Can Market Based Philanthropy Stem Climate Change?

The Progressive Automotive X Prize certainly seems to believe that market-based philanthropy can stimulate innovation on a global scale through handsome monetary packages – in this case, $10 million.  The goal, announced recently at the New York International Auto Show, is an impressive one –

The newly renamed Progressive Automotive X PRIZE is an international competition designed to inspire a new generation of viable, super fuel-efficient vehicles. The independent and technology-neutral competition is open to teams from around the world that can design, build and bring to market 100 MPGe (miles per gallon energy equivalent) vehicles that people want to buy, and that meet market needs for price, size, capability, safety and performance.

This concept, termed “Revolution through Competition”, is not a new one.  In fact, X Prize Foundation has attempted to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit for the benefit of humanity in the past through competitions in the realm of space, the human genome, and energy.  According to Jonathan Greenblatt, senior adviser to the X Prize Foundation,

“It’s a mode that encourages experimentation rather than prescribing solutions. It sets the stage for innovation and dynamism that the grantor can’t anticipate.”

More after the jump. 

The approach borrows from the precepts of venture capitalism, as articulated by Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives at

“The usual way is to quietly go about looking at investment opportunities, make investments and have some impact. We decided to take a different route, a public request for investment proposals. We wanted to look beyond the usual players, bring attention to a critical area and catalyze competition and innovation.”

What better way to cross-fertilize capitalism and philanthropy?  The stakes are high, the prizes are monumental, and the product has the potential to catalyze a social revolution.  Some critics argue that this may not be the best use of philanthropic dollars, but if the outcome produces a social good, should the means even matter? 

For more critical commentary on sustainable philanthropy, go here, or read this NYTimes article. 



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