Finally a funding programme that isn’t like Hunger Games

Funding for charitable projects usually take this form:

  1. Applications open.
  2. Your team comes up with an idea for funding that might work under that criteria, doing some research on the needs of the program and getting some general statistics of the need.
  3. Submission at the last minute, which sometimes is a panic when some funders requests hard copies and then hard digital copies on CDs.  At which point you try to reboot your old Mac that still has a CD writer on it and then scouring your whole office for a blank CD… only to find what you thought was a blank CD actually has your favourite drive tunes from 1998 on it…
  4. After submission, rediscover your spiritual side and make prayers to the high powers that be that it will be a success.

In my past ten years in the charity/social enterprise sector, I would say that I’ve written my share of these proposals.  If you’re reading and you’re from this industry as well, I’m sure you have your own stressful horror stories as well.

It’s what one of my contemporaries refers to as non-profit sector ‘The Hunger Games’.

What’s wrong with this approach?  Well, for one thing, it pits charity against charity, as what’s mine is definitely not yours, that funder can only make so many grants a year!

It also means that charities seldom work together.  Unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Like an uneven truce so they can get a higher chance at getting into the game – and even then, there is the whole thing about who’s the lead organisation and who’s the supporting partner, etc.


It’s with this backdrop that I wanted to write more about the GoodLab’s recent collaboration with the MTR corporation on their Pathways to Employment programme, which I think really deserves a mention on the open innovation process that drove the whole program.  Open innovation was created for businesses to work more effectively, but in the past years, it’s been adopted by the non-profit sector as a way to find better collaborative solutions to some of the world’s social issues.

Created in collaboration with IDEO, the world leading innovation and design firm, the MTR Pathways Programme aimed to invite social enterprises and charities from Hong Kong to share publicly with other potential applicants their idea and through a process of open innovation, have each other HELP (I know… can you believe it?!) each other to strengthen their proposals.  Help can come in the form of just a quick comment, like ‘have you considered…? or ‘have you heard of these guys who are doing something similar’ – to organisations actually realising that they can actually collaborate on a funding proposal together!  Think of it as Facebook comments posts that are positive and constructive to help the members think more deeply and improve.

We were partners with MTR on this process, from the start – with idea generation workshops to commenting and making suggestions on the ideas on the online forum to physically connecting them to people who might be of value to their proposal.

I must say, a lot of effort was used so people would first understand the concept of open innovation and collaboration, and I can start understanding why it’s just so much easier to put some guidelines on a website and have people submit their ideas…!

Throughout the process, I talked to many of the applicants, and what they really appreciated was the networking, with the opportunity that their connections and collaborations with other charities would actually in fact lead to a stronger proposal!

I heard one person, who through the program, was now in talks with another charity on building a program that would make use of their outdoor education facilities which would not have been possible before.  Other connections now meant that their proposal now had all the outreach partners they needed as a result of the connections through the program.

It’s been a long but rewarding process, seeing ideas and collaborations take shape.  At the GoodLab, what we believe is that the future is in sharing and collaboration, and we hope that the future of charitable funding can be thought much more in an open way than before.

The only shame is that through the whole process, with more than 70 ideas proposed, only 8 made it to the final stage, as the reality is that they could only fund so many in the end.  However the hope is that through this process, all of us hopefully see the potential of collaboration and partnerships and it’s potential.

This is the first year that MTR has rolled out this program and it’s with much anticipation that we hope that they will do a second round of this innovative program next year as well.  For us, we feel like this is just the beginning of innovation of what’s possible in our space.

To vote for your favourite of the final projects, you can visit the voting page here.

Voting closes on July 22, so do vote fast!