2021 J.M.K. Innovation Prizes Awarded to 10 Initiatives With Standout Potential, Shared Community Focus

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

2021 J.M.K. Innovation Prizes Awarded to 10 Initiatives With Standout Potential, Shared Community Focus

New York City – November 16, 2021 – The J.M. Kaplan Fund today announced the results of its nationwide search to identify and elevate transformative, early-stage projects in the fields of social justice, the environment, and heritage conservation. After a collaborative review of 2,826 applications—more than double the total submissions from the 2019 cycle—the Fund awarded its biennial J.M.K. Innovation Prize to ten exceptionally promising, visionary organizations with the potential to make a significant, lasting impact on America’s most pressing challenges. The 2021 awardees reflect particular attention to healing trauma, protecting our planet, and racial justice.

The 2021 Prize awardees are:

Black Women Build – Baltimore, Shelley Halstead
Cambium Carbon, Ben Christensen and Marisa Repka
Co-op Dayton, Lela Klein and amaha sellassie
Every Campus A Refuge, Diya Abdo
Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program, Sara Sindija and Brandon Smith
Freedom Community Center, Mike Milton
HEARD, Esperanza Dillard and Talila "TL" Lewis
Nuns & Nones, Brittany Koteles
Respond Crisis Translation, Ariel Koren and Fernanda de Oliveira Silva
Wikitongues, Daniel Bögre Udell and Kristen Tcherneshoff

Each awardee will receive a cash award of $150,000 over three years, plus $25,000 in technical assistance funds, for a total award of $175,000. Awardees also join a resource network designed to support them through the challenges of a startup organization, participating in twice-yearly convenings and benefitting from peer learning, mentoring, and strategic counsel throughout their Prize term and beyond. 

“This year saw far and away the most applications and volunteer participation in the Prize to date, and the submissions we received were more integrated and layered across our three program areas than ever before,” notes Peter W. Davidson, Chairman of The J.M. Kaplan Fund Board of Trustees. “These ten J.M.K. Innovation Prize awardees are incredible standouts, and they are just a fraction of the inspiring ideas shared by leaders of trailblazing nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit organizations in all fifty states.”

Now in its fourth cycle, The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is awarded biennially to ten innovators with potentially game-changing ideas to address pressing needs within the Fund’s program areas, whether supporting vulnerable communities, slowing climate change, or preserving the places communities care about most. The Prize’s unrestricted funding is designed specifically to support untested pilot projects or nascent efforts, which involve a certain amount of measured risk but may ultimately lead to large-scale, transformative results.

The 2021 award recipients were selected through an extensive evaluation process that included 497 first-round reviewers—committed volunteers who carefully assessed each and every application—followed by a second-round review by thirty subject matter experts.

“Our open application process, which relies on guidance from volunteers across diverse disciplines and communities, consistently elevates issues and approaches that traditional funding streams have not yet reached. This year’s innovators are taking on structural inequities and cycles of harm with creativity and determination, and we can’t wait to see how their pathbreaking ideas develop,” says Amy L. Freitag, Executive Director of The J.M. Kaplan Fund.

Since its launch in 2015, The J.M.K. Innovation Prize has provided forty social and environmental change initiatives with valuable tools, training, and capacity-building resources, in addition to crucial funding. From this early-stage support, past awardees have grown their ideas into categoryleading, multi-million-dollar organizations and garnered accolades most recently including a 2021 White House Fellowship (Victoria Herrmann, 2017) and Prince William’s Earthshot Prize (Coral Vita, 2017).

Innovation Trends in the Fund’s 2021 Report

The J.M. Kaplan Fund put out the call for applications for the Prize in January 2021—as the country was reeling from a pandemic and grappling with racial and political tensions—and by April received a record 2,826 applications from all fifty states, as well as numerous territories and tribal nations. With so many deserving innovators working in the midst of turmoil, the Fund analyzed those proposals with a critical eye on the forces driving creativity for key takeaways.

The report on this year’s Prize, Building Pathways to Collective Power, sheds further light on these findings and related social trends, highlighting a shift toward more layered projects connecting social justice to the environment, cultural heritage, and community-building. An eye-opening 31% of 2021 applications crossed multiple focus areas, up from 15% in 2019. Following a year marked by long-overdue conversations about race-based harm and activism for racial justice, 39% of submitted projects cited serving communities of color, while 18% specifically referenced Black Lives Matter. The report also spotlights an influx of projects in language justice, applicants building 3 on schools as community infrastructure, and emerging new modes of organizing and labor empowerment...

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