Cambridge Social Innovation Prize

2023 winners

We are celebrating four outstanding social entrepreneurs for their achievement and ambition in creating social change through business.

See the 2023 winners


Applications close on Friday 12 April.

Apply for the 2024 Prize

Cambridge Social Innovation Prize.

Awarded by Trinity Hall and the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation

The Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation and Trinity Hall, one of the oldest Colleges in Cambridge, have partnered to celebrate and support extraordinary social innovators creating social impact through business across the UK.

There are many early career and lifetime achievement awards. The Cambridge Social Innovation Prize recognises there is a gap for mid-career social innovators. The award targets extraordinary individuals with a proven track record but who could benefit from support to reach the next level. Often, they have been so focussed on their social impact, they have not had time to invest in their own professional development. The Cambridge Social Innovation Prize aims to help these social innovators grow themselves in order to grow their social impact.

The prize includes a £10,000 cash award for personal and professional development: training or further study, meetings and conferences… even a sabbatical or study tour. Mentoring from the Cambridge Social Ventures team here at Cambridge Judge Business School will help to find interesting new connections and new ways to elevate impactful work.

We are grateful to Graham Ross Russell, an alumnus and Honorary Fellow of Trinity Hall, and his family for the generous donation which allows us to offer this prize.

About the prize

Up to four winners will receive £10,000 each to develop the skills, resources and networks they need to scale the impact of their work, develop a new project, or pursue new possibilities. An expert business advisor will support the winners for six to 12 months to develop their own leadership capacity, make connections into Cambridge networks, and think through strategic challenges. You will also join a community of outstanding social innovators: a platform for collaboration and new ideas, an opportunity to connect with experts and deepen your social impact.

£10,000 prize

The prize money is a flexible award which can be used to support your growth as a CEO and the growth of your business. It is not intended as seed or pilot funding, but rather is to enable outstanding people to learn and develop as leaders. Some examples include:

  • professional development, short courses or further study
  • specialist consulting
  • travel in search of new partnerships or new inspiration
  • sabbatical/research leave
  • childcare/carer’s support to enable you to engage in learning and personal development.

The prize cannot be used for salary support or general business funding.

The money will be awarded in September following an initial meeting with a business adviser in the summer. Together you will create a plan to best use the prize money, which must be approved by the prize team before being paid.

Business advice

Each winner will get two weeks of expert, flexible, pro bono business advice. Our advisors are ready to roll up their sleeves and get into the detail of your business. This might be an intense period of support, or some longer-term mentoring over six to 12 months. Your priorities could include:

  • strategic planning
  • board or team development
  • partnership building
  • governance and legal advice
  • support to raise investment.

Introductions, networks and connections

The prize is an opportunity for you to harness the expertise and prestige of the University of Cambridge. We will dedicate time to help you make useful connections and embed yourself within relevant networks here at the University, in the broader “Cambridge Cluster” and in the social sector across the UK.

Some examples of specific opportunities might include:

  • developing consulting projects with professionals and/or students in Cambridge
  • introductions to potential directors, trustees or advisors
  • meetings with experts in your field from the University of Cambridge
  • nominations to other awards and opportunities
  • Cambridge networks in academia, technology, social sector and entrepreneurship.

Selection criteria

This prize rewards achievement and ambition in social innovation. Candidates will be considered on their previous work and their future plans.

Social innovation comes in many forms, and the nature of social impact varies depending on the context, but there are some broad characteristics that we are looking to reward.

  1. Compelling leadership. We look for leaders with a clear vision, who are credible, knowledgeable social innovators, no matter what their background, education, age or postcode.
  2. Creativity and imagination. Has this person shown an innovative, creative approach? Are they solving social problems and developing business models in a new way?
  3. Social impact. Is this person changing the world for the better? Is their work built on a strong impact assessment framework?
  4. Scalability and sustainability. Has this person successfully scaled their social impact, in a manner appropriate to the context of their work? Can the venture be sustainable in the long term without philanthropic donations or grants?
  5. Vision and ambition. We reward leaders who have a ambitious, socially impactful plans for the future, whatever that means in the context of their work, and who can describe a clear pathway to achieve this.

Application stage

Deadline: 12:00 Friday 12 April 2024

The first stage is a short online application.

Application form:

  • Basic information about you and your social venture or project.
  • Basic financial data: turnover, profit/loss, percentage income through trading.
  • Achievements: Personal statement, addressing the criteria (less than 500 words).
  • Ambitions: What are your future plans and how might this award help you? (less than 500 words).


Your two most recent annual accounts or equivalent, plus any two of the following:

  • Business plan / project proposal / strategic plan.
  • Pitch deck / presentation.
  • Social impact assessment report.
  • Annual report / end-of-project report.
  • Research report / policy paper / academic paper.
  • Media / news article / video / testimonial.
  • Other equivalent documents: you can provide other types of documents but at least one must be from our list above.

Contact details for two referees

  • One mentor, board member, investor or advisor who knows you in a personal and professional capacity.
  • One employee, service user, beneficiary, colleague or project partner who can give a testimonial to your work.

Longlisting stage (April)

Applications will be reviewed by Cambridge Social Ventures and our panel of judges. Every application will be reviewed by at least two people.

Shortlisting stage (May)

If you are shortlisted, we may contact your referees for further information.

Finalists (May/June)

The judges will meet at the end of May/June to discuss shortlisted candidates and their references. The judges will together recommend four winners and the Cambridge Social Ventures team will conduct normal due diligence before making the award. At this stage we may contact candidates for a short phone interview.


The winners will be people with a proven track record (five to 10 years) of social impact through business, as an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, and who are bubbling over with ambitious plans for the future. For example:

  • Founder or senior leader in a social enterprise.
  • Leader of a corporate social innovation project.
  • Leader of a public sector spin-out or trading subsidiary of a charity.

This award celebrates social impact through business across the UK. Eligible candidates should meet the following criteria:

  1. UK-based: This prize supports social innovators whose primary social impact is in the UK. They should be based in the UK or have a strong connection to the UK. You do not have to be a UK citizen.
  2. Dedicated to social impact: The winners must show a commitment to social impact and creating positive social change, whatever that means in the context of their work.
  3. Businesses (or business-like): This prize is for people making social impact through business and entrepreneurship. That said, the line between charity, corporate and the public sector is increasingly blurry! Leaders of charities, non-profits and public sector organisations are welcome to apply, if their work is driven by self-generated revenue. Organisations or projects which are primarily philanthropic or grant-funded, while important and impactful, are outside the scope of this prize.

If you are unsure of your eligibility, feel free to contact us.

[email protected]

Inclusivity and accessibility

Social innovation comes from everywhere, and so we are committed to inclusion across race, gender, age, religion, class, disability, identity, and experience.


Don’t be put off by Cambridge’s academic reputation! Knowledge comes in many forms and we welcome people from all backgrounds and levels of education, whether you left school young or have a PhD. Some of the best social entrepreneurs are those with personal experience of the issues they are trying to solve.


We don’t want anyone to miss out on our support because of disability or any other accessibility needs. We work hard to meet the widest variety of accessibility needs, including physical or mental health, learning support and family caring commitments. If you experience barriers at any stage in the application process, please let us know so that we can make adaptations.

Feel free to get in touch with any questions you have:

[email protected]

As we receive questions from applicants, we will publish them in this section.

I think I’m eligible but I’m not quite sure…?

Have a go! The form is short and simple, so there’s no harm in trying. If after reading your application we don’t think you’re a good fit for this award, we can direct you to other opportunities for support.

I know someone great, can I nominate them?

The application should be written by the candidate themselves, but you can of course encourage them to apply and support them to draft their application.

My project is very early stage, am I eligible?

The prize is for extraordinary people who already have a track record of social impact, to help them further develop their own leadership capacity in order to fuel new growth or set off in a new direction. 

The prize aims to support winners into the next phase of their work, whether that’s continuing to grow or pivoting into new work. So, while your current project might be new, we would expect to see a previous record of proven social impact over the past five to 10 years. 

My project is a charity, am I eligible?

The prize rewards social impact through business. Many charities do use business models in order to create impact, but we are looking here for organisations/projects which are fuelled by self-generated revenue, rather than those with philanthropic or donations-based funding models.

I am in the UK, but my work impacts people living abroad, am I eligible?

No, the prize is intended to support people whose work makes an impact here in the UK.

What do you mean by ‘social impact’?

This is of course very open to interpretation! Being academics, we quite like the definition of social innovation proposed by Phills et al in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (2008): “A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

All sorts of social impact are important, regardless the scale, location or nature of your intervention. Your work might be making a deep impact in a disadvantaged community, it might be a national-scale project making structural change, it could be environmental rather than social.

So long as you can articulate your intended social impact and provide some evidence for the change you’re making, we can consider you.

Can the money be used as seed funding?

No, the prize is not intended to be ordinary project funding. Our intention is to support extraordinary leaders to grow personally and scale their impact, for example, through ongoing professional development.

I don’t have the right documents, what can I send instead?

We don’t want you to spend hours and hours creating new documents just for us! Because we’re looking for those with fairly advanced projects, we would normally expect that people would have to hand documents such as an annual report, a board/trustee update, or an impact report. In rare circumstances we understand that you may not have these to hand – please email [email protected] to discuss.

I’ve just started working on my project, am I eligible?

The prize is intended for people who already have a track record of using business to create social impact. This means five to 10 years’ work and some evidence of previous impact, significant turnover or a large team. The prize could support them to scale-up, or it could be used to refocus on a new project.

If you’re just starting out on your journey then our Social Venture Weekend or incubator programme would be a better fit.

Can my co-founder(s) and I apply together? Can my whole cooperative apply?

We encourage applications from teams and cooperatives, however, we would ask that you nominate one or two people to represent your group – perhaps someone with a particular interest in strategy, or one of the original co-founders.

The leadership development support can be used for team development, and the stories we will write about your work will reflect nature of your partnership. We won’t try to create ‘hero-preneurs’ out of you, if that’s not true to your partnership.

Is this a lifetime achievement award?

No, this award is best suited to people who have worked for five to 10 years on a social business/project. But this does not necessarily mean young people! If you have pivoted later in life to work in the social sector, then we would welcome an application from you.

If you’ve been building your company/project for longer than 10 years but feel the support and community would still be useful to you, then please do apply!

My venture has an environmental mission rather than a social mission, am I eligible?

Yes, we do support ventures with an environmental focus. The questions on the application form are written with social impact in mind, so please do interpret questions like ‘who are you trying to help’ in whatever way makes most sense for your venture.

We are delighted to have a panel of leaders from the social sector, entrepreneurship and impact investing helping us to choose our four winners. They represent a broad range of experience, but each is an innovator in their own right and shares our commitment to deep social impact.

Aside from judging the prize, they will also help to unlock doors and make connections for the prize winners.

2024 Judges

David Bartram
Director of Delivery & Investment UnLtd
Formerly a consultant with McKinsey & Company and subsequently Lloyds Banking Group

Dr Hosein Khajeh-Hosseiny
Venture capitalist and philanthropist
Founding chair of UnLtd, the UK Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs
Trinity Hall alumnus

Harriet Lamb CBE
CEO Ashden
Former Executive Director of the United Kingdom Fairtrade Foundation
Trinity Hall alumna

Lisa Stepanovic, MBE
Founder and CEO of Social Ark
Winner of the 2021 Cambridge Social Innovation Prize

Baroness Glenys Thornton
Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords
Former Shadow Spokesperson (Health) for The House of Lords

2023 Judges

Susan Aktemel
Founder and CEO of Homes for Good
Winner of the 2019 Cambridge Social Innovation Prize

Harriet Lamb CBE
CEO Ashden
Former Executive Director of the United Kingdom Fairtrade Foundation
Trinity Hall alumna

Dr Hosein Khajeh-Hosseiny
Venture capitalist and philanthropist
Founding chair of UnLtd, the UK Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs
Trinity Hall alumnus

Baroness Glenys Thornton
Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords
Former Shadow Spokesperson (Health) for The House of Lords

David Bartram
Director of Delivery & Investment UnLtd
Formerly a consultant with McKinsey & Company and subsequently Lloyds Banking Group

This prize is a partnership between Trinity Hall and the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, supported by a generous donation from Trinity Hall alumnus, Graham Ross Russell.

About Trinity Hall

Trinity Hall is the fifth oldest College in the University of Cambridge. It was founded in 1350 by Bishop Bateman, originally for the study of canon and civil law. The College consists of around 650 students, both undergraduates and graduates across a range of subject, 60 Fellows, 130 staff and 8,500 alumni worldwide. 

The Trinity Hall Entrepreneurs Network, launched in 2018, encourages student entrepreneurship at Trinity Hall, complements the work of the University Enterprise Network, and raises the profile of the College through increasing engagement with wider innovation and entrepreneurship communities.

About the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation

The Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School is a platform for research and engagement with social innovators, entrepreneurs, academia and policy in the UK and across the world.

We nurture creative and practical solutions to complex social problems by understanding, promoting and engaging with social innovators. Many social innovators work in non-profit organisations, but the boundaries between government, business and the third sector have become increasingly indistinct: social innovation often takes place at the intersection.

About Graham Ross Russell

This prize has been made possible by a generous donation from Trinity Hall alumnus Graham Ross Russell and his family.

Graham’s career in the City saw him advising small companies in corporate finance and investment banking. He is now involved with even smaller companies, encouraging innovation and the growth of start up and early stage companies, both as the founding chair of UK Business Incubation and as an angel investor. He has been a trustee of Nesta, Commissioner of Public Works Loan Board, Chairman of UK Business Incubation, Chairman of Suttons Hospital in Charterhouse and Chairman of the Trinity Hall Millennium Appeal.