These 5 social entrepreneurship competitions fund bold ideas to change the world

Social innovators often have award-winning ideas, but find it hard to access funding. We introduce 5 top-ranked awards which actually provide the funding to put the ideas into action.

Not really a level playing field

“The prize money ranges from zero to one hundred million dollars for the winner, with an enormous gap in between.”

Most social entrepreneurs have a vision of a world that is less marked by inequality between rich and poor and where money is not the only measure of happiness or success. It therefore seems crazy how unequally the prize money of the relevant social entrepreneurship competitions is distributed. The prize money ranges from zero to one hundred million dollars; there is a huge gap in between. We have researched the highest endowed social entrepreneurship awards. Here is our ranking:

1st – One hundred million dollars: 100&Change Award from the MacArthur Foundation 

Let’s go for the big, transformative ideas. In keeping with this motto, the US MacArthur Foundation presents a biennial $100 million award that aims to scale a single (!) initiative. Last year, the award was split twice, to $50 million, which was given to two organizations working in the field of education for children and young people affected by civil war and displacement. Even the three finalists who came away empty-handed in the actual 100&Change Award were each awarded $15 million. Are you curious? Click here to apply for the next round in 2021.

2nd – Up to 20 million dollars: X Prize Foundation

The XPrize Foundation, founded by the Greek-American entrepreneur Peter Diamantis, is constantly awarding new prizes to teams that find groundbreaking solutions to social challenges, usually with a strong technological focus. The current competitions are endowed with 5 to 20 million dollars. Among other things, ideas are sought for how CO2 emissions can be converted into useful products or for solutions to better research the biodiversity of the tropical rainforests and use it for humanity.

3rd – 1.5 million dollars: Skoll Awards

In comparison to the above-mentioned prizes, the five Skoll Awards, each endowed with 1.5 million dollars, seem almost small. However, they are among the most renowned prizes and the Skoll Forum is one of the most important meetings of the social entrepreneurship scene worldwide, even though the prizes had to be awarded online at the beginning of April this year.

4th – 600,000 dollars: Zayed Sustainability Prize

Far less well known are the five prizes, each worth 600,000 dollars, of the largestst sustainability award in the United Arab Emirates, named in homage to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates. The prize is awarded for innovative solutions in the classic Sustainable Development Goal areas of health, nutrition, energy, water and education, without regional restrictions.

5th – 500,000 euros: Green Challenge Award

With prize money of half a million euros, the Green Challenge of the Dutch Postcode Lottery is one of the highest endowed prizes for sustainable entrepreneurship in Europe. Thematically, the prize is clearly positioned in the clean tech sector, and is therefore unlikely to appeal to every social entrepreneur.


The Impact Factory is one of the most powerful mentoring programs in Germany. Credit: Impact Factory

Social entrepreneurship competitions in Germany

“Germany scores with a large number of high quality mentoring offers, which is unrivalled”

In comparison to mainstream business plan or startup competitions, there are not many competition in the social entrepreneurship sector which actually issue any financial awards. And if, the prize money cannot keep up with the scale of the international competitions featured above. To give an example, the main prize of the social pitch at the SensAbility Impact Summit or the Q-Summit in Mannheim to date were both well under €5,000 each. The Social Entrepreneurship Take-off-Pitch (SE-TOP) of the local Rotary Club in Überlingen was one of the highlights last year. The winning team, Between The Lines, received 20.0000€. From what we know it was only topped by last year’s Empowering People Award of the Siemens Foundation with its main prize of 50.000€.

The WiWin Award claims to award half a million euro, which would by far top all other social entrepreneurship awards in Germany. However, this is misleading. The money is provided as an investment at market conditions. The award consists of activating the WiWin crowdinvestment platform for the winning project. This definitely is valuable. But what social entrepreneurs often need more is funding a below-market rate of return, i.e. a blend of philanthropy (e.g. prize money) and investment.

On the other hand, Germany has some of the best mentoring offers for social entrepreneurs, which is unprecedented. These include the  Impact Factory’s support program for create-ups and scale-ups, the various programs of the Social Impact Labs and  Impact Hubs now established in a number of cities, programs such as the Vodafone Institute’s F-LANE Accelerator, which focuses on women empowerment, the digital mentoring network of Project Together or the ENACTUS programme established at 36 universities, within the framework of which students design and directly implement social entrepreneurship projects.

High-quality mentoring programs instead of highly endowed prize money. This is how the funding landscape for social entrepreneurs* in Germany can be described.


On our own behalf

We at Gexsi form part of the social entrepreneurship funding landscape. As a first step we have entered into a partnership with the SensAbility Impact Summit of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, Europe’s largest student-led conference on social and sustainable business, tu jointly run their annual Social Pitch competitions. As the 2020 competition was cancelled, we currently prepare an online impact challenge together with SensAbility.