BridgeBuilder Challenge: Expanding Philanthropy’s Orbit

6 weeks. 185 countries. 660 ideas. One foundation on a global quest for radical ideas at the intersections of peace, prosperity, and planet.

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We live in an exciting time, when the world’s changemakers can connect across enormous distances and from very different communities. Yet, with this interconnectivity comes a set of more complex, interwoven global challenges—the global economy is growing, yet much of this wealth is kept at the top and global inequality is at higher than ever.

At GHR Foundation, we recognize where our orbit—and the orbit of traditional philanthropy—is limited, and we recommit ourselves to extending that scope, including people and communities that are left behind in a rapidly modernizing world. We recognize the need for systems that account for this inequality and work to close the widening gap.

GHR recently partnered with OpenIDEO to conduct the first BridgeBuilder Challenge, which will award $1 million to ideas that address urgent global challenges in radically new ways, building bridges between the areas of peace, prosperity and planet in the United States and around the world.

While GHR’s funding priorities and impact areas are constantly evolving, our standard funding process is not ideal for responding to emergent issues or moving quickly into new geographic locations. In contrast, the BridgeBuilder Challenge is a fast-paced process intended for urgent challenges anywhere in the world. We found OpenIDEO’s open innovation approach matched the complexities of the challenges we hoped to address.

A question remained—how could we improve the Challenge process to make it more equitable and open to those too often overlooked by a changing world?

One strength of OpenIDEO’s open innovation approach is its accessibility to people working for organizations of any size, anywhere in the world. Unlike the traditional RFP process, the transparency and collaboration of open innovation gives each participant an equal chance at funding. We intended for the BridgeBuilder Challenge to push us into new areas with new partners, and open innovation allowed us to extend our reach in ways that invites broader impact.

Still, we felt we could make a greater effort to widen our scope.

Leveraging interconnectivity of today’s world, GHR found we could reach audiences we had never before engaged. With the ubiquity and relatively low cost of smartphones, almost half of the global population now uses the internet, including people and communities at the margins of the global economy. Using the remarkable power of social media, we could now reach those overlooked social innovators.

An important component of equity is accessibility. Another is reach—without engaging overlooked communities, accessibility is meaningless. By combining the openness of OpenIDEO’s platform with the scope available through social media, we could design and build a more equitable process.

In the span of 6 weeks, the 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge collected more than 660 ideas with participation from people in 185 countries. These varied perspectives are the core of the Challenge community, and allow us to learn from others as we expand our work.

On July 31, we’re announcing this year’s top BridgeBuilder ideas. This cohort of incredible organizations will reflect the diversity of our participants, representing a range of funding areas, geographic locations and problem-solving approaches. We are confident the opportunity to work with diverse perspectives in issues outside our usual funding areas will push our work to the next level.

Neither the Challenge nor our standard funding process is perfect, but by consistently innovating and challenging ourselves to extend our orbit, we are working toward more effective and equitable impact.

Next year, we plan to conduct another BridgeBuilder Challenge, implementing what we learned this year, building on that knowledge as we adapt the process into one that reflects the impact and reach for which we as a single organization within the philanthropic field strive.

 

Kerry Medek

Kerry Medek serves as the Director of Grants Management and Learning and GHR Foundation. She also serves on the PEAK Grantmaking Board of Directors.