Ashoka “strong communities” innovation competition; Be inspired!

28 Sep

Though I’m ambivalent about using web voting to drive investment in nonprofits (all the pluses and minuses of a middle school student council election popularity contest), I love web-based competitions as platforms for disseminating promising new ideas. Ashoka Changemakers and the CommunityMatters network are hosting a competition for “Strong Communities: Engaging Citizens, Strengthening Place, Inspiring Change”. Read about the eight finalists here. And if you are so inclined, vote as well!

The projects are diverse, from a modern twist on barn raising for sustainability retrofits, to a regional stock exchange providing equity capital for small businesses, to inter-generational communities that intentionally reduce the need for social services. Some are proven ideas: some are new ideas from organizations that are already doing good work. All are inspiring.

Besides finding inspiration in the projects themselves, I also find inspiration in the questions framing the project descriptions. Subtle differences in wording from common grant applications shift the responses toward truly new approaches (vs. purely “evidence-based” ones), thoughtful risk-assessment, and tangible leveraging of networks and non-cash assets.  These types of questions can help all of us surface, value, and develop our own ideas into meaningful, exciting projects.

For example:

  • Describe your idea in three sentences (only!)
  • What makes your idea unique? (and, what related ideas are you drawing upon?)
  • What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? (a wholly different tone from “List your objectives, planned strategies and activities”)
  • Please tell us about your non-monetary partnerships with other non-profits, business and government; and how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation (a.k.a. how are you connected with others? How are you leveraging your connections?)
  • What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation? (what is the source of your passion for this idea?)

What if you used such questions to decide where to focus your resources? How could shifting your new project/program questions shift the actions you choose? How could these questions spark innovation in your organization or community?