Staff Note | Ramla Bile | An inside peek into Bush Prize selection

November 12, 2019

Ramla BileFor us at the Bush Foundation, Bush Prize finalists come to life in the “due diligence” part of the selection process, which includes reference calls, a site visit to each finalist to meet with staff and partners, and a look at the organization’s financial picture. 

A lot of people get uncomfortable when they hear the words “site visit.” But rather than feeling like an inquisition, this is an inquisitive experience that creates an opportunity for folks to share their impact, challenges and hopes. The site visit presents a chance to dive deeper into the organization’s track record for successful problem solving and how they’re making our region better for everyone, both of which are core to the spirit and purpose of the Bush Prize.

This process gives us a behind-the-scenes look into the organization and brings their work to life in inspiring ways. The amount of imagination and enthusiasm we gain during these visits give us a holistic view of an organization’s impact. Understanding, for example, that not everyone uses the same language to describe innovation or collaboration, the site visit is one way we can overcome the limitations of “philanthrospeak.” Following this period of exploration and deeper insight, each finalist’s application is reviewed by community panels that select the winners.

While this year’s Bush Prize winners used a wide range of words to describe their work in their applications, a few themes emerged from the site visits with the organizations. Specifically, the 2019 winners all have a strong ability to:

  • Share collective ownership of issues with impacted communities and those needed to achieve intended change.
  • Use individual experiences to scale their problem-solving efforts.
  • Serve as thought leaders in their respective fields.

There are no quick wins in community-driven transformation. Instead, these organizations hold a long-term outlook on change. Here are snippets from the summaries that staff wrote after the site visits:

"Hmong American Partnership is a highly entrepreneurial organization that has created ways to prevent economic leakage from within the Hmong community so that assets are invested back into it."

"By and for Native women, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center fiercely represents the needs of the community it serves and has had a transformative effect on how local and national systems serve Native people experiencing homelessness and sex trafficking."

"The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance has become a national linchpin in mitigating energy poverty in low-wealth, rural and Indigenous communities."

"South Dakota State University is transforming itself through its groundbreaking Wokini Initiative. This comprehensive approach to student access and success, faculty development at tribal colleges, faculty and staff training on Native culture, history, and sovereignty is visionary, collaborative, and bold."

"The Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation is a catalyst for community-led economic development. When faced with workforce shortages, it invested in workforce education partnerships aligned with the needs of businesses."

We hope you’re as inspired as we are by this years’ winners.

-Ramla