March 30, 2011; Source: | Got a great idea for powering economic opportunity in your community? Is it a “market based innovation to develop long term employment opportunities for vulnerable populations?” Are you game for some spirited competition? Then you should know about The Opportunity Project, a partnership between Ashoka Changemakers and the Ebay Foundation. Five $50,000 unrestricted grants to advance your vision are on the line. The deadline for application is June 15, 2011.

The competition starts with a brief online proposal, open to review by anyone who is interested. Then, a team of Ashoka staff and advisors selects fifteen semi-finalists. Next, Ashoka’s online community (that is, anyone who wants to vote) votes to narrow the field to ten proposals, and these ten finalists undergo a series of interviews with a panel of expert judges. Finally, the judges pick the top five proposals to each receive a $50,000 grant.

Nonprofit Ashoka Changemakers may be best known for its Asoka Fellows program, but it’s also been sponsoring crowd-sourced innovation competitions like this one with many different partners since 2004. Even if you don’t want to compete, you can review and comment upon the nearly 200 proposals that have already been submitted by individuals, organizations, and collaborations from around the world.

The mix includes project titles such as Japan-based “Relief 2.0”; Kenya-based “Taking the Market to the Farm Gate,” and “Community-based Energy Library.” Others include the U.S. based “Catering for A Cause,” “Youth Media Sanctuary,” and “Renewable Energy on Tribal Lands.” You can also review past competitions and winners, which just might inspire an adaptation for your own community.

This competition is more than a game. While a small percentage of proposals win funding through the competition, the well-honed proposal questions and the transparent forum for building upon ideas are useful contributions to the field as a whole.—Kathi Jaworski