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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Rapid Recovery Challenge has launched: meet the judges

Nesta’s Rapid Recovery Challenge will find and scale tools and services that improve access to jobs and money for people within the UK, focusing on those hardest hit by the economic shock resulting from COVID-19. This £2.8 million Challenge is funded by Nesta, in partnership with JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Money and Pensions Service

12 semi-finalists will be selected to each receive £125k of funding and a package of expert support to enable their solutions to scale. From these 6 finalists will then be chosen to receive a further £150k before finally 2 winners will be awarded £200k prizes in September 2021.

Applications opened on Monday 14 September 2020 and close at 12pm (noon) GMT on 26 October 2020. An expert panel of judges has been appointed to review entries and select the semi-finalists, finalists and winners in accordance with the Challenge’s assessment criteria of impact, innovation, feasibility, scaling and capability.

rapid recovery challenge logo

The expert judges will sit across the 2 parallel streams of the Challenge:

  • Job Recovery Stream

This stream supports solutions that connect younger workers or those in (or who have recently lost) low-paid or insecure work to open jobs that match their skill sets.

  • Financial Recovery Stream

This stream supports solutions that help younger workers or those in (or who have recently lost) low-paid or insecure work access financial assistance more easily, manage their cash flow or, where necessary, access affordable, responsible credit.

As a group the judges offer a wealth of relevant experience and insight from across the UK relevant to the 2 streams of the Challenge and the needs and experiences of potential end-users. With representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island they collectively combine finance and employment expertise with knowledge of innovation and inequality.

The panel consists of:

Angela has worked in affordable credit for many years, first as CEO of the Citysave Credit Union in Birmingham and now as CEO of Fair for You Enterprise CIC. Fair for You was set up to change the way credit is provided to lower income families. The business is a Community Interest Company, which means it doesn’t operate on a for-profit basis, instead it aims to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Chris leads the Impact and Evidence team at Youth Futures Foundation, a job he started in 2020, building the evidence base on what works in addressing youth employment. Before that he led the evidence team at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is a former social researcher at the Home Office and in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. Chris is currently a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, advising the Department for Work and Pensions. He has a Masters degree in Social Research Methods from South Bank University.

  • Elaine Smyth, Director of Innovation Community, Catalyst

Elaine is the Director of the Innovation Community at technology hub Catalyst, which provides workspace to innovation companies and university research institutes. Catalyst invests the surplus from rental income to support the growth of entrepreneurship and startups. Elaine believes there will be many more exciting local technology companies leading the world from Northern Ireland.

Faiza is Director of CLASS: the Centre for Labour and Social Studies. She is also the author of a range of publications covering  inequality, austerity, immigration, youth unemployment and social mobility. In 2017, Faiza was named the Observer Rising Star for Campaigning and was also nominated as Asian Woman of the Year.

Fiona is director for policy and research at Learning and Work Institute, and is responsible for leading L&W’s programme of research and development. She has more than 20 years’ experience and is currently focused on building the capacity of local areas, providers and employers to lead and respond to changes in post-16 education and skills.

Nikki is Chief Executive at Careers Wales, where she is currently focused on leading the development of Careers Wales’ new five year vision and strategy from 2021 onwards to meet the needs of the changing economy and the people of Wales. Nikki is keen to take Careers Wales forward as a leading information, advice and guidance service for Wales.

Stephen is the Chief Executive of FinTech Scotland, the independent not for profit enterprise which aims to make a better world for all through financial innovation, collaboration and inclusion. He is a regular contributor at global conferences on subjects ranging from financial innovation to progressive leadership. 

Wanda is Executive Director at The Equality Trust, the national charity that campaigns to reduce social and economic inequality. An advisor on the London Recovery Taskforce, she has over a decade of experience working in the trade union movement, leading on equalities, social mobility and education policy. Wanda was a Starun Senior Scholar at Hertford College, Oxford, where she was awarded a doctorate in European History.

The Judges will select 6 semi-finalists, 3 finalists and 1 winner per stream. You can apply for the Challenge here.

timeline of the challenge process


Gary Fawdrey

Gary Fawdrey

Gary Fawdrey

Assistant Programme Manager - Sustainable Communities, Nesta Challenges

Gary worked on social innovation and tech for good prizes.

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