2017 J.M.K. Innovation Prize Report

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

We 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, in 2015 we put out a call across America. The result surpassed our wildest expectations—an outpouring of ideas from every corner of the country. We funded ten of the most impactful, and we couldn’t be prouder of the difference these entrepreneurs are making among our nation’s underserved communities and treasured cultural spaces.


We are thrilled to announce our second class of awardees: ten winning initiatives that address an array of needs across the Fund’s focus areas of social justice, the environment, and heritage conservation. Each will receive $150,000, paid out over three years, plus a $25,000 bank of funds for project expenses. Whether filling a federal funding gap for places battered by climate change, rebuilding America’s broken juvenile justice system, or aiding vulnerable asylum-seekers, these social innovators are using new technologies, cross-sector collaboration, and even for-profit tools to catalyze change across the country.

See our 2017 class of awardees here.

Download a report on the 2017 Prize, Community-based Change Agents Rise Up, featuring takeaways from this year’s thousand-plus proposals, as well as reflections of our past awardees on their journey as ascendant change agents.


For three generations, The J.M. Kaplan Fund has provided catalytic funding for projects in their early stages of development. Whether a pilot project, a new organization, or a nascent initiative, work supported by the Fund has involved a certain level of measured risk that ultimately led to large-scale, transformative results.

With the support of social entrepreneurship experts and hundreds of nominators and reviewers, we embarked on the Prize to leverage this legacy of catalytic grant-making in the field of social innovation—an area of 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. Our inaugural class of awardees—ranging from place-based revitalization in Appalachian coal country to school lunches served with sustainable local fish—reflect our commitment to future leaders whose vision and passion can be nurtured through the Prize’s multi-year award, which in addition to cash support includes capacity-building counsel from experts in organizational development, board cultivation, media coaching, leadership training, and more.

The Prize builds on the Fund’s longstanding areas of grant-making interest while remaining flexible enough for fresh and unexpected thinking. In 2017, prize recipients presented innovative concepts that fall within, in-between, or in a matter related to the Fund’s three funding categories:

  • The Environment – Reducing the pace and impacts of climate change.
  • Heritage Conservation – Conserving America’s greatest monuments and places.
  • Social Justice – Supporting decarceration and humane immigrant integration.


The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is awarded to projects or ideas that represent a game-changing answer to a clearly identified need; are innovative within the Fund’s three funding areas; demonstrate the potential to develop an actionable pilot or prototype with Prize funding; and hold out the promise to benefit multiple individuals, communities, or sectors through a clearly articulated theory of change.

Some cutting-edge social innovation can be more impactful using market solutions, but may require philanthropic seed capital. Unlike the 2015 edition of the Prize, mission-driven for-profit organizations were eligible to apply in 2017, with funding provided in the form of philanthropic grants rather than an equity stake in the company.


We are not currently accepting applications for The J.M.K. Innovation Prize. Please check back for updates on future Prize cycles.

Sign up to learn more about The J.M.K. Innovation Prize by submitting your contact details in the lower right-hand side of this webpage.

For additional information, please contact: JMKInnovationPrize@JMKFund.org.

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