Supporting Local Change-makers: Lessons from the World Justice Challenge

Supporting Local Change-makers: Lessons from the World Justice Challenge
June 28, 2023 Jana Stardelova

By Elizabeth Andersen (Executive Director, World Justice Project); Sally Aldrich (former Program Associate, World Justice Project); and Abigail Boyce (Program Assistant, World Justice Project)

International human rights organizations, global philanthropies, and development agencies are rapidly embracing localization, reorienting their work toward support of local actors and agendas, and this raises important questions about the implications for global prize competitions. What does localization mean for such competitions? How should global competitions put local actors at the center? How can such competitions avoid unintended consequences that extract expertise and resources from local causes or otherwise undermine their efforts?

These are questions that have preoccupied us at the World Justice Project, as we undertook a recent review of our World Justice Challenge, a global competition to identify, recognize, and promote good practices and projects that protect and advance the rule of law. Lessons learned from our evaluation are contributing to changes to the future direction of the Challenge, which we share here to inform similar efforts and to invite feedback and involvement in this program.

World Justice Challenge 2022 received 306 applications from 119 countries. See finalists here.

Reaching a Diversity of Local Actors

Building a diverse applicant pool of local organizations is an important starting point, and we have learned that just because a global organization hosts a competition doesn’t mean local organizations will know to apply or have the wherewithal to do so. We have found that partnering with like-minded organizations with broad grassroots networks has greatly increased the number and diversity of locally based applicants. Because language can also be a barrier, last year we conducted a webinar in five languages to answer applicant questions. The result in 2022 was a more diverse pool of applications from 118 countries, up from 68 countries in 2019. A top priority for the future is continuing to broaden our outreach and supporting diverse applicants, including ensuring that we have the resources to promote and manage the full application process in multiple languages.

Elevating Local Perspectives in the Selection Process

We found that geographical and professional diversity among our judges isn’t enough to ensure representation of local perspectives in the selection of winning projects. In 2021, we tried to democratize the selection process via open online voting but found such approaches can backfire, as larger global organizations are better positioned to organize get-out-the-vote campaigns in support of their projects. But viable alternatives remain. In our most recent competition, we adopted an alumni vote, through which past Challenge finalists were able to submit one ballot per organization. This brought regional diversity and grassroots perspectives to the selection process without disadvantaging the smaller organizations participating in the competition.

Making the Most of the World Justice Forum for Local Actors

In response to WJP’s survey, many Challenge finalists emphasized that networking, visibility, and credibility they gained from the competition and the World Justice Forum were more valuable to them than the prize money. The Red Dot Foundation, for example, reported that new relationships developed at the Forum have led to additional Safecity networks in The Hague and across Asia, using their app to capture actionable anonymous data about sexual assault and harassment in communities. Another 2022 winner, Cambodia Bridges to Justice, noted that presenting their work on a global stage and meeting potential supporters in person was invaluable for facilitating discussions about growing the project in the future.

In addition to new attention and support, Challenge finalists also valued the competition as a learning opportunity. A representative from Layertech Software Labs, Inc, a finalist in the Anti-Corruption and Open Government category in 2021, said “We cannot yet afford to constantly hire experts like what multinational companies or big organizations do on a regular basis. Just hearing what experts had to say about our work is already a big deal for us, to improve our work.”

Other finalists emphasized the value of the space provided at the Forum for activists, justice defenders, and changemakers to reflect on the significance of their work and to find inspiration, solidarity, and support from one another. “It was very energizing and validating,” recalled a representative of 2019 finalist Nazdeek. “Supporting work on the ground is difficult. This kind of recognition can give the energy to keep going.”

These examples highlight the importance of pairing the Challenge competition with the Forum, as well as some of the advantages of a prize competition over a grantmaking program. The highly publicized competition at the Forum provides valuable benefits in heightened visibility, increased networking opportunities, and improved credibility to all groups under consideration, not just those selected for the award. Meanwhile, the cash prize provides much-needed flexible unrestricted funds for these changemakers and requires significantly less administrative oversight from the World Justice Project, allowing us to channel more resources towards the needs of the finalists.

The competition is just the beginning

From our survey of Challenge finalists, we also learned how much Challenge finalists wanted to stay connected with one another after the Challenge and the Forum. After creating their own alumni WhatsApp group, 2022 Challenge participants asked WJP to play a coordinating role in connecting them year-round and facilitating networking, mentoring, training, and access to funders. Based on this feedback, WJP launched the World Justice Challenge Alumni Network late last year to serve as a sustainable community of practice. We have already established an active listserv, biweekly newsletter alerting participants to funding and program opportunities, and quarterly participant-led webinars for collective learning and information exchange. The active participation of Challenge finalists in this developing community is exciting and promises continued innovation and learning all around. Throughout this summer, we will also be hosting a public, five-part webinar series featuring the winners of the 2022 Challenge competition to share how their work has advanced and evolved in the past year. We hope that these webinars will be another opportunity for mutual learning among the Alumni Network, WJP, and our broader community of rule of law champions.

We invite you to learn more about the World Justice Project and World Justice Challenge by visiting To stay up to date on the next competition and World Justice Forum, sign up for our newsletter. You can also contact us at

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