Let's applaud our silent heroes of social change

Sally Osberg, president and CEO of Skoll Foundation presents the Skoll Awards in 2011. The Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship is presented to those who work to create a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Photo by: Skoll World Forum / CC BY

A plethora of international prizes have long existed for business tycoons, musicians, authors, scientists and political leaders but only a handful applaud the work of the thousands of advocates of social change who are working persistently in all corners of the world to spur positive socio-economic impact.

In fact, it’s only in the past two decades that robust efforts by international not-for-profit organizations and foundations that have helped bring these silent heroes out of the shadows. For instance, the Qatar Foundation’s WISE Prize for Education, which honors an individual for distinguished contribution to education, was only established in 2009. Until then, there was no international distinction that acknowledged the efforts of grassroots’ practitioners to address challenges linked to education, an issue that impacts and affects billions globally.

International prizes and awards for social impact such as the XPrize, the Skoll Awards or the TED Prize are much more than mere symbolic medals of honors worn by the intrepid soldiers whose bold and creative strides are helping turn poverty into prosperity. In fact, these decorations provide much-needed motivation to accelerate change.

At the same time, I am often asked “aren’t these just grants by foundations and enterprises?” Indeed, with accolades comes financial support but as Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, says, “These [awards] are bets on the people who will create better futures for millions.”

So when social entrepreneurs and enterprises win laurels, they benefit from global visibility, get a chance to become a part of an international community of changemakers and most importantly they seize an opportunity to dream bigger.

But they are not the sole beneficiaries. The global community benefits too.

These rewards shed light on innovations that have made significant impact and that can be scaled up to solve similar challenges in other parts of the world, saving valuable time and effort to reinvent the wheel.

Floating schools in Bangladesh, an innovative learning model in Colombia, a “real-world” school in Finland, a unique education program for girls in India or a School in the Cloud would have remained in the shadows had it not been for international awards and prizes for social impact.

International endorsements often act as gold standard stamps of approval that make it easier for investors and corporations to identify projects that are valid and credible amid tens of thousands of social enterprises and initiatives that are sprouting around the world.

Moreover, a social entrepreneur is one who sees opportunity where others see obstacles. So imagine when a group of innovative social entrepreneurs put their minds together to work. My point here is to reflect one of the biggest upshots of social innovation awards: the creation and expansion of a robust global community of visionaries and innovative problem-solvers who not only help each other but also work together to find solutions to unsolved pressing socio-economic challenges.

These global issues will only continue to mount. And to combat them, we will need a whole new generation of adept agents of change.

The Hult Prize, one of the largest student competitions for social good, challenges students from colleges and universities to find ideas that can change the world for the better. Millennials are keen to establish a mark on the world, and awards for social good is an ideal way to encourage them to pursue professions or start their own enterprise.

As they say, no good deed ever goes unrewarded. In the case of social entrepreneurs, a high-impact good deed should not only be rewarded but also replicated because their out-of-the box thinking is taking us one step closer to a progressive, sustainable world.

To learn more about social entrepreneurship, check out our series the #SocEnt Revolution: How entrepreneurship is changing global development, which explores the entrepreneurship ecosystem, from the roles of different actors to donor support, financing and incubators, in an effort to examine what needs to be done to maximize the impact of entrepreneurship in the post-2015 era of development.

About the author

  • Sébastien Turbot

    Sébastien Turbot is a French social entrepreneur who has served as the curator and the global director at Qatar Foundation's World Innovation Summit for Education since May 2012. He is also a fellow at the Royal Society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce, an advisory board member at Samuel Hall Consulting, an independent research and strategic consulting firm, and Turbot is an adjunct professor at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences-Po, Paris. Prior to this he worked as editorial director at TEDx Paris, and founded Sayara Strategies a social communication agency during the decade he spent in Afghanistan.