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GOOD Lab Report: Leaders From Common Pool, Encore.org, And Johnson & Johnson Discuss Competitions For Social Impact

February 9, 2017

Competitions have emerged as a creative means by which corporations, foundations, universities, and even the government can engage innovators and generate breakthrough solutions. In fact, GOOD’s consulting and agency unit, GOOD Corps, originated from the opportunity to design and manage the Pepsi Refresh Project, one of the largest prizes for good in terms of total funding available and a major milestone in the development of cause-related marketing. Since then, competitions have only grown in popularity. More expertise is being brought to the subject, and many of our clients and colleagues have expressed interest and curiosity about whether a prize might align with their social impact goals. As such, we dedicated our recent GOOD Lab: New York City to the topic, assembling a sterling panel of friends and leaders in this area, and brought together approximately 65 multi sector leaders to discuss the ins and outs of competitions for impact—their types, opportunities, challenges, and trends.

 

Jaison Morgan, CEO of Common Pool, former head of prize development for the XPrize Foundation, and a partner to Johnson & Johnson and GOOD on the GenH Challenge, kicked off the panel by providing an overview of the competitions’ landscape. “I don't say I design ‘prizes’ for a living, because you start to sound like a carnival barker,” he said. Jaison emphasized that, as the number of prize competitions grows dramatically (citing this McKinsey study), they are seeing smaller prizes with a greater attention to ensuring value for all participants rival the big-money competitions. Jaison offered a strong defense of competitions as a more transparent alternative to grant making, which can often feel like a “black box,” but added that “we need more leadership, we need more people to study this and to look at this, and we need more people to ask tough questions.”

After this introduction, Ann MacDougall, president of Encore.org, kicked off four firsthand accounts of using prizes for social good. Ann shared her organization’s entrepreneurial experience originating the The Purpose Prize, which launched in 2006 and brings rare attention to social entrepreneurs in their “Encore” careers, defined as 50 years old and beyond. At first fearful that the prize wouldn't attract significant nominations in its inaugural year with a small marketing budget, Encore received more than 1,000 applications. “It was, in our view, an enormous success,” she said, in helping to advance Encore.org’s goal to shift the narrative of how those over 50 are viewed in society. However, Ann and her team recognized that, with additional resources, more effort could have been dedicated to the overwhelming majority of “nonwinners”. Interestingly, Encore.org worked together with AARP to find a permanent home for the Purpose Prize, transferring ownership in 2016.

Next, Jim Pitofsky, managing director of strategic alliances for the John Templeton Foundation, introduced another “recognition prize,” The Templeton Prize, which “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” The $1,400,000 award was originally intended to rank just above the famed Nobel Prize to reflect the importance of matters of the soul alongside those of the mind. Jim cited attracting media and public attention to Templeton Prize winners as a key focus and challenge, especially in light of the proliferation of prizes. “We're still trying to crack the nut, to be honest,” he said. Prize winners are “famous in their circles ... but not necessarily to mainstream audiences.” Jim roused the audience with his passion for winners like Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Lauren Moore, vice president of global community impact at Johnson & Johnson, a CSR veteran of eBay/Paypal and Starbucks, and the only corporate perspective represented on the panel, outlined J&J’s new GenH Challenge. The GenH Challenge is a social venture competition to generate locally tailored and globally relevant solutions by and for the people “at the heart of care”— nurses, community health workers, caregivers, and patients often left out of health innovation. She explained how the prize embodies a strategic intent to support more innovation through the company’s nearly $750 million in cash and in-kind annual philanthropy. Lauren said that some corporations struggle with the uncertainty of prizes, since “you truly, absolutely, have no idea what will happen and … get too stuck on ‘What is the budget?’ During the Q&A, Lauren surprised the crowd by stating: “Honestly we don’t care a lick about media attention,” contrary to the image that CSR is often all about PR. “I think the important thing is putting ourselves out there to learn, knowing that themes will come up, geographies will come up, ideas will come up—it's a first step in a longer process,” she said. “And I think it’s valuable to cast a wide net and have the humility to say, ‘We don't have all the answers. We need other smart people at the table.’”

Concluding the panel with his patented informal style, GOOD co-founder and Goldhirsh Foundation chairman, Ben Goldhirsh, described his alternative reasoning for including a prize in his philanthropic portfolio. “LA2050 has been an awesome tool to align Angelenos behind a common vision for the future of our still-young city and build up a “coalition of the civically interested” to counter the special interests that most often dominate political decision-making. “If you give people a chance to pursue money, they will activate an audience, which becomes a team, which becomes a community.” Ben endorsed the transparency benefits of asking any organization in LA to answer “How would you use $100,000 to shape the future of Los Angeles” and then mobilize supporters to amass the “votes” to win? Even those who fall short have found their performance to a “sort of a badge of honor with other funders, as the LA2050 brand started to mean something.”

Clearly, competitions for impact will continue to grow and this Lab was a terrific opportunity to deepen knowledge and build a community of practice for the good of all.

Interested in joining the Lab network? We keep our community intentionally small, but you’re welcome to nominate yourself or a colleague here.

The Surf Bus Foundation won $100,000 in the 2016 My LA2050 Grants Challege