Compared with private companies and the Government, housing associations are seen as honest brokers that are in touch with residents, he told the Chartered Institute of Housing’s South East Conference in Brighton.
By providing support at grass roots level, associations can give people a "hand up" and help them find work or become entrepreneurs, he said.
"They’re the only group that has not been tarnished and can make things happen," he told delegates.
"Social enterprises are the organisations of tomorrow."
The Big Society, said Ashton, was democracy as it was always intended. By the end of the year, he added, it was inevitable that a localism app would be invented that, among other things, would allow landlords and developers to gain greater knowledge of the planning system.
"Localism is a philosophy and the big society the toolkit that’s being put together right now," he said.
Conservative MPs in particular were bound to be impressed by projects that could be sold as part of the Big Society, said Ashton, especially if they attracted wider Government interest.
"There are prizes for pioneers if you consider ministerial visits to be a prize," he said.
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