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2021 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards

A Celebration of People Power

International Civil Society Week 2020-21 will end with a celebration of people power initiatives from around the world: the 2021 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards. 

The 2021 Innovation Awards will recognise seven individuals, groups or organisations that stand out for their innovative work building people power in support of human rights and social justice for everyone.  Submissions are invited under the following topics explored during the 2020 ICSW/virtual events:


One winner from each category will be selected. Each winner initiative will receive a US$5,000 prize. 

To share this celebration of people power more widely, the shortlisted applicants will be featured for public endorsement on the People Power Innovation Zone in October. The seven 2021 Innovation Awards winners will be announced in November. 

The 2021 Innovation Awards will help to make the case for the importance of people power and civil society activism in creating a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.  The Awards will provide an important platform for learning, sharing and building solidarity, and inspire activists, donors and other enablers who are looking for innovative approaches and solutions to supporting people power.

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Apply Now!

The call for applications for the Innovation Awards is now open. We invite individuals, organisations and groups all around the world to check the eligibility criteria and submit their applications before 20 September, 2021.  

Please, carefully read the information below before submitting your application. If you have any questions, please send us an email at ICSW@civicus.org.  

Who Can Apply

The Awards are open to any individual, organisation or group who meets the following eligibility criteria:

  • You are 18 years or older by 1 September 2021.
  • You are able to submit an application in English, French or Spanish.
  • You are both a national and resident from the following regions: Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Pacific.
  • You work with organisations, networks, movements or change-seeking communities at the local or national level. Both formally constituted and informal organisations or groups are eligible. 
  • You belong to the same community whose issues you are trying to address. (For example, if you work to increase youth participation in civil society, you must be a young person, or your organisation/group must be youth-led.)
  • You have worked to build people power in your community for at least 2-years.
  • For individual applicants: you belong to an organisation, network, movement or change-seeking community that would ultimately benefit from the Award.
  • You are not/ have not received funding from CIVICUS in the past 2-years.
  • Your work/ the proposed initiative relates directly to one of the following topics:
    • Building and sustaining social justice movements
    • Creating positive narratives for people power
    • Democratising governance systems and processes
    • Enhancing diversity and inclusion through artivism
    • Protecting and promoting digital civic space
    • Resourcing youth-led groups and movements
    • Sustaining people power through self- and community care
  • You are currently implementing the proposed initiative.

How To Apply

Interested candidates must follow these steps to apply for the 2021 Innovation Awards:

  1. Take the following eligibility quiz to ensure they meet the eligibility criteria: 
    1. English: https://web.civicus.org/form  
    2. French: https://web.civicus.org/formulaire  
    3. Spanish: https://web.civicus.org/formulario  
  2. Applicants who pass the eligibility quiz will immediately have access to the official online application form. Those who do not pass the quiz are not eligible to participate in the Awards and cannot submit an application form. We implemented the eligibility quiz to help non-eligible candidates save time and effort. 
  3. Eligible applicants have two options
    1. Complete and submit the online application form immediately when redirected to it.
    2. Download a template of the application form (also provided after passing the quiz) to prepare their answers in advance. When ready, go back to the eligibility quiz to access the online application form, copy-paste the prepared answers, and submit the online form

***Important note: The application form must be completed and submitted online without exceptions. We do not receive applications via email or any other channels. The application form template cannot be submitted as an official application by any means. 

Deadline to submit the online application form: 20 September 2021.

Selection Process

Applications will be assessed based on the selection criteria outlined below. Those applications that meet all the eligibility and selection criteria will be included in the People Power Innovation Zone database, with shortlisted applicants being featured for public endorsement in an Innovation gallery.

The 2021 Innovation Awards Selection Committee will shortlist the ideas featured on the People Power Innovation Zone based the following selection criteria: 

  • Relevance (20%) - does the initiative clearly address and build on one of the seven seven  key topics related to people power discussed during ICSW/virtual? (Applications that do not meet the ‘Relevance’ criteria will be disqualified.)
  • Innovation (20%) - does the initiative embody a new or renewed (for your context) approach, product or service that supports people power?
  • Experience (10%) - does the individual/group/organisation have demonstrated experience in organising and mobilising people, support and resources around initiatives, actions and campaigns?
  • Relevance to context (10%) - does the initiative clearly respond to a key challenge and need in the community?
  • Constituency engagement (10%) - does the initiative clearly demonstrate meaningful engagement with community/movement members?
  • Contribution to change (10%) - does the initiative make a significant contribution to building people power?
  • Enrichment (5%) - does the individual/group/organisation need greater visibility or solidarity to access financial or other support?
  • Endorsements (5%) - has the initiative received significant public/peer support?
  • Clarity (10%) - is the initiative clear and easy to understand? Is the thought process and vision well communicated?

The Selection Committee will moderate and identify the 2021 Innovation Awards Winners to reflect a diversity of perspectives, including:

  • Geographic - the final cohort will represent regional diversity
  • Thematic - the final cohort will focus on different topics and trends related to people power
  • Type - the final cohort will represent the diversity of civil society, e.g., smaller, less formal groups and movements, young people, traditionally excluded groups, etc.

Shortlisted applicants will be notified via email October.  The seven 2021 Innovation Awards Winners will be publicly announced in early November, 2021. If you have any questions, please send us an email at ICSW@civicus.org.    

Awards History

Since the first CIVICUS World Assembly in Mexico City in 1995, CIVICUS has convened civil society across sectors, themes, regions, and backgrounds to engage collectively in finding solutions to global challenges. Shortly after the 2004 CIVICUS World Assembly, held in Gaborone, Botswana, CIVICUS launched the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards in response to the rich ideas generated by the diverse civil society participants from across the world.

In early years, the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards provided seed funding for innovative project ideas emerging from organisations participating in the World Assembly, with a focus on supporting grassroots development.  Between 2004 and 2013, the Awards supported 24 projects initiated in 19 countries.  When CIVICUS adopted a new event convening model and transitioned from the CIVICUS World Assembly to International Civil Society Week, the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards modalities were also updated to recognise excellence, innovation and brave risk-taking among a wider audience of activists and organisations beyond the CIVICUS alliance.

Subsequent editions of the CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards were presented during award ceremonies that took place during International Civil Society Week 2014 (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2016 (Bogota, Colombia) and 2017 (Suva, Fiji).  The Awards showcased and celebrated a broad range of actors through a process owned by civil society, i.e., innovative and brave initiatives were nominated and selected by civil society through various crowdsourcing activities and peer review panels.  More specifically, in each edition Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards were presented to: (i) Outstanding Civil Society Activist, (ii) Outstanding Youth Activist, (iii) Outstanding Civil Society Organisation, (iv) and Donor for practicing Brave Philanthropy.

Meet the 2017 Innovation Awards Winners

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