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Manhattan Institute

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Social Entrepreneurship Initiative

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“Private philanthropy and the organizations it supports are part of the life-blood of America—aiding and uplifting those in need, identifying and addressing problems which others, including government, have not yet even recognized.” — Howard Husock

Manhattan Institute welcomes nominations for deserving individuals and organizations on a rolling basis. To tell us about a standout leader who contributes to restoring a vibrant American civil society, click here.

About the Program

History has shown that free markets are the best way to organize economic activity. But the Manhattan Institute understands that in a healthy society, markets are complemented by charitable and philanthropic enterprises—which both help those in need and prepare citizens to realize their potential. Indeed, Adam Smith himself understood this: his writing on the virtues of markets (Wealth of Nations) was preceded by his writing on morality, compassion, and altruism (Theory of Moral Sentiments). Since its founding, the United States has been characterized by its vibrant civil society, one in which private, nonprofit, voluntary nongovernmental organizations are formed to ameliorate social ills.

Both to celebrate and support this tradition, the Manhattan Institute established our social entrepreneurship initiative in 2001. Directed by Vice-President for Policy Research Howard Husock, it combines research, writing, public speaking, and events on the role of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations to recognize the best of America's new generation of nonprofit leaders.

* * *

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville observed:

"Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies but associations of a thousand other kinds-religious, moral, serious, futile, enormous, or diminutive.

The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books; to send out missionaries; they found in this manner hospitals, prisons, and schools. Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association."

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Applicants are assessed according to the following principles:

  • Must be a non-profit, 501c(3) domestic organization in the United States, founded and led by an identifiable individual, or “social entrepreneur.” Annual budget, audited financial statement and/or Form 990 helpful, though not mandatory.
  • Organizations providing specific services to an identifiable target group of those in need. Examples could include assisting disadvantaged youths with academics; ex-offenders in finding employment; new immigrants with life adjustments.
  • Organizations based on original ideas by their founder or founders, rather than response to government request for proposals.
  • Preference for organizations reliant on private, philanthropic support. Some government support acceptable, but should not comprise majority of annual budget.
  • Preference for organizations effectively engaging volunteers, including volunteer board of directors. Other evidence of local support considered.
  • Past winners generally provide direct and specific services to the needy, rather than solely engaging in advocacy activity.



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