By Nicola Goren
Speaking before a group of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders on June 30th, President Obama stated that:
The bottom line is clear: Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots – and government shouldn't be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts. Instead of wasting taxpayer money on programs that are obsolete or ineffective, government should be seeking out creative, results-oriented programs like the ones here today and helping them replicate their efforts across America.
The Corporation for National Community and Service (the Corporation) is taking up the President's call through the creation of the Social Innovation Fund—a fund that was authorized by the bi-partisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009.
The Social Innovation Fund is currently being designed, and for those interested in learning more and participating in a question and answer session, representatives of the Corporation will be hosting a conference call on October 15th (sign-up information is below).
We know that every day innovative and effective nonprofit organizations are working to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our nation—from low high school graduation rates, to the acute job skills deficit, to a lack of access to affordable, quality health care.
They are driven by the passion to help others and to lead change in their communities, and these factors are an indispensible part of their success. It is what makes the long hours bearable and what compels thousands of people to volunteer with them in the pursuit of a goal larger than themselves.
But their success is also a function of their drive to find the best—the most efficient and effective—ways to do their work. By subjecting themselves to evaluation, they are able to calculate their impact and plot a new course of action if the evidence points to an approach or an idea that will allow them to make an even greater difference in people's lives.
Through the Social Innovation Fund, President Obama is committed to supporting the growth and replication of innovative nonprofit organizations and practices that can demonstrate their impact. Specifically, the fund will provide on a competitive basis, multi-year federal support to promising nonprofit organizations in communities across the country.
The President has asked Congress for $50 million in funding, which will then be matched by investments from a network of experienced grant makers and the nonprofit organizations themselves.
The goal is to build a pipeline of organizations and practices with strong evidence, and the capacity to grow and increase the impact of their work. The Social Innovation Fund will provide the support needed to help move organizations from the promising stage to the stage where they have more concrete evidence that what they do, works.
This is a new way of doing business for government. For that reason, the process of designing the Social Innovation Fund has been proactive, with outreach to interested individuals and communities early in the design process in order to capture their best thinking and ideas. The Corporation and the White House have conducted over 50 meetings with stakeholders such as:
- Nonprofit organizations addressing our nation's many challenges
- Foundations that invest both organizational expertise and resources in nonprofit organizations
- Community foundations with extensive experience in local communities
- Evaluation experts with unique knowledge about how to measure impact
- Academics and other experts with knowledge about how to support innovation, growth and expansion of high-performing nonprofit organizations
- Organizations focused on service and volunteerism, including hundreds of participants at the National Conference on Service and Volunteering
- Other federal agencies working to surface and fund innovative organizations, such as the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development
- Federal agencies with existing funding for innovation and a wealth of historical knowledge, such as the Small Business Administration and Department of Defense; and
- Local and state government leaders
In addition to these targeted meetings, the Corporation conducted five listening sessions around the country and phone calls open to the public on the implementation of the Serve America Act, including the Social Innovation Fund, and created a space on their Web site to solicit public feedback.
Over the next several months, the Corporation and the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation will be continuing this outreach with meetings in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Santa Fe and elsewhere.
We are seeking the best thinking and lessons learned in communities across the country, in order to improve and shape the design of the Social Innovation Fund. We believe that the Social Innovation Fund will underscore the importance of innovation in solving our nation's most serious challenges, and the need to invest in "what works."
While the fund alone won't solve our nation's challenges, it offers the hope of finding the next great idea or organization, and giving it the push it needs to reach more communities.
The federal government has often been a catalyst in spurring innovation—from the creation of the Internet to the development of community-based health centers. Now, more than ever, we must help to find and support bold ideas and approaches that will improve the lives of millions of Americans. The challenges we face today are simply too numerous and too complex to be tackled in isolation, community by community.
Again, we hope you'll join us in this effort by participating in a briefing call and question and answer session about the Social Innovation Fund hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service from 1-2pm EST on Thursday, October 15, 2009. To register for the call and secure call logistics, please visit http://www.innovationcall.org/. Send questions in advance to Innovation@cns.gov. We will address as many questions as time allows on the call.
Nicola Goren is Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service