Where are the Good Ideas?

07/09/2012 14:12 BST | Updated 06/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Finding innovative solutions to address intractable societal and environmental problems is the holy grail of a healthy society - and is what Nesta's new Challenge Prizes are aiming to address.

As we spend more time consuming and less time connecting we are facing two major challenges - how to reduce waste and reduce isolation amongst older people.

As life expectancy has grown, the old and frail can become lonely and isolated leading to poor health and depression. Whilst at the other end of the spectrum our wastefulness as a society is growing exponentially - we generate approximately 290 million tonnes of waste yet only 115 million tonnes of this gets recycled.

A recent Nesta survey1 shows over half of people in the UK would like to reduce isolation among older people in their community and almost three quarters of Britons say they are worried about the amount of waste produced.

The question is how do you find and finance solutions to these problems - that aren't sexy, lucrative or easy to solve - and where solutions are likely to be found at grassroots, by people who are close to their communities, who might not find it easy to source funding on the high street?

Our survey shows many people are trying to tackle these issues (more than 1 in 2 people are taking steps to reduce waste and 14 per cent of people are already trying to reduce the isolation of elderly) but barriers range from 'lack the confidence' (almost 32 per cent selected this answer when asked about waste reduction) to 'don't know how' (34 per cent selected this option when asked about reducing isolation among older people).

Funded by the Cabinet Office and delivered by Nesta, the Waste Reduction and Ageing Well Challenge Prizes are one of the outcomes of the Giving White Paper intended to bring about a step change in the culture of giving. They aim to overcome these barriers by providing mentoring and funding to stimulate innovative ideas from people who don't necessarily see themselves as innovators, to focus effort on challenges that have been neglected or that have proved difficult to solve through mainstream approaches.

Innovative approaches like the GoodGym which pairs runners with isolated less-mobile people in their area. Runners jog to a neighbour's house, deliver something nice, have a brief chat and are on their way again - helping people get fit and providing friendly human contact and perhaps a newspaper. Or FOOD Cycle which works with volunteers to collect local surplus food, prepare nutritious meals in unused kitchens, which are served to those in need in the community.

Nesta has made a Challenge Prize fund of £200,000 available to support great ideas like this, that tackle isolation in old age ('Aging Well') and 'Waste Reduction'. The deadline is 14 September so there is just over a week to go - so we are encouraging any group of people with a new idea in England to submit an entry at

1 The Ageing Well and Reducing Waste survey was carried out amongst 1257 UK adults by Censuswide on behalf of Nesta in August 2012.