[Skip to Content]

Bill Drayton

Founder & CEO, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public

Bill Drayton

Founder and CEO of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, Bill Drayton has been a social entrepreneur since his childhood spent in New York City. Empowered by his parent’s own change making journeys, Mr. Drayton began his entrepreneurial endeavors in elementary school; starting and successfully running a student newspaper. Bill continued to create and innovate throughout high school where he built the Asia Society into the largest student organization and was an active member of the NAACP. During his time as a student at Harvard, Balliol College in Oxford University and Yale Law School, he launched a number of organizations, including Harvard’s Ashoka Table, an interdisciplinary weekly forum in the social sciences, and Yale Legislative Services. In 1970, he graduated from Yale Law School and began his career at McKinsey and Company in New York. From 1977 to 1981, Mr. Drayton served as Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he launched emissions trading (the basis of the Kyoto Protocol) and had lead responsibility for policy, budget, management, audit, and representing the environment in administration-wide policy development. From 19811985, while working part-time at McKinsey and Company, he founded both Ashoka and Save EPA, the predecessor to Environmental Safety. With the support that he received when elected a MacArthur Fellow in 1984, he was able to devote himself fully to Ashoka. In addition to his current role as Chairman and CEO of Ashoka, Mr. Drayton is the chair of Youth Venture, Community Greens, and Get America Working!

Mr. Drayton’s innovative thinking, dedication to the field of social entrepreneurship and widely felt impact have garnered him numerous awards, honors and praise from his peers. The American Society of Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration jointly awarded him their National Public Service Award. In 2005, US News & World Report and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership elected Bill Drayton as one of America’s Best Leaders. In 2006, Mr. Drayton was inducted into Harvard University’s 100 “Most Influential Alumni.” In 2007, he received the Duke University Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship’s (CASE) Leadership in Social Entrepreneurship Award, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s 2007 Honorary Fellow Award, and the Goi Peace Foundation’s Peace Award. In 2008, Drayton was named a “visionary” as one of Utne Reader magazine’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World” which was complimented by his also receiving the NYU Stern: Social Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, Mr. Drayton was named Honorary Fellow from Oxford’s Balliol College and awarded an honorary degree, Doctorate of Humane Letters, from Yale University. In 2010, Bill received an Honorary Doctorate from NYU and the Essl Social Prize, for his work building the field of social entrepreneurship. In 2011, Drayton won Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias awards for international cooperation for his work promoting entrepreneurs. The prize foundation described him as a "driving force behind the figure of social entrepreneurs, men and women who undertake innovative initiatives for the common good."  

Most recently, Mr. Drayton received the Harvard Kennedy School's prestigious Richard E. Neustadt 2012 Award for Public Policy. The Neustadt Award is presented annually to a key social innovator whose work draws upon research and intellectual ideas in order to develop solutions to public problems. Mr. Drayton was honored by the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal receiving their 2012 Lifetime Achievement Compassion Award and by Social Venture Network joining the 2012 Hall of Fame, as Visionary Social Entrepreneur.  

Summit Sessions

Impact Investment