GIRSO’s mission is to serve as a global hub for advancing sport entities’ role in addressing community social challenges in the 21st century. In this role, GIRSO aims to facilitate the next generation of sport social change makers to design innovative solutions to the most pressing global social challenges. GIRSO recognizes the unique platform that sport entities play in our communities as well as the important role of the University of Minnesota in creating educational spaces that connect our students and faculty with sport industry executives where they can develop and implement innovative strategies that drive socially impactful results in society.

The University of Minnesota Social Innovation in Sport Competition recognizes and rewards students developing innovative solutions for sport entities in addressing the most pressing global/local social problems. 

Each year the GIRSO Social Innovation in Sport Competition will partner with a different sport entity who is seeking to address a specific community social priority theme. In 2021, GIRSO partnered with Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild to address diversity and inclusion in hockey.

Students can compete for two awards:

  1. The GIRSO Social Innovation in Sport Fellowship which provides funding for up to $5000 to assist the winning student group in piloting their proposed solution in collaboration with the partnering sport organization.
  2. GIRSO Social Innovation in Sport Competition Awards: First place team (i.e., Sport Fellowship winner) and second place team will be selected by the adjudicating committee for a cash prize of $500 each (team).

Social Innovation in Sport Competition Guidelines

Expand all


  • The competition is open to full time and part time undergraduate and Masters students enrolled at all campuses of the University of Minnesota. 
  • Applications should be made via a team of 3-6 members. 
  • Students must be currently enrolled in the Fall 2023 semester. This could be full- or part-time in a Masters or undergraduate program. 
  • Students from an international university studying at the University of Minnesota under a formal exchange program are eligible to compete.
  • Winning projects from previous years are not eligible. Individuals on a winning team may compete again, but only with a different project.
  • Teams who did not win in the previous competition are eligible to compete again.

Judging Criteria

The specific criteria, and their weighting, for the competition are:

  • 30% - How innovative is the project?  
    • Social innovation evaluation criteria focus on five aspects, adapted from Unceta, Castro-Spila, & Fronti (2016) and Murray, Caulier-Grice, & Mulgan (2010)
    • Knowledge acquisition: The proposal demonstrates the potential to acquire and apply diverse sources of knowledge and ideas to identify and interpret the social problem.
    • Development capacity: The proposal demonstrates the capacities to integrate multiple resources (e.g., organizational, human, financial, cultural) to develop a novel strategy/approach to address the social problem.  
    • Governance: The proposal has the potential to develop different types of strategic partnerships in response to the social problem. 
    • Sustainability: The new approach is more effective, efficient and sustainable than previous approaches to address the social problem.
    • Diffusion: The new approach has the potential to be diffused on a broader scale for greater impact. 
  • 30% - What is the social impact? 
    • The proposal has the potential to change individual and organizational/community attitudes and behaviors both in the short and long terms due to individuals participation in the program.
    • The proposal has the potential to enhance quality of life
    • The proposal has a clearly defined and articulated social value proposition.
  • 20% - What is your plan for making this a financially viable project?
    • The economic value proposition is clear and well defined.
    • The solution is well connected to the problem and is demonstrated by prototypes or similar examples.
    • The solution is realistic and the implementation plan is complete and doable in  a timeframe set by the partner organization.
    • Target audience is clearly defined and confirmed through research.
    • Validated that the program satisfies a set of needs and/or wants of the  target audience.
  • 20% What is the plan for piloting the venture?
    • Realistic plan and commitment to taking the next step to bring the proposed solution to a reality.
    • Realistic proposed budget and plan for $5000 fellowship funds.

How to Apply: Application Timeline and Process

The information below is for Fall 2023.

Initial Application: 

  • Each student must enroll in three credits in KIN 5461 - Issues in the Sport Industry for Fall 2023.
  • The course will meet weekly on Mondays, 3:00-5:30 p.m.; students will learn about the sport organization’s social issue and develop a social innovative proposal. 
  • Instructor: Dr. Lisa A. Kihl, Director GIRSO
  • Week 1
    • Social Innovation theme presentation by sport industry partner.
  • Week 13
    • Strategic plans due to [email protected]
    • Strategic plans submitted to expert panel for adjudication
  • Week 14 
    • Social Innovation in Sport Competition presentations
    • Expert Panel Review
    • Finalists announced

Process and Expectations

The competition has three phases.

Phase I.  Call for SISC student teams/individual students

  • April-August. Interested students/teams should enroll in three (3) credits of KIN 5461 Fall 2023. Mentoring support for social innovation, theme content, generating project ideas, and writing a proposal is the focus of this course.

Phase II: Proposal development 

  • Competition teams will be expected to commit to the following. Preparing for the competition is a fair amount of work, but remember your instructor will help guide you in developing your projects and preparing for the competition.
    • Weekly class meetings on Mondays: 3:00-5:30 pm:
      • Orientation where you will learn more about the competition process, expectations, and how to prepare your plan and presentation for the competition and the support we can provide you.
      •  Social Innovation Theme: TBD.
      •  Research, draft, and presentation preparation
    • Post competition, the winning team will work with the sponsoring organization to assist in implementing their plan (approx. 6-8 week commitment).

Phase III: The Competition:

  • Two weeks prior to the competition the following is due
    • Final Written Strategic Innovation Plans-up to 5-10 pages single spaced (excluding references, figures/tables, and appendices) and will be read by the GIRSO SISC judges before the competition presentations 
    • Description of your project (up to 25 words) for the GIRSO website and program. 
  • One week prior to the competition
    • Presentation practice  (10-minutes)
  • Competition Day
    • Presentations (each team presents for 10 minutes and responds to 15 minutes of questions from the judges): Location (TBD)
    • These presentations are open to the public (in person) and videotaped (recorded for later viewing). 
    • Winners announced and awards given

Questions and FAQs

For more information, please email Dr. Lisa Kihl ([email protected]).