Grants And Opportunities for Social Entrepreneurs

social entrepreneurship Image resource: Berkeley University

Social entrepreneurs often have amazing ideas that they believe can change the world – and which probably can, but getting them funded can be a challenge. There are all too many projects out there seeking their first funding to get underway, or monies to advance their idea further. For social entrepreneurs there is the additional challenge of making sure to get the project idea funded by a like-minded person or entity that understands the social importance of the idea, rather than trying to drive it solely for profit. The good news is that there are grants out there that are awarded by like-minded bodies, for social entrepreneurs in the know. Some of these are explored here.

An important grant scheme that social entrepreneurs should definitely consider is that offered by the Skoll Foundation. The organisation aims to further its own mission by:

“Deploying capital through a combination of philanthropic grants, equity, debt and other instruments.”

The Skoll Foundation considers grants to be a particularly important area in its investment approach. Using practices adapted from top venture investors the organisation takes what it describes as a “phased approach to grant making”. The Skoll Foundation then works with those organisations to help them to figure out how they will achieve the objectives for the grant. To date the organisation has invested in excess of $150 million in social entrepreneurship. One of the prerequisites for making a grant award is the ability for the organisation to be able to make a large scale impact in specific areas where they consider social change to be needed. For example, these include deforestation, education and economic opportunity, effective development, healthcare access and treatment, smallholder productivity and food security, stabilisation, sustainable markets and water and sanitation. Another prerequisite for winning grant is the concept that the Skoll Foundation would be able to partner with the organisation to be able to scale their impact. Coveted Skoll Awards are given out every year, and are suitable for regional, national or global programmes. Those that apply do need to have three years of experience at least with results that are proven. New initiatives that are less than three years old need not apply.

Another organisation that offers opportunities for social entrepreneurship is the Schwab Foundation. Again, the organisation operates at a regional and global level, and it argues that it aims to:

“Highlight and advance leading models of sustainable social innovation.”

The Schwab Foundation aims to build up a community of leading social entrepreneurs. This means that while the organisation is not offering a traditional grant system, it does give social entrepreneurs the opportunity to make critical contacts that could lead to the award of a grant. The way that it works is that the organisation goes through a through process to identify social entrepreneurs and it does this through making site visits to social entrepreneurs and getting outside expert reviews. Today there are 250 social entrepreneurs in the network that it has created. The process requires candidates to submit an application form along with additional information like financial statements and a CV, among others. Then the site visits and other due diligence occur, as well as interviews with the candidate and other relevant parties. Finalists are selected before the Selection Committee decides on the winners.

Those that want to apply to be a part of the Schwab Foundation Network have to demonstrate a range of different factors to the Selection Committee. Their activities should bring about transformative social change through innovation. This innovation could be a new product or service, a new distribution or production method, new labour supply, reformulation of an existing product or new organisational structures. The organisation must be sustainable financially and in terms of its proven track record. Again, start-ups need to look elsewhere, as the Schwab Foundation Network will not accept organisations that have less than three years of operations under their belt. The endeavour must have a proven social and/or environmental impact. It is explained that social enterprises work to create societies that are more inclusive and this needs to be demonstrated in the application. In addition to these factors the initiative has to have spread already beyond its initial location and be scalable or adaptable to other parts of the world. The person leading it must also be considered a suitable ambassador to be able to operate at the World Economic Forum, so leaders must demonstrate gravitas and be knowledgeable.