Collaborative Competitions as a Tool for Social Change

    • April 12, 2007

The problem: Finding solutions to the complex social issues facing our country today requires unique, collaborative approaches. Too often, however, traditional searches for solutions yield proposals for ideas that are prepared and presented in a vacuum, and can not benefit from the community of thinkers and do-ers that are working to solve social problems.

The proposal: A grant to support three online competitions and associated activities using the online, open source Changemakers solicitation model. The three competitions will focus on intimate partner violence, disruptive innovations in health and health care, and how computer/video games and related technologies can be applied to improve health and health care.

About Changemakers: “Changemakers provides an open source for social solutions,” explains Sushmita Ghosh, who leads Changemakers. Changemakers is a program within Ashoka, a global association of the world's leading social entrepreneurs—men and women with system-changing solutions for the world's most urgent social problems. “With Changemakers, we can link Ashoka's social entrepreneurs with private-sector entrepreneurs to improve and expand existing programs to address complex social issues,” Ghosh explains.

The program has three key dimensions.

  • A “mosaic of insights.” A grid depicting a problem's barriers, frameworks and best practices using insights from Ashoka's 1,800 fellows and entrepreneurs. “It's a way of saying, ‘what does the rest of the world know and how can it evolve and improve as more solutions are added?'” says Ghosh.
  • Online collaborative competition. The mosaic forms the basis for the online collaborative competition, hosted at, where individuals and organizations involved in social change efforts post entries, says Ghosh. “The beauty of the collaborative competition is that visitors and other entrants can discuss the entries online and recommend changes.” Plus, she notes, all competitors can change their entries before the final judging, and all entrants can view one another's work. “We don't just want someone to win,” she says, “but to help anyone who applies improve their idea with the hope that all ideas will eventually be implemented.”
  • Bank of living innovations. This third dimension provides a literal “bank” of innovations that lives on the Changemakers' Web site, projects that can always be funded, changed and implemented, says Ghosh. “We're seeding the community that is going to innovate until the problem gains new contours.”

The goal: To attract and engage creative and innovative people and ideas to tackle complex health and health care problems.

Why: Changemakers fits within the RWJF strategy to use new methods to attract creative and innovative people and ideas that can help solve complex health and health care problems. The interactive, open source model provides RWJF with a more open, participatory mechanism for finding strong approaches and supporting new methods. “We see it as unique platform to create a marketplace of ideas,” says Chinwe Onyekere, MPH, RWJF program officer. “It is a different way of reaching out to a field to get innovative ideas and being very transparent about how those ideas are reviewed.”