Hult Prize To Announce Incubator-Based 'NGO 2.0' At Clinton Global Initiative Conference [Forbes]

Posted Sep 26, 2012 by Media Relations

In April, I wrote about the Hult Prize, a worldwide social entrepreneurship challenge hosted by the Hult International Business School, an entity owned by Swedish billionaire Bertil Hult (worth $3 billion as of March), the entrepreneur who made his fortune by building language and cultural learning giant EF Education First.

That was the third annual challenge event, which drew 350 teams from around the world, attracting competitors from heavyweights like Stanford, Harvard, Columbia and UPenn’s Wharton School. Historically, those teams crafted social entrepreneurship plans to be implemented by existing NGOs like Habitat for Humanity, Solaraid and One Laptop Per Child. The top three teams split $1 million in funding, to be sent to those NGOs and earmarked for the student created plans.

But for the fourth annual case challenge, founder Ahmad Ashkar is turning the event on its head, after being urged to do so by some of the challenge’s most visible proponents, former President Bill Clinton and micro-lending Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus. In a cover story written for Time’s Oct. 1 issue, Clinton describes the challenge as one of his favorite partnerships.

The case challenge will no longer work with already-existing NGOs. Teams will now compete to create wholly new organizations, oriented around a topic area selected by Clinton himself (this year’s challenge will be focused, somehow, around “food”), to be announced Tuesday — the last day of the annual CGI conference.  Six regional winners will venture to Boston next summer, where, for two months, they will perfect their plans through an intensive two month incubator program –  not unlike Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator. Those six teams will present at next year’s CGI annual meeting, and the Hult family will now award just one team the $1 million prize, although Ashkar hopes that the CGI platform will get other investors involved as well. He is calling the move “NGO 2.0.” And he hopes to create a new generation of profit-motive-driven social entrepreneurial start-ups.

“We still recognize that NGOs bring a deep level of on-the-ground expertise, each company has an NGO leader on their board,” says Ashkar about the shift, ” But what we want to do is move away from the bureaucracy, which is what liberates start-ups.”

Hitendra Patel, managing director at the IXL Center in Boston and a professor focusing on innovation at the Hult school, will oversee the challenge’s new incubator. He says the change comes after learning that the earmarking process with NGOs was often slow, and killed the momentum that the student entrepreneurs had been building.

“ Its like their baby,” Patel says. “You can’t go up to a mother and tell her that she has an ugly baby. You also can’t tell these entrepreneurs that their ideas are bad. And you can’t get them to hand over the oversight to someone else. They love their ideas.”

The incubator will focus the start-ups in terms of product-building, scalability, regional focus and partnership identification. Patel also places heavy emphasis on “win-win” business models. Which is to say, they can’t be charities. Charity’s fatal flaw, he says, is that it depends on donor dollars, which can dry up for any number of reasons. Like Yunus’ Grameen Bank, students’ newly crafted organizations will need to address the needs of the world’s disenfranchised, but do so in such a way that everybody along the supply chain profits.

Read the full Forbes article.

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