Making Change

April 19, 2021

Born of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition for $100 million, Lever for Change was created to unlock significant philanthropic capital that might otherwise remain on the sidelines and accelerate large-scale social change around the world. We embolden donors to make larger grants than are typical in philanthropy—$10 million or more.

Cecilia Conrad headshot

We develop and manage customized competitions that connect donors with bold solutions to global challenges—including racial and gender equity, economic development and climate change, among other vitally important issues. We also amplify the most highly rated ideas emerging from these competitions and catalyze big investments through our Bold Solutions Network, which is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary (stay tuned for a special edition of this newsletter!).

Our goal is to double donor funding for all our competitions by encouraging collaboration among donors and additional grants through the Bold Solutions Network. We have done it before. In the three years since announcing the inaugural 100&Change grantee, more than three times MacArthur’s original commitment has flowed to the top-ranking projects. In total, we plan to drive $1 billion to scale high-impact solutions by 2023. We hope you will join us in funding the outstanding teams in our competitions.

Although our competitions address many issues, they share a common set of features. In addition to a rigorous evaluation process, each adheres to Lever for Change’s values of openness, transparency and a commitment to a level playing field. We encourage donors to look beyond their traditional networks and use competitions to discover more organizations with big ideas. Open-call competitions are an opportunity for donors to engage with people closest to the collective challenges we face. By creating a larger tent, donors find unexpected and transformative solutions they might miss otherwise.

By creating a larger tent, donors find unexpected and transformative solutions they might miss otherwise.

In a recent article, Jeff Ubois, our Vice President for Knowledge Management, summarized highlights from a new Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors report on prize philanthropy. Among the benefits cited in the report are: the potential to build communities and networks; broaden awareness of issues and actors in a given space; and mobilize additional funding.

We have observed this firsthand. Through the Lone Star Prize, Lyda Hill Philanthropies is building a community of like-minded donors and uncovering ideas in areas beyond its traditional philanthropic support. The ten finalist teams in the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, many of them collaboratives, reflect the diversity of the U.S. population and the breadth of challenges that must be conquered to accelerate the pace of change, so that women of all backgrounds can have an equal chance to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and practices in the U.S.

Equality Can’t Wait illustrates another important feature of a Lever for Change competition – it can be an effective vehicle for donor collaboration. The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge has three donors who will jointly choose three projects for awards of $10 Million each. Both the soon-to-be-awarded Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award, which seeks strategies to achieve durable futures for refugees, and the recently launched Stronger Democracy Award are collaboratively funded.

Collaboration might also occur after finalists have been named or an awardee selected. After the Economic Opportunity Challenge selected Per Scholas as its awardee, Focusing Philanthropy offered follow-on funding of $5 Million. At its recent announcement celebrating Community Solutions as the recipient of the $100 million 100&Change grant, the MacArthur Foundation also announced an additional commitment to Community Solutions by the Ballmer Group and funding to two other finalists (the World Mosquito Project by the Gates Foundation and Report for America by the Facebook Journalism Project and a group of individual donors).

Contrary to popular belief, a competition doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

Contrary to popular belief, a competition doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. In a recent guest article in Inside Philanthropy, I describe how competitions can be equitable if designed with that goal in mind. Both Equality Can’t Wait and the Kellogg Foundation’s Racial Equity 2030 challenges offer useful illustrations.

Racial Equity 2030 received more than 1,400 applications from 70 countries. From the outset, we have been transparent about the evaluation criteria (including whether an idea is “Equitable”) and rubrics that will be used to score the projects by a global, racially diverse panel of experts. Ten finalists will each receive $1 million planning grants and one year of technical assistance to help them revise and strengthen their proposals, and build out robust plans for implementation and scaling.

Regardless of topic, the application for every Lever for Change competition asks applicants to fully demonstrate a commitment to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion, and to explain how they will ensure that the design and implementation of their solution authentically embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion across all aspects. We observe the impact of this question in the attentiveness to climate justice among the finalists for the 2030 Climate Challenge and we anticipate similar results for the Stronger Democracy Award.

We invite you to learn more about our slate of competitions in this newsletter. Interested donors should contact Dana Rice, our Vice President of Philanthropy.

Help Bold Solutions Take Flight

Join us and help support nonprofits and problem solvers scale their bold solutions to the world's most pressing challenges.