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The Audacious Project Is TED’s New $250 Million Fund To Power Social Change

The initiative–backed by heavyweights like the Gates Foundation–will fund five groundbreaking social impact projects every year.

The Audacious Project Is TED’s New $250 Million Fund To Power Social Change
[Source Image: superpopov/iStock]

A women-led initiative in the 50 highest-need communities in America to get people embracing physical activity to fight disease. A plan to finally eliminate trachoma, one of the leading causes of blindness. New technology to enable research on the ocean’s twilight zone, up to 1,000 meters below sea level. A national, self-sustaining bail fund to combat mass incarceration. A satellite, developed by the Environmental Defense Fund, to track methane emissions.

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These are the five projects TED is launching through its new $250 million philanthropic initiative, The Audacious Project. Each year, the initiative will invite social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and individuals to throw out their biggest and best ideas for creating sustainable social impact. With funding, support, and resources from a pool of donors–including the Skoll Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation–the visionaries will develop their ideas into multi-year, wide-reaching realities. The idea is to bring the aggregate funding model of the startup world to philanthropy, in the hopes that doing so will lead to bigger projects and more rapid change.

Going forward, a panel of judges will select up to five projects per year to gain access to the funding and resources of The Audacious Project cohort, and those winners, like this inaugural group, will be introduced at the annual TED conference in Vancouver. The coalition of partners will nominate ideas, but the application process is also open to the public. People around the world are also invited to contribute financially to the projects.

[Source Image: superpopov/iStock]

The five inaugural Audacious Project grantees run the gamut from community-based impact to global problemsolving. The Bail Project, for instance, addresses an issue that affects many Americans personally: the money bail system and how it feeds into mass incarceration. The initiative expands on an existing program, The Bronx Freedom Fund, which pools community resources to post bail for individuals whose families cannot afford the steep fees. The Bail Project will take that model and expand it nationally, city by city, with the help of The Audacious Project.

The diversity of philanthropic foundations backing The Audacious Project is crucial. Many foundations run their own social impact challenges, and they’ll use their experience to help guide the selection process for The Audacious Project. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition, which identifies and funds a single project with $100 million each year, will be especially useful. The Bridgespan Group, a social impact advisory firm, will help the entrepreneurs fine-tune their plans to maximize investments.

In a blog post introducing The Audacious Project, Chris Anderson, owner of TED, writes: “There is no inherent reason why nonprofit initiatives can’t generate change at massive scale. They may not be able to self-fund through their own profits, yet there are still multiple ways they can tap into the power of the global economy, the support of the government, or the reach of the Internet.”

The barrier, he continued, is fundraising. The Audacious Project aims to knock down that barrier for those projects poised to create real change, and to keep doing it year after year until we start to see the impact.

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Watch the first class of Audacious Project grantees discuss their projects here.

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About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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