Changing the dynamic from competition to collaboration

Changing the dynamic from competition to collaboration

Along with the rise of the social enterprise in the last few years, online competitions have come to battle the worst social and environmental issues. Like the for-profits before them, contests used to be thought of as purely greedy, money-driven ideas. Think of lotteries and sweepstakes; both being a quick chance at easy cash that holds an allure in modern society. Even today if you search the Web for “online competitions” all you will find is scores of sites promising to make you rich.

It wasn’t always like this. One of the earliest noteworthy “competitions for change” occurred in France during the Age of Enlightenment. In the 1770s, a wide-spread famine swept through much of Europe, starving a large percentage of the population. In reaction to this catastrophe, the Academie de Besançon offered a prize to whomever could discover "food substances capable of reducing the calamities of famine." The winner was Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French military chemist and botanist, who brought the potato into the mainstream circulation that we still see on dinner plates in the 21st century.

Changemakers like Parmentier and the impact challenge he won have become more commonplace with the rise of social networks and Internet-based engagement. From corporate community-improvement campaigns like the Pepsi Refresh Project to global competitions from the likes of GOOD Maker and OpenIDEO to locally based contests like the Minnesota Idea Open, online competition curators are scouring the Web and finding thousands of new, innovative ideas at lightning speed.

One of the early competition-for-change pioneers is Ashoka Changemakers, an online storytelling community of changemakers that launched into a competition platform in 2004. Fast forward to 2012 and the platform has funneled over $600 million to social innovators worldwide from 50-plus contests, engaging an excess of 10,700 participants in 125 countries.

This new-found ability to raise vast sums of money to fight intractable global problems has given organizations, nonprofit and for-profit alike, a new front on which to engage and introduce world citizens to their causes. Similar to online competitions, crowdfunding sites have also become a growing force in the fight for good. Most people now know Kickstarter, but StartSomeGood, 33Needs, ioby and a handful of other sites are now focused purely on social ventures.

The difference between crowdfunding and competitions is a grey area, like much of the social landscape around it. An online competition uses crowdfunding to procure ideas online while crowdfunding platforms do the same, but usually focusing on the tangible -- business, project or startup ideas -- instead of potential solutions.

The most recent Changemakers contest, Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools to Teach What Matters, aims to do just as the title implies, but on a global scale.

“Ashoka’s big vision is that before you can become a social entrepreneur or changemaker you need to have empathy and understand others,” explained Lauren Parnell Marino, Changemakers’ community manager. “Empathy is a skill. It’s being able to take on other perspectives. And it’s the first step to large-scale, big change in every sector across the world.”

GOOD, the popular magazine and online community, introduced their new online challenge platform in November. It’s called GOOD Maker and was created to empower any person, organization or company to find the best ideas. Anyone can create a challenge with a variety of goals in mind, including but not limited to: fixing a niche problem, idea generation, issue targeting, or designating effective solution parameters.

“We thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be great if anyone could do something like Pepsi Refresh Project themselves,” says Jen Chiou, general manager of GOOD Maker.

And they did. GOOD leveled the playing field for people with ideas that were slipping through the cracks of formal solution creation via think-tanks or corporate-innovation departments. Their ideas weren’t being discovered, and thus, weren’t being recognized or utilized.

To date, over 30,000 members have used the GOOD Maker platform to submit ideas, interact with the community, or vote.

Even with the likes of Ashoka Changemakers and GOOD Maker leading the pack in a relatively new field, innovation never stops. With a new beta site launch a few weeks ago, Changemakers isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Their next step? Building out online “changeshops” where anyone with an idea can set up goals, activate their networks, collaborate and earn a chance at funding.

Changing the dynamic from competition to collaboration might be just what the doctor, or social entrepreneur, ordered.


This post was originally published by Tristan Pollock on Blogger.

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