The Buckminster Fuller Challenge: Design to Serve Humanity :: Buckminster Fuller was one of the 20th century’s most visionary architects, whose philosophy of socially responsible planning and design has influenced cutting-edge technology research and public policy the world over, through the UN’s development programs and pioneering entrepreneurship aimed at lifting billions out of poverty. His vision was, in his own words, “To make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

So Buckminster Fuller made it his mission as thinker and designer to aim for a new paradigm in the use of technology, wherein the ancient and medieval assumption that the world could only provide for 1 in every 100 people to live comfortably could be discarded by the self-evident power of more advanced technology and economic balance, in which 100% of people could live in comfort, freedom and dignity. Metropolis magazine has called the prize “socially responsible design’s highest award”.

According to the Buckminster Fuller Institute website:

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is an annual international design Challenge awarding $100,000 to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. It attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.

The complexity of Fuller’s vision is daunting, because it entails as a foundational principle finding a way to transcend the more primitive tendencies of human socio-political organization which lead us to believe that we can only gain by displacing our costs to terrain inhabited by others. But the embrace of constructive complexity is part of what makes Fuller’s vision so relevant and so important today. The U.S., for instance, must find a way to not only reduce its dependency on “foreign oil”, but in doing so must realize that there is no genuine economic resilience gained by simply causing poorer societies to carry the environmental costs of our carbon-based economy.

So there is a deep optimism, firmly rooted in reason and in scientific imagination, that guides the work of those who seek to carry out Fuller’s vision, by which humanity can only achieve long-term sustainability by also doing something like achieving the ideal. The “challenge” is very much the same challenge Fuller put to himself, and which he demanded all people everywhere rise to comprehend and to pursue. The prize given in his name is a way of driving that optimistic approach to problem-solving forward.

This year’s winner, Operation Hope, describes its function as demonstrating “how to reverse desertification of the world’s savannas and grasslands, thereby contributing enormously to mitigating climate change, biomass burning, drought, flood, drying of rivers and underground waters, disappearing wildlife, massive poverty, social breakdown, violence and genocide”. Solving multiple problems related to a complex and evolving crisis situation is key to why Operation Hope was able to win this year’s Fuller Challenge prize.

To submit ideas for 2011, applicants are asked to

Please choose two of the following issues your entry primarily addresses:

communication and media
community and social systems
economy and livelihood
environmental health
food systems
human health
human rights
materials and resources
shelter and built environment

And to answer nine questions such as: “How does your strategy and approach respond creatively and comprehensively to key social, cultural, economic, ecological, and technological issues which shape the condition you are seeking to transform? Why is your strategy a breakthrough and what makes it a preferred state model? (300 words)*”

For more, or to apply or recommend an applicant, click here