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.  Through a public open call, submissions were accepted 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. 

The People Power Innovation Zone

We created an Innovation Zone to provide greater visibility to people power initiatives taking place around the world, and to inspire activists, donors and other enablers looking for innovative approaches and solutions to supporting people power. 

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards! Our winners in each of the 7 categories have been reviewed and selected by an external committee of civil society leaders and activists with thematic expertise. Visit the Innovation Zone to see the 2021 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Award winners!

We've also selected 31 finalists for the 2021 Innovation Awards. These finalists stood out from a pool of more than 350 applicants from over 70 countries that participated in the open call for nominations in September. You can learn more about these exciting initiatives from around the world on the Innovation Zone platform, which also features a database with the top 100 nominations received.


Who Was Eligible To Apply

The call for applications for the 2021 Innovation Awards was open to any individual, organisation or group who met 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.

Selection Process

The 2021 Innovation Awards Selection Committee will assess applications based on the selection criteria outlined below:

  • 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    


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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