Social Innovation Challenge

The Social Innovation Challenge funds and supports innovators to kick-start solutions that tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Who's it for?

Social enterprises, unincorporated groups, community associations or individuals with an idea for a new project.

What do I get?

One winner receives a £50,000 grant. All finalists benefit from a package of tailored support.

Where do I apply?

Submit an Expression of Interest by clicking the apply now button.

Apply nowExpress Your Interest

What is the Social Innovation Challenge?

The Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) is a grant-funding and support programme that seeks innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges of our times.

Every year, the process starts by listening to communities across Scotland to find out what social issues people care most about at that moment in time. We then announce a theme based on this insight, inviting Scotland’s most driven individuals to apply for the £50,000 grant award. 

We accept applications from anyone with an idea for a social enterprise project that can deliver a tangible, long-lasting, positive impact addressing the theme.

The winner will receive a £50,000 grant and tailored support for the duration of their award to help them kick-start their solution. The other finalists will also receive bespoke support in the form of additional signposting or introductions to alternative sources of funding or capacity-building programmes. To help with this aim, this year we have partnered up with our colleagues at The Ventures Lab to explore the opportunity for our eligible SIC finalists to join their support pathways.   

What is the theme?  

The 2024 Social Innovation Challenge is focused on breaking barriers to better health and wellbeing. 

This edition will look to support innovative social enterprise solutions that address the core inequalities related to health and wellbeing in Scotland. 

It is an unfortunate fact that health and wellbeing outcomes have been declining for a number of years within Scotland, with persisting inequalities and falling life expectancy, particularly within our most deprived communities. As such, we believe we need to invest in new approaches to try and tackle these issues at the root.   

The Challenge invites applications for new projects that can remove key barriers preventing individuals or communities from enjoying their right to health and wellbeing. Solutions should be focused on delivering long-term positive social impact directly to individuals or communities.   

Please note that we are not looking for solutions that are simply delivering health or wellbeing services – instead, we want to see evidence that the projects can create tangible, long-term impact by addressing inequity within those core building blocks of health and wellbeing: housing, education, employment, income, social connectedness, access to green space, nutrition etc. We are also particularly interested in solutions that consider the interconnected nature of these issues and seek to address them in more holistic approaches. 

If you think you have an idea that fits all of the above, register an Expression of Interest now.
This is a no-commitment step that will allow you to join an information session to understand more about the process before deciding whether to invest the time in submitting an application. 

What is the funding for?

The winner can use the funding to help with start-up fees, research and development, salaries and other essential costs, such as rent or buying critical equipment. 

We are looking for applications that can show: 

  • A clear proposal for delivering a solution through a social enterprise 
  • Direct social benefit 
  • An element of innovation 
  • Lived experience or community involvement in the development of the solution 
  • Potential for scale or replication 
  • Potential for income generation and (eventually) financial sustainability 
  • Environmental sustainability 

To understand more about what we mean by innovation, community involvement, scale or replicability, register an Expression of Interest and join one of our informal information sessions. 

Can I apply?

The Social Innovation Challenge is open to: 

  • Established social enterprises  
  • Unincorporated groups or community associations 
  • Individuals with an idea for a new project 

Please read the full eligibility criteria.

How to apply 

The first step is to send us an Expression of Interest. This lets us know that you have an idea for this Challenge and it also allows you to get further information and support. 

To register an Expression of Interest: 

  • Click on the ‘Log in’ button at the top right of this page to go to the Firstport Communities Portal and create an account.  
  • Log in to your account and click on the ‘Apply Now’ tab. 
  • Select ‘Social Innovation Challenge Expression of Interest’ from the list. 
  • Fill in the required information. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes of your time, as we’re only asking for basic information at this stage. 
  • Submit your expression of interest.  

You will then receive an automated email with a link which will allow you to book a group information session with the Programme Manager. The aim of this session will be to answer any questions you might have regarding the criteria or the process and to highlight additional support that you may be able to access. 

After the information session, you will receive all the application guidance and documents. You can work on these in your own time until the main application form opens on 7 August.  

A visual guide on how to register for our online awards portal can be found here.

Key dates and steps

Tuesday 28 May: Expressions of Interest open

  • Watch a recording from our Launch webinar to learn more about the Social Innovation Challenge and whether this is the right opportunity for you. Tap here to watch the webinar.

Wednesday 29 May, 12-1.00pm: Launch webinarregister to learn more about the Social Innovation Challenge and whether this is the right opportunity for you. The recording from this webinar will be available on this page afterwards. 

  • Once you send in an Expression of Interest, you will be asked to book a place for an information session. These will take place throughout June and July. Please note: this step is compulsory to gain access to the application form. 

Wednesday 7 August: Expressions of Interest close / Applications open  

  • As noted above, you must submit an Expression of Interest to be able to apply. This is so that we can ensure that we can answer any questions and provide as much support as we can to those considering putting in an application.   

Wednesday 4 September, 1.00pm: Deadline for applications 

  • Only applications received before the deadline will be considered. 

Monday 30 September: Shortlist is announced 

  • Shortlisted applicants will be notified by phone or email. All other applicants will receive written feedback on their applications and, where possible, additional signposting to other sources of support. 
  • Social Innovation Challenge finalists will receive additional support before they present their solutions to the award panel. This support will consist of a session with the Programme Manager to help them prepare a short pitch and a session with a Business Advisor to address any issues within their cashflow projections. 

w/c Monday 28 Oct or w/c Monday 4 Nov (exact date TBC): Award panel 

  • The winner will receive a £50,000 grant to be spent over 2 years. The other finalists will be signposted to other relevant support, including potentially being offered a place on a Ventures Lab support pathway

Frequently asked question: What is social innovation?

Social innovation can take many forms. It can be implementing new or untested ideas, reinventing existing approaches, or adapting known solutions to new areas. The key is to push boundaries, think outside the box, and tackle social or environmental issues in a new and effective way. 

Ultimately, social innovation is a force for good: it aims to create positive social change and improve the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and the environment. 

Spotlight: Previous Winners

The 2022 theme was: innovative solutions to climate change issues faced by rural communities in Scotland.  

The winner of the 2022 edition was Iona Energy Ltd (IEL). This is how they met the key 2022 criteria: 

  • Relevance to theme: The project aims to install a ground source heat network which will operate as a communal, low-emission, low-cost heating system for the island and will allow residents to move away from a reliance on fossil fuels. 
  • Direct social impact: By moving away from their reliance on fossil fuels, island residents will be more resilient in the face of rising energy prices. The solution also aims to ensure that network maintenance can be done on-island, thus helping this remote community become more self-sustaining. 
  • Element of innovation: While ground source heat pumps are not innovative in their own, the de-centralised network design that IEL is hoping to implement constitutes a new approach, which could potentially offer a replicable model for other remote, vulnerable areas facing similar challenges. 
  • Potential for income generation: Once up and running, the project will generate income by providing heating to those linked to the network. 
  • Community-driven solution: The community of Iona have collectively led the development of this transformative ground source heat network, which will be owned, operated, and maintained by island residents. 

The 2023 theme was: innovative solutions addressing the rising cost of living in Scotland.

ApparelXchange receives Social Innovation Challenge Award certificate
ApparelXchange receives Social Innovation Challenge Award certificate

The winner of the 2023 edition was ApparelXchange. This is how they met the key 2023 criteria:

  • Relevance to theme: ApparelXchange C.I.C is a social enterprise dedicated to reusing, repairing and recycling school-aged children’s fashion and footwear. Their clothing system is helping families reduce pressure on their budgets, lowering the risk of falling into debt and allowing them to spend money on other essentials.
  • Direct social impact: In addition to helping families, children also benefit from ApparelXchange’s shared wardrobe by having access to a range of clothing appropriate to their needs, supporting their learning in school, participation in sports, and confidence in engaging within their community.
  • Element of innovation: ApparelXchange is creating a first-of-its-kind clothing system for the city of Glasgow, with a shared wardrobe that aims to reduce the financial burden on families of clothing purchases and the carbon impact of clothing on the environment.
  • Potential for income generation: Income will be generated through the sale of clothing, third-party funding sources, including agreements to provide clothing to families.
  • Community-driven solution: ApparelXchange are working in partnership with local authorities, charities and other local social enterprises, to ensure that families can easily access high-quality preloved children’s clothing at affordable prices – or for free if they self-refer or are referred to via partner organisations.

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