A chat with the creator of the Hult Prize, Ahmad Ashkar
Bruno Marçal, Karla Wadgymar
The creator of the Hult Prize, Ahmad Ashkar travels the world in search of ideas for social transformation
The year of 2008 was a turning point for Ahmad Ashkar. When the financial crisis shook the American economy, the then Wall Street investor felt lost. Sitting at his office, the son of Palestinian immigrants used to billions of dollars as a result of his professional success realized he needed a new purpose. “The future of businesses and societies lies in social impact,” he affirms, excited and sure of each word.
This restlessness led Ashkar to create the Hult Prize, which is supported by such greats as the former president of the United States Bill Clinton and recognized by TimeMagazine as one of the five initiatives with the most positive impact on the planet. Every year, the Hult International Business School Foundation awards 1 million dollars to the best project created by students – there were over 150,000 subscriptions for the 2018 edition.
“When I started out, I used to say that we could change the world with sustainable businesses helping the poor. Over time, I realized it was a bit harder than I had thought,” he recalls. On a visit to a slum in India, a man told him that his great-grandfather managed to go to school and, for this reason, his daughter would go to university. “The fact that you need five generations to break the poverty cycle is crazy.” He corrected the path: his new objective would be to generate income to make for a quicker rise.
'We withdrew from charity and moved towards entrepreneurship,” says Ashkar. The prizewinner in 2013, the startup Aspire is an example: using insects as an alternative source of protein in places with nutritional deficiency, its market value is around 1 billion dollars. And it’s generating employment. “The new generation is looking for opportunities to use knowledge to do good. But they don’t want to work part-time; they want to make money from it,” he affirms.
He sees great potential in Latin America and spends almost half the year traveling the countries on the continent. He bets on Latino creativity and the entrepreneurship that “is in people’s blood.” “It’s like planting a seed in a place that already has water, suitable insolation, rich soil,” he compares. “I’m mobilizing an army of youngsters to help them feel empowered, make real money, and make the world a better place.” And he adds, “I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of a group of youngsters that want to change the world.”
“I’ve learned to never underestimate a group of youngsters that want to change the world”