The Inaugural Kirby Impact Prize: What We Learned

April 2021

When CASE at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business launched the Fred Morgan Kirby Prize for Scaling Social Impact in July 2020, we knew that we would learn a lot during this inaugural year.  We were specifically interested in three questions:

  1. How do we invest in equity?
  2. What strategies are impact enterprises using to scale their impact?
  3. Beyond funding, what else will help?

Even as we share our year 1 reflections below, we’re committed to continuing to learn.  Be in touch to let us know your thoughts and feedback on the Kirby Impact Prize.

How do we invest in equity?

CASE sought to encourage and support applications from enterprises that apply a DEI lens to their work and, most importantly, that center and empower (through leadership roles, engagement in solution development, and more) those with lived experience of the issues being addressed. 

First, as a minimum baseline, CASE required any organization applying to the Kirby Impact Prize to have a robust non-discrimination and inclusivity policy. For those that did not have a formal policy, we provided examples that they could use as a starting point.  Then, in marketing the prize opportunity, we prioritized sharing targeted information about the prize with partners around the world who have robust networks of proximate leaders whose lived experience is at the center of their enterprise’s work. As the application window opened, we worked to ensure that all interested organizations had equal access to information that would strengthen their applications.  This included transparently sharing the Prize’s selection rubric and hosting four virtual information sessions detailing how to talk about an enterprise’s impact and scaling plan, among other topics.   To date, 1,600 organizations have completed the prize eligibility tool and information session materials have been downloaded 679 times.

In total, we received 330 completed applications from enterprises on five continents and serving 184 countries. During the selection process, we worked to apply a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens.  Among other criteria, the selection rubric privileged applications from enterprises that:

  • Implemented systems that actively held them accountable to all of their stakeholders and beneficiaries, especially those closest to the problem they were working to solve.
  • Built teams and boards that reflect diversity of thought, lived experience/background, education, socioeconomic status etc. and leverages that diversity in strategic decision-making.
  • Explicitly stated the core values that drove their work

Additionally, to help lessen potential bias during selection, each application was reviewed by and each interview was conducted by at least two selection committee members.

What we learned & what we’ll do next:

The majority of leadership team members across the applicant pool were men, however, one-third of applicants reported that women make up at least 50% of their leadership teams. 52% of applicants reported individuals with marginalized identities making up at least 40% of their senior leadership team (based on sex, gender, national origin, ability status, religion, etc.).  Even with this data, our primary learning is that the work of investing in equity is never finished.  As we plan for year 2, we will:

  • Expand targeted marketing of the prize opportunity to reach increased numbers of local leaders and explore ways to gather feedback from underrepresented applicants to better understand any barriers to applying.
  • Further streamline the application process to reduce the time and effort applicants may need to invest
  • Consider expanding selection committee membership to ensure that more diverse mindsets, skills, and experiences are included in the selection process

What strategies are impact enterprises using to scale their impact?

Through the application process, we wanted to understand how enterprises are defining their scaling goals and what strategies they are using to achieve those goals.

The year 1 Kirby Impact Prize applicant pool included enterprises working in more than 12 impact areas and using a diverse set of strategies to scale their impact. While each of the 14 finalists described multiple scaling strategies at play in their work, more finalists (9) listed growing their organization’s footprint than any other strategy.  This growth-oriented strategy was more prevalent among for-profit enterprises, and these enterprises often struggled to effectively communicate their impact story in addition to their business growth metrics (a common challenge we try to help enterprises with in module 8 of CASE Smart Impact Capital!). 

What we learned & what we’ll do next:

This year’s Kirby Impact Prize affirmed what our nearly 20 years of research has also shown: While organizational growth is often the most common scaling strategy, high impact enterprises use multiple strategies that engage their full ecosystems to drive impact at scale.  Moving forward we will:

  • During information sessions, share examples from our Scaling Pathways work of enterprises – especially those that are for-profits – implementing scaling strategies that go beyond growth to help applicants better communicate (and be inspired) about varied scaling strategies.
  • Provide for-profit applicants with specific guidance on how to share with the selection committee their key performance indicators for both business growth AND impact.

Beyond funding, what else will help?

In addition to funding one enterprise, we wanted to consider how our research, tools can and university network could add value for all applicants involved in the selection process.

To help every applicant enterprise gain value from the Kirby Impact Prize process, we intentionally worked to ensure that applicants had access to tools and resources that they may not otherwise. During our information sessions, this included sharing free tools and resources for successfully scaling organizational impact from our Scaling Pathways series. Beyond simply answering their questions about the Kirby Impact Prize, participants shared that these information sessions were effective and efficient professional development opportunities for their teams. Additionally, all applicants received discounted access to CASE Smart Impact Capital, our online toolkit for raising impact capital, and were connected with opportunities to interface with other Duke opportunities. 

What we learned & what we’ll do next:

A majority of finalists named being connected with the CASE and Duke brands and networks as valuable to them as they pursue other funding and relationships.  We worked to honor that by amplifying the work of our 14 finalists on our blog and social media channels, and we are continuing to prioritize helping to tell the story of prize winner, Healthy Learners.  In the year ahead we will:

  • Explore ways that we can further leverage our University-wide communications and marketing tools to further share the work of applicants
  • Alert applicants to opportunities for engaging MBA student consulting teams
  • Share job and internship opportunities from applicants with our MBA student and alumni networks
  • Encourage Kirby Impact Prize finalists to use their finalist-status as a mark of distinction when exploring for other funding, prizes, fellowships and more.