Nat Geo, Sprint team up for Chasing Genius challenge

A $25,000 prize awaits the most innovative idea for improving global connectivity.

Between smartphones, broadband internet, and other technologies that close thousands of miles in seconds, the world is better-connected than ever before. Well, parts of it.

More than half of the global population, mainly in Africa and Asia, doesn’t have internet access. And that’s just one problem among the thousands of ways the world could communicate better. 

National Geographic and Sprint want to address those possibilities. They jointly issued a challenge on Tuesday on Nat Geo’s Chasing Genius platform, which solicits one-minute videos explaining an idea for tackling global issues from members around the world. "Unlimited Innovation" will award $25,000 to the best submission, judged by a panel of experts, for how to use the power of connectivity. 

"The goal of Chasing Genius is to create a community of people that believes it can make a difference in the world, and Sprint is aligned with us from a vision and value perspective and saw the potential," said Claudia Malley, EVP of partner solutions at Nat Geo. "As we work to move our planet forward, it’s going to be technology that allows us to explore the next frontier, and Sprint saw an opportunity for them, together with us, to empower people to become catalysts for change."

Nat Geo launched Chasing Genius last spring to create a community for fans to share their ideas for addressing global issues. Blending storytelling with consumer engagement, it offers seed funding for ideas at any stage of development that have the potential to change the world.

"The platform is an articulation of the essence of the brand: tapping into everyone’s inner explorer and inspiring them to explore the world around them," said Malley. "It allows people to explore their own personal world and their own potential to do more." 

Contributors include large institutions and established researchers, but Nat Geo is particularly keen to surface ideas from members who may not already consider themselves innovators. The grants come with no expectation of particular results, making the process more approachable for less experienced creators.

"We worked to design the platform to be as accessible and open as possible, even down to the language—for example, [we asked for] ‘a spark of an idea’ to try to encourage as many people as possible to participate," said Malley. "Transformational ideas can come from anywhere and anyone." 

The platform’s first challenge was three-pronged, a search for solutions to world hunger, environmental sustainability and global health, the last of which was a partnership with British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline. Nat Geo considered it a massive success: nearly 3,000 people produced and shared videos describing their solutions to the issues, generating more than 225 million social impressions and 19 million video views.

This round focuses solely on the Sprint partnership and has a shorter time window: just over a month, with submissions due March 5 (the winner will be announced March 21). Nat Geo is using it to glean audience insights in anticipation of their next three-part challenge, scheduled to debut this spring. 

"We’re testing different cadences and challenges to keep the community involved and active, and to see what’s going to get the most traction," said Malley.

The prompt is intentionally vague because Nat Geo doesn’t want to put limitations on what members might imagine. This tactic worked well in the last round.

"The scope of ideas we got back were incredible," Malley said, adding there’s plenty to mine when it comes to communication, particularly because it’s something nearly everyone in the world has direct experience with, whether positive or frustrating. "I hope we’ll see ideas that show the power of connectivity, and how you can gather tons of information to make something that is not working in our life work better."

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