Friday, July 13, 2007

Philanthropic Prizes Back in Vogue

Here's another article brought to you by the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker.

The San Francisco Business Times reports on the growing number of prizes that are being kicked off for philanthropic purposes. Some of the prizes are of the "technology innovation incentive" variety that this blog usually emphasizes, while others address social, political, or educational issues. The article describes the reason why I emphasize the innovation prizes here:

"Prizes are a really good tool for sparking new ideas and new collaborations and getting new people involved in the mix," said Lucy Bernholz, president of Blueprint R&D and a philanthropy blogger. She cautions, however, that prizes may inspire change but are a poor mechanism for sustaining that change. Indeed, the most successful prizes, like the Goldman Prize, provide ongoing support for winners beyond a crowning ceremony."

A well-designed innovation prize will give competitors the incentive to try multiple approaches to get past a "technology hurdle" that is preventing a commercial or government market that can sustain itself once the hurdle is overcome. The trouble with some prizes, and this tends to be true more often with non-innovation prizes, is that even after the prize is won, the advance that won the prize needs ongoing maintenance to thrive. Of course this is not always the case, and at any rate sometimes the goal is important enough to make the ongoing cost worthwhile.

Other than the X PRIZE, the prizes mentioned in the article are:

The Purpose Prize, which "provides five awards of $100,000 and ten awards of $10,000 to people over 60 who are taking on society’s biggest challenges".

The Goldman Environmental Prize, which is "the world's largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists. Founded in 1990 by Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the Goldman Environmental Prize annually awards US$125,000 to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions".

Ruckus Nation, which "is awarding up to $300,000 in cash and prizes to individuals and teams that join Ruckus Nation and submit the best ideas for new products to increase physical activity among kids".