Extraordinary & Unorthodox Philanthropic Opportunities

Here’s a fun little experiment taking place. An anonymous, relatively new, San Francisco-based foundation is working to develop an issue-agnostic, opportunity driven mission and grantmaking strategy. To help them discover “extraordinary and unorthodox” opportunities, they have launched a challenge on the Innocentive website (an “open innovation platform” that essentially crowdsources ideas).

Innocentive calls someone looking for answers a “seeker” and solution providers “solvers”. Can you “solve” this problem? If so, jump into the process here.

From the project details:

Most philanthropic giving is structured around particular problems or issue areas. Consequently, initiatives that fall outside popular issue silos usually experience difficulties in attracting funding. In such a funding environment, researchers and practitioners are often limited in their ability to pursue unpopular innovations.
The Seeker for this Challenge is a foundation that seeks to identify one or a few unorthodox philanthropic investments with the potential to generate extraordinary returns to society. The foundation is interested in concentrating its capital in opportunities that have little access to alternative sources of funding.

The foundation believes that such opportunities, that are both extraordinary and devoid of funding, are exceedingly rare and, consequently, difficult to identify. By posting this Challenge, the Seeker hopes to unearth one or a few such extraordinary opportunities. The foundation may invest up to $100,000 initially, and a total of up to $1,000,000 in the very best ones.

The four key requirements that the Seeker will consider in selecting the Winner(s) are:

  • The opportunity holds the potential for a transformational impact on the lives of the world’s most disadvantaged people;
  • The opportunity is unlikely to attract funding elsewhere due to its risky, unorthodox, and/or neglected profile;
  • Subsequent to the foundation’s initial "catalytic" funding, the opportunity should be able to attract additional capital from other sources;
  • The opportunity is not on philanthropy’s list of "usual suspects", i.e. projects already receiving significant attention and funding.

By way of example, the Seeker has in mind three historic examples of "extraordinary opportunities" which resulted in dramatic returns to society:

  • The conception and adoption of Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT), a simple and cheap treatment for dehydration associated with diarrhea, especially where intravenous solutions are unavailable. The breakthrough resulted from the demonstration of an astonishing 90% reduction in mortality in 3,000 cholera patients in a Bangladeshi refugee camp in India in 1971. The Lancet described ORT as one of the most important medical advances of the 20th Century, saving millions of children’s lives every year.
  • The Commonwealth Fund’s experimental research grant to Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou for the scientific proof of principal of the Pap smear cancer screen. This funding was unavailable elsewhere.
  • The Aravind Eye Hospital in India invested $300,000 to develop a low-cost Intra Ocular Lens (IOL) for use in cataract surgeries. The price of IOLs was reduced from $50-$150 to $2, making it viable for millions of people.

The deadline for submissions is November 18. Details here. There are already 521 “active solvers” working on the project.