Aching for Acknowledgment? Top 5 Social Innovation Awards in Africa

Flickr/CC/Locus Research|The trophies for the 2013 Young Innovator Awards


By Zarreen Kamalie


It’s a wonderful thing when hardworking and forward thinking individuals are recognised for their perseverance and brilliance. It is equally encouraging for those wishing to break into the social economy.

Social innovation and enterprise awards offer an array of rewards, from widespread recognition and recommendation, to generous financial reward to help them continue their work.

Here are some well known social innovation awards hailing from or destined for innovation in Africa.

1. SAB Social Innovation Foundation Awards

The South African Breweries (SAB) is South Africa’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer and soft drinks. Through its various corporate social responsibility programmes, SAB actively invests in community partnerships, socio-economic and enterprise development initiatives to build a stronger South Africa.

Sustainable innovation is the key here, either a product or process that addresses a challenge faced by its beneficiary groups. These innovations are to be scalable and able to be commercialized.

Irrespective of the source of these innovations, they need to address the mandate of the SAB Foundation by:

  1.     Stimulating and rewarding innovation supports a broader entrepreneurial culture within South Africa.
  2.     The target group of the SAB Foundation will stand to benefit as a results of the implementation or expansion of these ‘pro-poor’ innovations, a process that will be directly encouraged and developed through the SAB Innovation Award

Key Investment Principles and Criteria

The SAB Foundation Innovation Awards are open to all applicants, and seek the best ideas to enhance the lives of disadvantaged South Africans. Specific consideration will be given during the judging process to the race, gender, age and disability status of applicants.

The SAB Foundation Innovation Awards offers the following grants:

  • 1st place R1-million
  • 2nd place R500 000
  • 3rd place R350 000.

Grants are given to help upscale and commercialize innovative solutions, supported by the SAB Foundation in partnership with the SABS Design and innovation Studio. The SAB Foundation has supported 260 enterprises at a total investment of close to R50 million (US$3.6 million) since 2010.

2. Innovation Prize for Africa

The African Innovation Foundation aims to inspire a spirit of social innovation among Africans, for Africans. The Social Impact Program is one such measure the foundation employs to cultivate a culture of social innovation. For those of which that have succeeded in this spirit, there is the Innovation Prize for Africa.

The Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), started in 2011, is an initiative of the African Innovation Foundation (AIF). IPA acknowledges and encourages innovative achievements that contribute toward developing new products and services that increase efficiency and wellbeing in Africa. Specifically, the award honors technological breakthroughs in 5 main areas; manufacturing and service industry, health and well-being, agriculture and agribusiness, environment, energy & water and ICTs.

The first place winner stands to win USD 100,000 for the best innovation based on marketability, originality, scalability, social impact, scientific or technical aspects and clear business potentials. The second place winner wins USD 25,000 for the best commercial or business potential. There is also a Special Prize for Social Impact Innovation, where USD 25,000 is awarded to the innovation with the highest social impact in the community or country.

Each nominee is also given a USD 5,000 voucher to be used in post-prize technical support to assist in moving the innovation to the next step. These nominees also benefit from the AIF-IPA brand, receive ongoing local, regional and international media coverage, and support and training opportunities can be mobilized for the nominees.

The great thing about the IPA is that it also provides;

  1. Support for women: whereby they select the 10 best innovations submitted by women innovators and will work with each one of them to mobilize support that will help move her innovation forward
  2. Support for 10 young innovators under 26: who will work with each one of them to mobilize support that will help move their innovation forward
  3. Design “Do-Tank” workshop/support:  where each year, AIF will select at least 5 innovations, which can be enhanced by design and will invite them to the workshop where they will get help from experts to help improve the design and make their product more marketable. 


3. Sankalp Awards for Africa

Sankalp hosts a series of summits in Africa and Asia, with their global summit held in India annually. The aim of the foundation is to create an enthusiasm and drive towards social innovation and entrepreneurship, much like most of the awards and foundations on this list.

Benefits of winning an Africa Award from Sankalp include funding opportunities, strategic mentoring, access to global networks and media visibility.

Their focus varies between sectors, from Agriculture & Food, Education, Clean Energy, Healthcare, Financial Inclusion, to Water, and Sanitation. Their impact is geared to cater to rural, low-income, disadvantaged communities. Winning an award is in your best interest, to fund your venture and gain global recognition.

Over the last 2 years, Sankalp Forum, a global platform with regional editions, has convened diverse stakeholder groups with  the intent to create an ecosystem approach to enterprise-led  development

Sankalp’s work is widely operated in Southeast Asia and other parts of the developing world, allowing for individuals to create networks with other enterprises and innovators in similar socioeconomic contexts. The monetary benefits appear slightly vague, though this too seems like an opportunity worth pursuing.

4. Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year 

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, founded in 1998, is a non-profit, independent and neutral organization. Its goal is to advance social entrepreneurship and to foster social entrepreneurs as a means to generate societal innovation and progress.

In association with EY, the Schwab Foundation annually looks for candidates and receives hundreds of suggestions through its network of nominators. These nominees go through an extensive and diligent process that includes research, interviews, expert evaluations and site visits. Direct positive social impact, innovation, financial and organisational sustainability, reach and scope, and flexibility in terms of context in other countries/regions are all considerations that nominees are faced with.

Those fortunate to win an award are  included in the Schwab Foundation network of social entrepreneurs. They then have access to a peer network of social entrepreneurs, free consulting services and scholarships to executive education courses at global top institutions such as Harvard Business School, Stanford University and INSEAD.

The winners will be invited to the regional meetings of the World Economic Forum (WEF) as it relates to their work and, if they are under 40, are nominated to the Young Global Leaders network of the WEF.

The opportunities are many and carry prestige beyond comprehension.

5. Orange African Social Venture Prize

The Orange African Social Venture Prize showcases talented entrepreneurs that have innovative products or services that meet the needs of Africans in fields such as health, agriculture, education, energy, industry or trade.

The winners have the opportunity to win grants from 10,000 euros to 25,000 euros, as well as six months of support from Orange experts. Whoever wins first prize is also offered a patent registration in the country of the project’s development.

However, submitted projects are to be designed in such a way that they can be deployed in at least one of the 17 African countries that Orange operates in. The product or service should also aim to improve the living conditions of the populations in these countries.

So for those of you on the brink of discovering the next best innovation for Africa, these foundations and awards should get you going and motivate you even further. If these guys are convinced with what you do, then there’s no telling how much further you could go.