Since 2000, the World Bank has been organizing an annual competition for social entrepreneurs called The Development Marketplace (DM) Competition. DM was the brainchild of two World Bank officials who felt that helping organizations directly, rather than through the government or other bureaucratic middlemen, would have a greater impact. After some brilliant lobbying, the two brought together a small amount of grant money, and a pint-sized effective workforce to put this together.
Almost every year since then, the Bank has held a DM competition. As of today, the DM has handed out over $46 million in grant money to atleast a thousand social entrepreneurs internationally. It also now has two levels - a national and international competition. Winners and other strong contenders from the national levels are sent on to the international competition (others can also apply as long as you are eligible and within the DM's theme)
The DM is a themed competition. When it first started, the DM was purely looking for solutions - any solutions. But they soon realized that to control and regulate the growth of the competition, a theme was needed. So far they have had competitions on water, sanitation, energy, nutrition, health, governance, etc. This year, it is sustainable agriculture.
I highly encourage anyone in the DC area (or nearby), or anyone generally interested in this topic to visit the DM. Usually 120 of the best entrants in the competition (there are usually 3000-4000 entrants) are flown out to DC to do a show and tell. At the end of 3 days, 30 winners are chosen and given upto $200,000 each for use over 2 years.
Most people think that the best thing about the DM is the money. What I think is priceless is that it has proven to be a mecca for emerging appropriate technologies and has provided a community for these budding entrepreneurs. I followed up with several of these entrepreneurs and many of them had found partners to collaborate with in other parts of the country and world. Finally having someone to bounce ideas off was priceless. That is the greatness of the DM, conferences and competitions like it.
Now all I wish for is the DM to case and follow up on these technologies and formalize these communities.
Other places like the DM - TED, The BBC/Newsweek World Challenge, Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, The Fast Company Social Capitalist Awards (these are more US focused), Manhattan Institute Social Entrepreneurship Awards (again more locally focused), Social Edge (which provides the beginnings of a Social Enterprise community), and the Lemellson Foundation. If you come across others, let me know...