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Open Call: Next Generation of Social Innovators

Hunter Goldman — Former Director, Innovation, The Rockefeller Foundation
Jo-Ann Tan — Director, +Acumen


Think you have what it takes to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems?

The challenges facing the world today are fast-moving, intertwined, and multi-layered. Tackling these challenges will require a combination of fresh minds and experience, passion and vision, creativity and operational expertise.

We need the next generation of social innovators.

And we need to not only equip them with the skills and support to create real impact, but connect them with experts, peers, mentors, and partners who can help take their innovations to drive big systems change.

Today, we are excited to launch a new global challenge platform for university students to come together and develop innovative solutions to problems associated with poverty: The Rockefeller Foundation-Acumen Student Social Innovation Challenge.

Through the Challenge, our organizations will share the lessons we’ve learned from decades of backing companies, leaders, and ideas with the next generation of social innovators as they explore areas of opportunity, develop ideas of their own, and launch social ventures.

For over 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation has promoted the well-being of humanity throughout the world by inspiring and fostering large-scale impact. The Foundation has a longstanding belief that investing in innovators at the earliest stages can lead to unexpected new pathways for solving some of the most intractable social challenges. Acumen shares this commitment and belief, and since 2001, has invested ‘patient capital’ in businesses whose products and services enable low-income people to transform their lives and has worked with over 450,000 social innovators and emerging global leaders to build the skills, determination, and moral imagination to challenge the status quo.

We believe ideas that can change the world come from all over the world, so we’ve created two tracks within the Challenge to ensure that every student innovator has the opportunity to transform their idea into an impactful enterprise.

The first track is for students enrolled at universities that offer these four existing social innovation competitions:

We’ve funded these competitions and also provided them with high-quality resources that share expert guidance on the world’s toughest challenges, unique case studies, and a curriculum of hard skills, pulling from our decades of working with social entrepreneurs. Details for each of these competitions can be found on their respective websites, hyperlinked above.

The second track is new, for students enrolled at all other universities around the world — our own Virtual Challenge. The Fall Virtual Challenge kicks off on October 15th with a 6-week Lean Startup course offered by +Acumen. Through this course and a series of virtual Learning Labs, students will develop the skills they need to plan, launch, and scale a successful venture. We’ve also created a library of resources to support student projects, from start to submission. Insights from experts, sector overviews, and case studies will provide guidance and inspiration as teams tackle challenges associated with poverty.

Finalists will be selected in January and invited to an 8-week Student Social Enterprise Accelerator, a high-touch, cohort-based experience. Guided by one-on-one coaching from a network of social innovators, peer mentoring, and tailored case studies, finalists will refine their ideas and prepare for a final pitch showcase, where we’ll select our winners who will receive up to $20,000 in follow-on funding.

The best teams from both tracks will be invited to join Acumen’s Community of Social Innovators (CoSI), where they will receive ongoing support and gain access to the network of Acumen’s Fellows, entrepreneurs, and other community members for continued development of their ideas.

We cannot wait to meet and support the next generation of social innovators over the upcoming academic year.

For more information and to sign up, visit

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