Application pointers

by SF Team, 20 February 2014

Featured Image
Created by Flazingo Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Over the years we have reviewed (and funded) many, many proposals and fellowship applications. In the current incarnation of the Foundation we support individuals to implement their idea for social change.

Prospective applicants often ask us to narrow down the parameters for applications and be more specific about what we’re looking for. We are not planning on doing that, as we want to be surprised and intrigued by applicants, no matter how unconventional the idea may be.

However, we can provide some thoughts on what to keep in mind while developing your application for our fellowship. We hope these are useful, for applying for the Fellowship, and for distilling the essence of your idea.

Our number one ask is that openness be at the core of your idea and/or its implementation. Openness is not an add on. It is a fundamental approach to both participation and intellectual property.

Other than that, there are no absolute rules, only strong suggestions.

  • Address your application to us and customise it accordingly. Generic proposal material does not tell us why we should specifically support you.

  • We’ve invested in Open Educational Resources (OERs), education platforms and re-imagining peer learning before. Although this remains important in the world, it no longer automatically meets our criteria. We will need considerable evidence of innovation.

  • “I will build a platform that will…”: Platforms do not solve problems. They also do not magically bring people, or problems and solutions, together. If you build it, there is no guarantee they will come. Tell us HOW you will do this and what the real world processes will be.

  • “The Facebook for…” or “Like a social networking site for…”: Facebook and other social networking sites exist. They are theme agnostic and allow you to engage with others around any topic/theme/identity of your choosing. They also already have millions (billions?) of users. Why does your theme/topic/subset of people need their own site? Why can’t they just use Facebook or similar? What will make this specific group come to your version? How will you let them know about it? Same goes for “crowdfunding platform for…”.

  • Just adding technology to an offline process or problem will not solve it. Participants in the offline process will also not move to the technology enabled version just because it is there. What is the compelling reason for them to adopt the technology version? How will you help them do it?

  • Building awareness or making connections is not specific enough. We want to support the exploration of a specific solution to a specific problem. Enabling others to connect in order to ask those questions and possibly find answers is great. We’re looking for more. While we think it is important and useful for people to come together and we in no way prevent this from being part of a strategy, that is not enough. We are looking for a specific result in change in behaviour.

  • “I want to inspire (young) people…” People are inspired by what you do in your own life, not by what you tell them to do. Do not set out to inspire someone else, set out to make a difference in the world. Your journey may end up being inspirational to others, young and old.

  • “I want to provide information on x to y…” Providing information only serves to inform; people need a compelling reason to act. Any information service has to be clear about the actions they will take to bring about change in behaviour as a result.

  • Picture quality on your video is less important than sound quality. If we are distracted by trying to understand what you say, your message will not come across.

  • Offline solutions are still important in the world, and often the best way of doing something. While we don’t rule these out completely, it is not our experiment in the world. We far prefer solutions that include an online, technology enabled component.

  • “Mobile” money/payments are being done, and done well, already.

  • Let us understand your context. Making it as real as possible allows us to understand your frustrations and see the applicability of your solution.

  • “We can bridge the digital divide” and “democratize innovation” for “systemic change”. These are all phrases that are over used and mean very little. What are you actually doing? For what purpose? What value are you adding?

  • Quoting others does not help your cause, unless they are specifically speaking about you and your project. Share your idea in your own words.

  • When compiling your video, assume the viewer has not read your documentation. Set the scene, but ensure that you mention your specific idea as early as possible in the video.

  • Focus on what you want to do next. We would like to hear about how far you’ve come, but this is not a history lesson. It is a pitch on how you are going to change history.

Lastly, propose what YOU want to do, not what you think we want to see. Of course it should be tied to our interests - innovation, technology, knowledge and learning – but an honest application from the gut lets your passion and commitment shine through. This is much more likely to be successful than a formulaic response to a call for proposals.

Your idea may not be for us, but if you believe in it, others will too. Good luck!