Can social innovation competitions move beyond hype and deliver change?

Integrating the best of business (they trade, and make a profit) and charity (they have a social mission, and re-invest all profits into achieving their social mission), social businesses (also ‘social enterprise’ or ‘community enterprises’) are growing as a means for individuals and existing organisations to create positive social change. Whether these social businesses are start-ups, or spinning out of existing charities or businesses, they often need support to develop and grow.

While social businesses can access support through government agencies or consultants, and funding through grants or loans, entering competitions is another option. Government, investors and private companies are running competitions to identify and support the ideas and organisations with the most potential to deliver the desired change. Examples include competitions focused on the best way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, how to prevent homelessness, how to better manage water resources in developing countries, or the best way to spend a grant.

Arising and Eastside Consulting have experience in designing and running these competitions, and recently completed some research on the range of competitions, and what makes them most effective. This research will be relevant for practitioners around the globe, and both Arising and Eastside have been involved in national and international forms of these investment and support initiatives.

We think competitions can be a powerful driver for real systemic change IF well-designed, efficiently delivered, and linked to a program of support for participants. Good design can ensure the competitive element adds a sense of urgency to dealing with social challenges, that a high public profile attracts new types of funders and supports change in public awareness and behaviour, and including opportunities for participants and supporters to collaborate can result in some of the most significant, but unexpected outcomes.

The result of our research is a three-page paper that:

  • Identifies trends and perspectives from practitioners and Nobel prize winners.

  • Reviews and links to the diverse range of competitions, from UK, Germany, and worldwide.

  • Highlights the most important characteristics of successful competitions

  • Considers if these competitions are worth their sometimes high costs

You can download and read the paper here: social-innovation-competition-arising.

You can review the competitions we have designed and managed here:

You can contact us to learn more about how these new style of competitions can support your organisation to deliver social change on the local, regional or global scale.

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