This post was originally published on the Ashoka Peace Blog.

At Ashoka we’ve been exploring how we can best contribute to the peacebuilding field, we’ve spoken with a broad spectrum of Ashoka Fellows, other innovators and practitioners, academic institutions, and donors. One of the key questions that arise from these conversations is: What does innovation in peacebuilding look like? Or, how can social entrepreneurship help reduce violence?

Ashoka has always defined the core principles of social entrepreneurship as a focus on innovation and systems-changing impact, not (necessarily) income generation. Ashoka Fellows involved in peacebuilding exemplify this central idea: Bart Weetjens has become world famous through his innovative approach to landmine detection and removal – training African Giant Pouched Rats to detect buried mines. Similarly, Jayne Stoyles is working to position Canada as a leader in the movement for international justice, changing a system where perpetrators of war crimes in one country can find immunity (and, therefore, impunity) in another.

These are a few examples of the 80 or so Ashoka Fellows worldwide who are building new systems to ensure peace through entrepreneurial approaches. Some of the key characteristics of these innovators are:

  1. Like Bart Weetjens, these visionaries believe in the possibility of solutions that do not yet exist – and go on to create them. At their essence, they are endlessly creative individuals, which they need to be because of the range of obstacles they have to overcome to achieve their vision.
  2. Social entrepreneurs focus on changing the rules of the system that is creating the conflict. Like Bill Pace, they don’t ask how to “mitigate” or “alleviate” violence – they ask how to “end” it by changing the system that causes or perpetuates it.
  3. They are in it for the long-haul. All sustainable social change is gradual, and peacebuilding is an especially lengthy process. Embedded in the communities they are trying to change, social entrepreneurs do not think in terms of projects or short-term programs. They are in it for life.
In his excellent book Leading Through Conflict, Mark Gerzon describes the role of the innovator in resolving conflict as that of a 'Mediator'. Unlike the traditional 'Manager', whose approach to problem-solving is defined by the boundaries he chooses to operate in (organizational boundaries, ethnic boundaries, national boundaries), the Mediator is someone who actively crosses boundaries, bridging divides and unleashing collective energy to find solutions. This may be the best definition of the social entrepreneur as peacebuilder.