A posed miniture figure painting the words, “Think Big” on a green wall”
Image credit: NoName_13 from Pixabay

Have a $100 million plan to make a better world? The MacArthur Foundation wants to hear from you.

This May, MacArthur announced the third round of its 100&Change competition for a single $100 million grant to an awardee who “must identify a problem and offer a solution that promises significant and durable change.”

100&Change is an “open call, and it’s open to any problem anywhere,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the MacArthur Foundation that supports 100&Change and similar grantmaking efforts for funders. “One of the values of 100&Change is that by issuing an open invitation, we’re going to find some ideas that were not on our radar.”

Conrad told NPQ that applicants are encouraged to “think big”—and that all qualified applications will be reviewed with care and curiosity.

“Every applicant who gets through the eligibility review is going to get reviewed…and they get feedback,” Conrad said. “Applicants have told us that the feedback has been incredibly valuable as they have been taking their projects to other funders.”

Big Ideas, Big Reward

“We were presented with ideas we wouldn’t have seen before.”

The 100&Change competition is meant to spark innovation and reward creativity in solving major world problems.

In its first year, the contest awarded the $100 million grant to a collaborative effort by Sesame Workshop, which focuses on children, and the International Rescue Committee, which focuses on refugees, to provide Syrian children with early childhood education initiatives.

“But for 100&Change, that project would not have happened,” noted Conrad. “Those two organizations had been tossing around an idea about doing something, but there was no funder operating in the space where they would have expected to be invited to propose something about early childhood in a refugee crisis.”

“By opening the doors, we were presented with ideas we wouldn’t have seen before…we were effective in getting organizations to think big—sometimes you want to collaborate,” said Conrad.

Of the hundreds of organizations that apply to each 100&Change competition, only one will receive the $100 million award—but many more applicants stand to benefit from the process.

Those who become finalists have received attention and substantial funding from outside the competition.

“By sharing information about not only the awardee but also the other top scoring projects…we’ve been able to leverage a lot of additional funding from the 100&Change process,” Conrad said. “We’ve leveraged an additional $511 million on top of what MacArthur has put in.”

It’s one way that the 100&Change competition seeks to benefit not just the awardee but the wider sector.

Promoting an open grantmaking process model, driven by ideas and priorities defined not by the grantor but the awardee—and providing enough funding to make a big difference—100&Change is a kind of experiment in dreaming of other ways philanthropy can look.

“I think there has been a bit of growth in larger grants, multiyear grants,” noted Conrad. “There is…a move to opening up the processes for grantmaking to engage a larger set of voices in making the decisions.”