Now the Skoll Foundation is Aiming Social Entrepreneurs at Water

Given its Silicon Valley roots, the Skoll Foundation’s interest in "social entrepreneurship" is only natural. It’s also a sentiment you need to tap into if you’re interested in a partnership with the organization.

The foundation has a broad range of interests — in fact, it seems to be less concerned about any one issue than about finding people who have creative ideas for addressing big problems. Every year, the Skoll Foundation chooses a few individuals who need a little boost to turn their little idea into a large-scale intervention. Most of them become recipients of the foundation’s annual Award for Social Entrepreneurship — good for a three-year grant and a generous helping of publicity for your cause.

"While our strategy has evolved a bit over the years, it has always been rooted in the idea of investing in people with exciting visions, proven track records, and credible plans for making big dents on big issues," President and CEO Sally Osberg says.

Related: Sally Osberg

One of the most recent social entrepreneurs to meet the standard is Water For People’s Ned Breslin. What did Skoll see in Water For People? Osberg cited the organization’s willingness to seek buy-in from members of the community and develop water solutions tailored to their specific needs. The organization has also displayed some tech savvy in developing software that uses GPS-enabled mobile phones to monitor the condition of wells and pumps it has installed around the world.

Another example: International Development Enterprises-India, which takes a market-based approach to water resources. The group’s goal is to expand irrigation equipment and related technology to farmers in impoverished areas of India. Their innovative approach provides a better water resource to farmers, who can then grow more food and purchase pumps from local manufacturers. The mix of sustainability and innovation is right up the Skoll Foundation’s alley.

So how do you attract attention from Skoll? One strategy might be to form partnerships with organizations that have already received the foundation’s support. In the last few years, the foundation has increasingly looked at development as an "ecosystem." The goal is to support not just the entrepreneur with a big idea, but also the organizations that can partner with them and help them succeed.