In 2015, the J.M. Kaplan Fund created The J.M.K. Innovation Prize in the belief that social entrepreneurship can spark transformative change. Drawing on three generations of Fund support for early-stage innovations, the Fund put out a call across America for solutions to urgent social challenges. The result was an outpouring of ideas from every corner of the country, ranging from place-based revitalization in Appalachian coal country to school lunches served with sustainable local fish.
The second round of the Prize, in 2017, coincided with a radical remaking of America’s political landscape. The pool of 1,193 applications—spanning 49 out of 50 states—represented what one Prize reviewer called a “response to the new world order.” Amid a growing sense that institutions have failed to solve entrenched social problems, these proposals address an array of needs across the Fund’s focus areas. Whether filling a federal funding gap for places battered by climate change, rebuilding America’s broken juvenile justice system, or aiding vulnerable asylum- seekers, social innovators are rising to the occasion.
This report offers seven takeaways on the field of social-sector innovation from the Prize's thousand-plus proposals, as well as reflections of past awardees on their journey as ascendant change agents.