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Call for Applications, Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize (open to innovators worldwide)

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    Craig Zelizer

    Nominations for the 2019 Grinnell Prize are now open and are due by 11:59 p.m. on October 8, 2018.

    2019 Grinnell Prize Nomination Form

    The Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize (the Grinnell Prize) honors individuals who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change. Each prize carries an award of $100,000, half to the winning individual(s) and half to their organization.


    Nominations for the 2019 Grinnell Prize are now open and are due by 11:59 p.m. on October 8, 2018.

    2019 Grinnell Prize Nomination Form

    Do you know somebody who is:

    • A change-maker working on the cutting edge of social innovation?
    • A leader collaborating and co-creating solutions to pressing social justice issues?
    • A visionary tackling immediate challenges while also addressing related systemic issues?
    • A mentor inspiring the next generation of social innovators?

    Nomination Criteria

    • Nominees must be nominated by a third party.
    • Nominees may be a single individual or a team of two people who are working together.
    • Nominees must consent to their nomination. This consent must be given in the form of a letter (if you are nominating two individuals for collaborative work this letter should come from the two jointly) that will be uploaded to the nomination form. This letter must be written by the nominee(s), be in PDF format, and include:  
      •  A statement indicating their willingness to be nominated for this prize; 
      • A statement indicating confirmation that they will have completed an undergraduate degree(s) between the years of 2003-2019 and noting the name of degree-granting college or university;
      • A brief (2-3 paragraph) description of their social innovation work noting:
        • the social justice need they are addressing; 
        • what they feel is innovative in how they are addressing the need; 
        • the ways in which they are addressing systemic issues related to the need; and
        • the current and planned impact of their work.
    • Nominee(s) must have earned a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) between 2003 and 2019
    • Nominees should be a force for social justice. They should have identified a concrete social justice need, designed creative and socially just solutions to address that need, and made a substantive impact through their hard work and dedication. 
    • Nominees should have demonstrated the essence of Grinnell College’s broad liberal arts education through serving the common good and demonstrating expertise in the areas of critical thinking, innovative problem solving, and measurable systemic change making. 
    • Nominees must not be widely known outside their immediate community or field. 
    • Nominees may be nationals of any country.
    • Nominees DO NOT need to be affiliated with Grinnell College. 
    • Nominees must have sufficient English fluency to engage with the Grinnell College Community. 
    • Nominees must be able to provide in English any supplemental information required as part of the selection process.

    History of the Grinnell Prize

    The Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize, or the Grinnell Prize, directly reflects Grinnell’s historic mission to educate men and women “who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

    Grinnell was founded in 1846 by a group of transplanted New Englanders with strong Congregational and social-reformer backgrounds. They organized as the Trustees of Iowa College — originally in Davenport, Iowa. In 1859 the trustees moved the College to newly settled Grinnell, Iowa, where their abolitionist sentiments were more welcome. At the time, Grinnell was an important stop on the Underground Railroad that secretly transported slaves to freedom.

    Grinnell’s social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when graduates Harry Hopkins 1912, Chester Davis 1911, Paul Appleby 1913, Hallie Ferguson Flanagan 1911, and Florence Stewart Kerr 1912 became influential New Deal administrators.

    Today, Grinnell’s commitment to social justice continues through a strong philosophy of self governance and personal responsibility, as well as programs and initiatives that encourage students to learn about the world beyond the campus and effect positive social change.

    For example, Grinnell’s Social Justice Action Group works towards peace, justice, and positive social change with efforts that fight hunger, promote volunteerism, and build understanding. The Wall Alumni Service Awards provide financial support for Grinnell alumni to engage in service projects, programs, and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of others. Under Grinnell’s Expanding Knowledge Initiative, the College has introduced curricular innovations in the areas of environmental challenges, human rights, and human dignity. The Liberal Arts in Prison Program, a collaborative effort by Grinnell students, faculty, and staff, engages incarcerated adults in courses in the liberal arts. 

    With the creation of the Grinnell Prize, the College is extending its educational mission beyond the campus and alumni community to individuals anywhere who believe innovative social justice programs create a better world.

    Through student internships and staff fellowships, student and staff members have the opportunity to work with the Prize winners and their organizations. Explore the Past Winners pages to learn more about these opportunities and Grinnellians’ experiences working with these outstanding individuals and organizations.

    Defining Social Justice

    The College does not have in mind one specific definition of social justice; instead, the College recognizes that there is more than one definition for social justice and it should be interpreted broadly. For purposes of administering the Prize, it would be up to the nominator (ideally, in collaboration with the nominee) to make the case as to how his or her nominee effects positive social change. Through thoughtful deliberation and consensus, the Prize Selection Committee will determine whether an individual is effecting positive social change in an innovative way that he or she should be recognized as a force for social justice.

    Finally, one of the goals of the Grinnell Prize is to generate a robust discussion on this very topic. A symposium in September 2011 entitled, “What is social justice?,” which preceded the October symposium and award ceremony with the 2011 Prize recipients focused specifically on the definition of social justice. When Prize recipients visit campus, they offer their unique definitions of social justice, shaped by their life experiences and perspective on the world.


    The Prize is funded with discretionary funds from the College’s endowment. Targeted donations also support the Grinnell Prize program.

    Does the Grinnell Prize impact student financial support?

    No. The Prize effort in no way compromises the College’s commitment to its students. The College continues to meet 100% of demonstrated need for domestic students, limits the loans students need to take out, and offers one of the highest discount rates and the lowest comprehensive fees of its peers. In fact, the Prize strengthens the educational experience of our students and draws attention to the College’s unique dual focus of providing first-rate liberal arts education and highlighting social justice. There is an annual on-campus symposium and award ceremony to maximize Prize winners’ interaction with the College community, and there are exciting opportunities to further partner with winners to offer student internships, teach short courses, or collaborate on course materials.

    For Students and Alumni

    The Grinnell Prize is open to all individuals who meet the eligibility requirements and criteria, including students and alumni. In addition, there is a grant specifically for alumni: the Joseph F. Wall ’41 Service Award (the “Wall Service Award”). The Wall Service Award was established during the College’s Sesquicentennial celebration in 1996 to highlight the College’s tradition of 150 years of social commitment. The $30,000 awards are named in honor of the late professor of history who always inspired an ideal of service in his students. Any graduate of Grinnell College is eligible to apply for a Wall Service Award so long as the alumni applicant will act as a principal in the proposed project. Two grants are awarded each year.

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