It's no secret that newcomers to Minnesota often say we're difficult to get to know.

Those of us who have been here awhile might seem a little closed off, with our tendency to stick to our same social networks.

That same Minnesota reserve, the folks at the Minnesota Community Foundation believe, also can keep neighbors of different faiths and cultures from getting to know one another at a time when Minnesota is becoming more diverse.

Consider this: The latest U.S. census numbers, released last spring, indicate that 80 percent of Minnesota's population growth over the past decade was fueled by an increase in ethnic minorities. The state's Hispanic population alone, rose a staggering 74 percent to more than 250,000, the census shows.

The need to forge ties across cultures has inspired the foundation's latest community challenge.

For those unfamiliar with the Minnesota Idea Open Challenge, it's an online contest offering a $15,000 cash prize for the best ideas to solve community problems.

In the past, there have been calls for ideas addressing water issues and obesity.

This year's question: "What is your best idea to build bonds and work together across cultures and faith in your community?"

Said Carleen Rhodes, president and CEO of Minnesota Community Foundation: "We're just really asking people: What do you think would help people get outside their comfort area and meeting people they haven't met before?"

The contest began this week and the deadline for submitting ideas is March 23.

A panel of judges will then narrow the entries to a group of semifinalists.

Then it's up to you, the general public, to cast your vote online. Voting continues through May 15.

Each of the top three vote-getters will win $15,000 to turn their vision into a reality. Winners will be announced May 31.

To enter and for more information about the contest, go to

Allie Shah • 612-673-7530