The 2017 J.M.K. Innovation Prize

In 2015, the J.M. Kaplan Fund 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, the Fund put out a call across America for solutions to urgent social challenges. The result was an outpouring of ideas from every corner of the country, ranging from place-based revitalization in Appalachian coal country to school lunches served with sustainable local fish.

The second round of the Prize, in 2017, coincided with a radical remaking of America’s political landscape. The pool of 1,193 applications—spanning 49 out of 50 states—represented what one Prize reviewer called a “response to the new world order.” Amid a growing sense that institutions have failed to solve entrenched social problems, these proposals address an array of needs across the Fund’s focus areas. Whether filling a federal funding gap for places battered by climate change, rebuilding America’s broken juvenile justice system, or aiding vulnerable asylum- seekers, social innovators are rising to the occasion.

This report offers seven takeaways on the field of social-sector innovation from the Prize's thousand-plus proposals, as well as reflections of past awardees on their journey as ascendant change agents.