Contributing Author

Can an Awards Ceremony Be a Discovery Platform for Social Investments?



Pat Walsh



Can an Awards ceremony be a discovery platform for social investments? We think it can.

“To win a CLASSY Award is absolutely amazing. It’s validation and recognition for all the hard work that our entire staff puts in to honoring and empowering the wounded warriors. We have a mission, a goal, and it’s to help foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in our nations history. And that’s exactly what this award gives us, the validation that we’re moving in the right direction.” – Dan Nevins, receiving a 2012 CLASSY for the Wounded Warrior Project

Listening to Dan make that statement onstage at the 4th Annual CLASSY Awards in 2012 was an incredibly memorable moment for our team. Three years earlier, we had been inspired to create a ceremony to recognize local charitable achievements here in San Diego. At the time, we had witnessed organizations in our city that were driving significant social impact, but rarely receiving the acknowledgement they deserved. Little did we realize that the inaugural CLASSY Awards in 2009 would quickly take us on an exploratory mission to seek out, and promote on a national stage, the most impactful social models worldwide.

From our perspective, the major driver behind the CLASSY Awards has always been discovery. In order to execute its mission – to recognize the greatest champions of social progress – we have to discover who those organizations are, and what makes them special. It’s required extensive understanding of our global challenges, unique insight into a myriad of logic models and strategies, and in-depth analysis of both established corporations and emerging entrepreneurial endeavors. We elaborate on this process here.

And while the word ‘innovative’ is not traditionally used to describe the social sector, a space commonly characterized by archaic models and lagging technology adoption, what we’ve discovered is just the opposite.

Through the CLASSYs, we’ve learned about organizations using artificially intelligent virtual humans to advance veteran rehabilitative therapy techniques, and programs leveraging mobile banking apps to transform impoverished third-world slums. We learned how the scent-detection of giant African rats has been creatively applied to increase tuberculosis diagnosis in Tanzania by 31.4%, preventing a possible 23,000 new infections. From homelessness to gender discrimination, literacy rates to the water crisis we’ve been fortunate enough to learn about organizations that are making monumental differences in our global community. You can take a look at our 2014 Nominees here.

Today, the CLASSYs have evolved far beyond an awards ceremony. The weekend, which now includes the Collaborative networking event and the CLASSY Awards Ceremony, has become a forum that brings together global leaders, innovators and investors addressing our most challenging social problems. It’s a platform for idea exchange, learning and collaboration.

One of the great collaborative successes that we have witnessed happened less than two years ago, when we introduced Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley data analysis startup, to Team Rubicon, a nationwide disaster-relief group made up of veterans and first responders. The two organizations initially connected on a common focus of disaster response. Weeks later, a partnership was established when Team Rubicon implemented Palantir’s technology to direct their relief efforts in addressing Hurricane Sandy.

These experiences illustrate the underlying goal of the CLASSY Awards. As we continue to grow the Awards themselves, we are putting a new focus on expanding the value that this platform can bring to the sector. We believe that the CLASSYs can be used as a channel to connect available growth capital and support with these incredible organizations and emerging technologies.

We’re excited to continue the discovery process this year, as 3,000 of the top leaders and innovators in the social sector gather in San Diego on May 2nd and 3rd for this year’s CLASSY Awards Weekend. We hope you’ll join us.

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