Can competitions change the way we drive social change?

I researched and co-wrote the attached article when in the UK, and am very interested in what opportunities there are to replicate this approach in Australia. For example, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation recently ran it’s competition for ‘Bold Ideas. Better Lives‘ receiving 254 applications. While the focus was on ‘social innovation’ not social business, you can see in the language: ‘challenge’, ‘investment’ ‘parnterships’ that it is something different from your usual grant rounds.

Just like this competition, social businesses take the best from the market, from government, and from civil society to create a next-level model for creating a better world.

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 increasingly an option. Government, investors and private companies around the world 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.

We Are Arising and Eastside Consulting have experience in designing and running these competitions, and previously completed research on the range of competitions, and what makes them most effective. This research will be relevant for practitioners around the globe, and both We Are 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 Are Arising and Eastside have designed and managed here:

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