There are no age, education, class, race, or other such bars to election. Anyone who meets the four criteria is someone Ashoka wants.
Ashoka does make a special effort to reach people from communities that are under-represented in public leadership and the fellowship. Thus, for example, in India we are anxious to find women, harijans, tribals, and other especially disadvantaged segments of the population. However, because quality is the central and defining concern of Ashoka, we do not have quotas or double standards.
Ashoka has a few negative grounds on which a candidate may be denied entry into the fellowship. Violence, any form of discrimination, partisan political leadership, or membership in any political party which advocates violence, discrimination or totalitarianism are incompatible with election or continued participation in the fellowship. We have also found that those who are captive to ideology do not have the open capacity to listen, an essential part of creating realistic, fundamentally new change.
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of quality. Ashoka is not a welfare organization seeking to help needy Fellows. Ashoka's success comes with the major social changes its Fellows introduce and spread. Moreover, Ashoka's success turns critically on its ability to create a fellowship that stimulates and helps its participants actively to help one another. This is Ashoka's greatest power. However, such a fellowship will only work if the people in it perceive each other as peers. Otherwise, it will not be worthwhile for Fellows and Members to participate.
Because quality (and therefore likely impact) is our unique test, Ashoka only considers financial need at the end of the selection process. It provides financial support to those it elects if and to the degree that the person needs such support to be able to pursue his or her vision full-time. If the person is wealthy or does not need a salary, Ashoka will set the stipend at a level comparable to one rupee per year. On the other hand, if the Fellow-elect needs an attendant for a disabled child in order to be able to leave the house, Ashoka will cover that cost. As a Fellow's ideas take root, their institutions will increasingly be able to pay for their directors - and the level of Ashoka's support typically will decrease.
Ashoka also weighs local (not international) comparability in setting stipend levels. Whether or not someone needs help should not be a consideration in deciding whether or not to elect that person into the fellowship.
The concern with quality is Ashoka's most central organizing value. We want to be an association of leading social entrepreneurs - people who are causing major changes for the public good. We do not want to help start a new school, but we do want to do everything possible to help someone who is launching a better way of teaching - an idea that can spread far beyond the school where it is first demonstrated.
Ashoka does not want to be big. We want to be a strong family that helps all our members dream more confidently and accomplish more surely the major changes that are so needed in the world.