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What a Socially Innovative Idea Looks Like

2017 Echoing Green Fellow Katrina Klett, co-founder of Elevated Honey Co.

Echoing Green Fellows think critically, are willing to take risks, and initiate change to take on the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. Our search for the next class of Fellows has begun, and we’re eager to meet candidates from all over the world. Our Fellowship evaluators will review applicants against two sets of criteria to understand the role the applicant will play to propel society forward with solutions that make our communities and world better.

Fellowship applicants answer questions that map directly to four applicant criteria and four organization criteria, which help reviewers understand the leader, the idea the leader is proposing, and how that idea will lead to systemic change.

One of the organization evaluation criteria for the Echoing Green Fellowships is innovation. It is an understatement to note that innovation is a loaded and occasionally garbled term often used in ways that are hard to define. As part of Echoing Green’s application review, it’s one piece of a bigger puzzle. Read below for our take on what factors make an idea innovative.


What Do We Mean By “Innovation”?

At its core, innovation is rooted in advancement and improvement. How this manifests can be incredibly varied and extends well beyond tech and product-driven solutions. One can also revolutionize a process, shift culture or perspectives, enter new markets with an existing idea, create a program which achieves new social progress, and much more. Innovation also exists relative to the target region, market, and audience of the organization. Applicants who can make the dimension of their innovation clear while also communicating why their proposal will create more or better shared value score well on the innovation criteria.

The range of approaches applicants propose is tailored to social issues and opportunities worldwide. How innovation is described should, and will, vary. Some elements we look for include:

  1. Novelty: An innovative idea is novel, it’s often untried, and it challenges the assumptions made by previous organizations working in the field.
  2. Improvement: Innovative ideas can build upon or make improvements to an existing model, or they can create their own unique solutions that have never been tried before.
  3. New Context or Application: An organization might operate an existing model in a new context, or even use a product to address an issue it was not intended for. For example, an entrepreneur may apply a pre-existing model to new locations, communities, or organizations to which it has not been historically related.
  4. Scale of Impact: Innovative ideas bring about dramatic change, not just incremental change. Tell us how your approach will lead to increased change over other models or ideas.

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