Prize philanthropy: who are the real winners

Philanthropy-backed competitions involve big money, but do they also deliver results? Find out, in this episode of the Impact Room.

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About the episode

From the Nobels to the Pulitzer, prizes have long been used as a means to recognise extraordinary achievement - and the nonprofit sector is no exception. Today, thanks to a leap in philanthropy-backed competitions, large cheques are being written for the world's best teacher, the boldest refugee response, and ideas to solve the climate crisis, among others.

But as more donors commit dollars towards prizes - and more nonprofits allocate time to competing for them – is it time to ask whether competitions really are an effective way to fund change? 

Is prize philanthropy supporting scale and innovation or simply creating headlines? And – most importantly - is the money really reaching those on the frontline of global challenges, or just reinforcing the status quo?

To discuss these questions and more, we invited representatives from two of the world’s best-known prize philanthropy initiatives to join us in the Impact Room.

Philanthropy prizes pay out big money, but do they deliver impact? Photo: Getty Images.

Cecilia Conrad is the CEO of Lever for Change, which creates bespoke prize competitions designed to match philanthropic capital to causes. She is also managing director at the MacArthur Foundation, the organisation behind the 100&Change initiative that hands out $100m each year to a single proposal. 

Edward Ma is secretary-general of the Hong Kong-based Yidan Prize Foundation, the world’s largest education prize fund. The Yidan Prize, which awards $4m annually, was launched in 2016 by the co-founder of Chinese tech firm Tencent, Dr Charles Chen Yidan.

The Impact Room is brought to you by Philanthropy Age and Maysa Jalbout. Find us on social media at @PhilanthropyAge.

About the host

Maysa Jalbout is a leader in international development and philanthropy. Her previous roles include founding CEO of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, a $1bn philanthropic initiative based in Dubai, and founding CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation. Maysa is a visiting scholar at MIT and ASU, and a non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Find her on Twitter, @MaysaJalbout.