That was a huge gift, because when you know you can be a change-maker you’ve then mastered the highest level of self-definition of skills. Andover was really fabulous about [promoting making change.]” Drayton graduated Andover and later studied at Harvard University, Oxford University and Yale University. During the first half of the 1970s, Drayton worked at McKinsey and Company’s public practice. In 1977, Drayton was appointed Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection, where he worked until January of 1981. According to Bornstein, when Drayton heard that the government cut the budget of the EPA after he left, he started an organization called “Save EPA.” Drayton is currently the CEO of Ashoka. Of his job at Ashoka, he said, “My performance agreement with the board is now [I work on] how can we create an irreversible Ashoka institution and movement.” Chase has awarded the Fuess Award to nine other alums since her arrival at the school in 1994.