Skip to content

Is your venture ready to apply for the McNulty Prize? A 4-point checklist

by Johnny McNulty

How do you know if you’re ready to apply?

Submissions for the 13th Annual John P. McNulty Prize will be accepted from February 23, 2020 until March 27, 2020 on the McNulty Prize website. How do you know if you’re ready to apply?

1. You can point to concrete examples of your venture’s impact

Being able to specify and quantify your venture’s impact — whether that means its effect on individual lives, an entire system, the environment — is extremely important for any Prize applicant. If everything else about your venture is stripped away, the impact section alone should tell your story. “Before my venture, the situation on the ground was X. After my venture, that situation has changed to Y.”

A venture (including an Action Pledge) is eligible for the McNulty Prize when it has been operational for two years. Demonstrating impact may take longer than that, though. On the flip side, if your venture is a few years old, and you feel confident highlighting your accomplishments, don’t hesitate to apply. Fellows often assume their venture is too early stage — but what really matters is the ability to showcase measured and tracked results.

Aspire India

Scope and depth are equally valued by the jury. The 2012 Prize-winning venture by Amit Bhatia, Aspire India, had given 50,000 young Indians employability training at the time that it was honored — boosting those students’ earning potential and impacting even more family members. Esperanza, co-founded by KC Hardin in Panama City, reached 20% of the city center’s gang population, demobilizing entire gangs and resulting in 90% of neighborhood residents reporting feeling safer and a drop in crime — all only in three years of operation. Every venture is different, and we know that impact depends on your specific context as well as how difficult the challenge you’re addressing is.

Whether your impact is in breadth or in depth is less important than your ability to clearly elucidate how it has moved the needle on an intractable issue.


2. Your venture has taken on “a life of its own.”

Has the venture gone beyond impacting direct beneficiaries? Is it influencing or serving as a model for others in the space? If so, it sounds like the venture has taken on a life of its own.


This can take many forms. In the case of CALI Fellow and Laureate Gisela Sánchez’s line of fortified foods, Nutrivida, her success prompted Nestlé and others to launch their own fortified products. Not only was her company successful in combating malnutrition, she re-oriented the entire market to do the same. Halfway around the world, MELI Fellow and Laureate Lana Abu-Hijleh persevered through obstacles with Youth Local Councils, and not only have these youth governments been embraced as a rare expression of democratic hope in Palestine, they are now being replicated and emulated in other countries like Honduras and Ukraine.

In addition, the venture should be embraced by the community, by local stakeholders, and by your staff, and it should have clear goals for the medium and long-term future, and short-term steps for moving forward.

Youth Local Councils

3. You understand the landscape you’re working within, and can differentiate your venture from other similar efforts.

Odds are, you’re not the first to ever tackle the problem you’re addressing. What is unique about your approach? Are you harnessing the power of the market to solve a problem that’s thwarted traditional NGOs? Are you involving the community and affected individuals in a way that gives them ownership and empowerment? Are you getting buy-in from local, state & other actors?

If your venture has a new approach to the problem you’re addressing, we want to know. That said, your venture does not need to re-invent the wheel, as long as some aspect of its implementation is innovative or improved.

CenteringPregnancy South Carolina

2016 Prize Winner Dr. Amy Crockett did not invent the CenteringPregnancy model, it was developed by Boston-based nonprofit Centering Healthcare Institute. However, after piloting it with her own patients, she saw that it could be applied as a public health solution across the state of South Carolina. By convincing the state’s largest insurers and Medicaid to cover the treatment, Dr. Crockett made a model that was limited to a few hundred women nationwide available to over 80% of pregnant women in South Carolina. In this case, it was not the actual methodology that Dr. Crockett pioneered, but her vision to apply the model in an innovative way.

4. (BONUS!) You found your ‘call’

If you have found your ‘sweet spot’ — where your passion aligns with how you can best leverage your platform — you are well-placed to make an impact. Fellows who use their sphere of influence, while stretching outside of their comfort zone, are examples of leaders that we seek to spotlight.

It’s not a project, it’s my call. I’m an engineer, and my day job is in the food industry. I have the know-how, the context, the network, the strategic allies to help Nutrivida — it’s a sweet spot.

Gisela Sánchez

If you’re ready to apply, we encourage you to make a submission here before March 27, 2020. If your venture is at an earlier stage, you might be ready to apply to the Catalyst Fund. For more information, or if you’re still not sure, please reach out to us at

The McNulty Prize celebrates the boldness and impact of Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellows using their exceptional leadership abilities, entrepreneurial spirit and private sector talents or professional platform to address the world’s toughest challenges. The winning venture receives $100,000 and is selected by a jury that includes Secretary Madeleine Albright, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, development expert Brizio Biondi-Morra, and international statesman Olara Otunnu. Laureates receive $25,000, and are announced at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum.

view all ideas