The J.M.K. Innovation Prize

We support social entrepreneurs across the United States who are spearheading game-changing solutions to our society’s most urgent challenges.

Launched in early 2015, The J.M.K. Innovation Prize was designed to seek out boldly promising ideas in the field of social-sector innovation—however untested or wherever they arise. From a pool of more than one thousand applications from every corner of the country, we selected ten outstanding awardees who will receive multi-year support for their visionary ideas. We couldn’t be more excited to share with you these diverse and deeply compelling initiatives bringing social innovation to America.

Why an Innovation Prize?

Innovation is in The J.M. Kaplan Fund’s DNA. From our inception 70 years ago as a New York–based family foundation, we have championed risky, early-stage endeavors focusing on longstanding subject areas of cultural heritage, human rights, and the built and natural environments.

We know there is a hunger for social-sector funding. Today, many outstanding ideas fail to find backing from established philanthropic sources. We sought to fill this gap, not only by providing capital to the social innovation field, but also by taking risks on projects that others may consider unfledged. In addition, we wanted to take social innovation funding into areas not typically served by the field—including historic preservation and environmental conservation—bringing visionary thinking to realms that have long been a central focus of the Fund.

The Prize Process

We offered up to ten $175,000 awards to U.S.-based individuals or teams working with a non-profit organization or fiscal sponsor to address our country’s most pressing needs through social-sector innovation. Each award consisted of up to three years of support at $50,000 per year, plus $25,000 for technical assistance or project expenses. Just as important, winners benefit from the Fund’s community of social innovation experts and fellow entrepreneurs as a peer-learning network.

The response was overwhelming: 1,138 applications from 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. We built a rigorous evaluation process, recruiting 373 volunteer reviewers from the Fund’s network. Each application was scored by at least 6 reviewers, after which 202 entries were advanced to the second round. Fuller applications were read by subject matter and social innovation experts in disciplines including justice, education, human rights, food systems, public health, energy, natural resources, and the arts. From a group of 15 finalists, we selected ten awardees we believe offer extraordinary potential.

A Groundswell of Great Ideas

Our pool of applicants amounted to a groundswell of ideas with enormous promise for the philanthropic community, as well as civic organizations, government, advocacy groups, and citizens seeking powerful new ways to make positive change happen.

Explore our awardee profiles, and read a detailed report on the Prize through the links below. We hope you’ll share our conviction that more than we ever dreamed, social innovation is thriving in America.

Learn More

Download our full report on The J.M.K. Innovation Prize, exploring the more than one thousand Innovation Prize entries and distilling key insights for the future of social entrepreneurship in America.

Read a one-page overview of the Innovation Prize, offering a snapshot of our process and pool of applicants.