SVP Conference 2014: the power of social innovation competitions


Dennis Cavner


The Social Venture Partners Audacious Philanthropy Conference in Austin, Texas, USA on 16–18 October attracted global Partners from SVP’s 38city network. Partner Suzi Sosa of Austin, co-founder and CEO of Verb, led a packed session on Competitions, Open Innovation and Stakeholder Engagement’. Suzi traced the latest developments on how competitions, challenges and prizes are being used as powerful tools of social impact.

Businesses, governments and non-profits are all using these effective strategies to drive the development of innovation, engage interested employees as mentors and judges, and build stakeholder awareness of the organization’s commitment to solve big problems in the community. During her tenure at the University of Texas at Austin, Suzi led the expansion of the Dell Social Innovation Challenge into a global competition that engaged thousands of students and Dell employees, and positioned Dell as a social innovator with its customers and other stakeholders.

SVP Partners got a special treat on Friday evening of the conference as guests at the Livestrong Foundation’s blowout global social innovation challenge: The Big C Competition. Hundreds of SVP Partners, Livestrong supporters, cancer survivors and philanthropists packed the Austin Music Hall to hear the final pitches of five finalists in Livestrong’s global competition for innovations that will improve the daily quality of life for the 32.5 million people around the world living with cancer today. Each of the finalists was introduced by a cancer survivor or a Livestrong leader who has lost a family member to cancer – the stories of each of these ordinary citizens demonstrated their extraordinary courage in the face of adversity.

Winner of The Big C was Decisive Health, an online tool that provides essential information to patients regarding treatment options with a special focus on patient-centred care. The competition was managed by Verb and included over 750 ventures from 31 countries, with 168 semi-finalists that received mentoring. The quality of the finalists was exceptional and demonstrates the power of social innovation competitions to attract the brightest people with the best ideas to focus on solutions to our most pressing problems.

Since Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, the Big C Competition ended with a great rock band and dancing – proving in fine Livestrong fashion that cancer may enter your life but it can’t control your spirit!

Dennis Cavner is an Austin entrepreneur and community activist, board member of SVP and past chairman of Livestrong.

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