Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Leadership 18

    On January 19, 2011, I had the honor of joining a discussion with the members of Leadership 18.  Leadership 18 is a coalition of CEOs from the largest and most respected non-profits from across the nation.  The coalition was created over thirty years ago to enable strategic leadership and inspire collective action in the field of human development non-profits.

    We discussed a variety of issues including building capacity and leadership within organizations, scaling good ideas, increasing engagement and achieving results.  We also discussed this office’s agenda and the White House Council for Community Solutions.  It was an interesting and engaging discussion with some good ideas on how the federal government could benefit from coalition’s experiences in communities across the country and potential opportunities for partnerships.  

    The Leadership 18 coalition includes partners such as AARP, American Red Cross, Goodwill, Boys and Girls Club of America, and YMCA.  Collectively, the partners serve millions of people and manage $44 billion in funds.  In 2008, the coalition expanded its mission to include leveraging their collective power to influence policy, service delivery, and public opinion about the most pressing human development issues.

    The member organizations of the coalition address a wide range of human and health services.  Priorities for the coalition include Gulf Coast long-term recovery efforts, economic and financial self-sufficiency, and health and human services.  The coalition is great forum for the government to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by members, many of whom are key service providers in communities across the country.

    Leadership 18 organizations have already been great partners on some important Administration initiatives, including the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s focus on military families.  They have helped effectively harness the power of large national service organizations to deliver necessary services to military families.  Leadership 18 has also provided a united platform to leverage organizations in efforts to support Gulf Coast recovery efforts and fight the childhood obesity epidemic, a cause the First Lady has been focusing on with the “Let’s Move” Campaign.

    Human and health services delivery is critically important in helping communities improve the economic security and healthcare for, and provide access, training, and education to children and families.  Leadership 18 has already shown scale is possible.  We hope to continue to work with them and many others in continuing to make programs more effective and impactful.

    Sonal Shah is the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • Celebrating MLK Day with City Year

    Editor's Note: This post was originally posted on the OMB blog.

    Today, I am joining hundreds of volunteers at Intermediate School 292 in Brooklyn as part of City Year’s celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. I look forward to seeing the hundreds of energetic and idealistic City Year corps members who are always an inspiration.

    I helped to launch City Year New York after September 11 as part of our City's healing, and was honored to chair its board. MLK day at City Year always brings together hundreds of people eager and excited to give something of themselves, not just to honor Dr. King, but also to improve their community.

    Advancing the idea that MLK day should be a "day on" doing service rather than just another "day off", more than 20 members of the Cabinet are at schools, homeless shelters, and other community service organizations pitching in.

    Pursuing careers in public service is another way to express the commitment to making our communities and nation better and stronger. During the Clinton Administration I was proud to do my part to help pass the national community service legislation that started Americorps, which supports community service projects that are underway every day across our nation.

    It is an honor once again to be working for a President who believes deeply in the power of community service and is committed to creating more opportunities for Americans to serve.

    Just a few months after coming into office, President Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, expanding opportunities for Americans to serve their communities, scaling AmeriCorps from 75,000 volunteers up to 250,000 by 2017. The President’s Budget proposal for FY2011 backed up the promise of that legislation, providing funding for 105,000 AmeriCorps members in 2011, an increase of 20,000 from 2010, as well as supporting the National Civilian Community Corps program, a full-time program that dispatches teams to areas in need, with a focus on disaster relief. Understanding that outcomes are as important as good intentions, the Serve America Act also created a Social Innovation Fund to invest in ideas that are proven to improve outcomes and "what works" funds in federal agencies to promote effective and innovative programs.

    And recognizing that Americans wanted to do their part during the recent economic downturn to help their fellow citizens, the President launched United We Serve, a nationwide call to service. In fact, today’s day of service is part of that initiative.

    Dr. King once said that “everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” That is as true today as it was when he said those words. I hope everyone has a chance to give back to their communities and their country today and every day, and that we can continue to strive to be great through our service.

    Jack Lew is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget

  • A Day On for Service

    Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the holiday recognizing one of America’s great leaders and civil servants.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a nation and challenged future generations to constantly strive for a more perfect union.  Half a century ago, he called on all individuals to take action to improve their communities and make our country stronger.  Today, we remember him by calling on all Americans to dedicate this January 17th, 2011 to serve our communities.

    Although we face new challenges, Dr. King’s call to service remains an American value.  As a country challenged by the most challenging economic climate of our generation, we have recognized that government alone is not the solution.  We know that America is great because we have the ability and the passion to come together in difficult times.

    We recognize service as a solution.

    Let us take today to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the importance of service.  Together we can overcome barriers, strengthen our communities, and empower our neighbors.  Today, we will be joining the President and our colleagues in the Domestic Policy Council in a day of service.  We hope that many of you will join us in spending some part of your day with your family, friends, and neighbors serving your community.

    Visit the to find out about volunteer opportunities in your community.  And share your story with us about how you honored the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service.

    Sonal Shah is the Director and Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant for the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • Challenges & Successes for AAPI Business Owners: Our Summit on Entrepreneurship and Small Business Growth

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the Office of Public Engagement blog.

    Since the earliest days of the Obama administration, spurring innovation has been a singular priority of our economic recovery efforts.

    So I was excited to spend this morning at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, CA, speaking at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Summit on Entrepreneurship and Small Business Growth.

    The purpose of this Summit was to bring together local Silicon Valley stakeholders to discuss steps the administration has already taken to empower businesses, and to discuss how we can expand opportunities and identify roadblocks to federal government programs among the AAPI community.

    It's a critically important undertaking.

    Hundreds of Silicon Valley's tech companies are run by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders - a fact that reflects just how important the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation are in the AAPI community.

    In fact, AAPIs have the highest rate of business ownership among all minorities, and AAPI businesses account for half of all minority business employment in the United States.

    These facts should be of interest not just to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, but to all Americans, because AAPI and other minority businesses make substantial contributions to the U.S. economy, generating up to $2.5 trillion in gross receipts and 16.1 million jobs.

    In the last few years, AAPI businesses - indeed all businesses - have reaped significant benefits from Obama administration policies designed to spur growth and job creation ranging from increased tax deductions for new equipment and startup costs, and tax credits to provide employee health care coverage to improve access to capital through the Small Business Administration.

    Despite all the success the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has had as a whole, many aspiring AAPI business owners continue to face linguistic and cultural challenges when it comes to accessing federal programs.  Many still cannot get the loans or the capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers, thus stifling the opportunity to contribute to our community, to our economy, and to our future.

    To help knock down these barriers to success, the Summit featured advice and counseling from top advisors from the White House National Economic Council, Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, Department of Treasury and the Export-Import Bank.

    The Summit is among the first salvos in a major push by the Obama administration to solicit public input from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. In the coming months, more than 20 executive departments and agencies will tour the country looking for new ideas and proposals on how the federal government can make real the goals shared by large business leaders and entrepreneurs alike.

    Attendees at the Summit took part in break-out discussions aimed to dial in on critical areas on growing business, including funding opportunities from the Small Business Administration, steps toward becoming a federal contractor and introductions to the federal government's domestic assistance programs, trade promotion, and export finance agencies.

    The Summit was by all accounts extremely productive, but it is just a first step.  We're going to keep working to ensure that everyone in the AAPI community who wants to achieve success will have the opportunity to find it.

    Gary Locke is Secretary of Commerce


  • There is Nothing Like Hope for the Holidays

    The holiday season and time spent with family and friends has a way of reminding me how blessed I am.  It was also a great reminder of the responsibility I felt to share the holiday spirit within our community.  To do this, some of my colleagues joined me and the DC community in celebrating the 20th anniversary of Holiday for Hope. 

    Holiday for Hope is hosted by Howard University and organized by Dreams for Kids, which is a national nonprofit that empowers at-risk youth and those with disabilities through dynamic leadership programs and life-changing activities.  Holiday for Hope brings together over 600 homeless and underprivileged kids for a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration.  There were arts and crafts, live musical and dance performances, magic shows, cookie and hat decorating stations, and a full holiday feast.  Even Santa and Buddy the Elf made an appearance!

    Holiday for Hope started as a small group of volunteers visiting a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve in 1989. Now, throughout the country, there are over 10,000 homeless and underprivileged children celebrating Holiday for Hope like we were in Washington, DC.  It is amazing how one act of engagement and kindness can turn into a movement of people all working to build a stronger community for those around us.  It reminds me of the quote by Margaret Mead that says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    Happy New Year from our office to you and your families!

    Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • The White House Initiative on AAPIs, Entrepreneurship & Small Business

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the Office of Public Engagement blog.

    This coming week the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) will host the inaugural White House Initiative Summit on Entrepreneurship & Small Business Growth. The Summit will take place on the campus of Microsoft, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and provide a forum for Small Business owners and entrepreneurs to engage with policy makers on how to start or expand their small businesses.

    The Obama Administration’s commitment to small businesses is unparalleled. President Obama and his cabinet secretaries, from agencies and administrations as diverse as Health and Human Services, the SBA  and the Veterans Administration – to the Departments of Energy, Treasury, Commerce, Defense and Education, among others – recognize that in these tough economic times, Small Businesses and entrepreneurs are indispensible in forging the recovery. Moreover it is through the innovation of our entrepreneurs that new industries and durable jobs will be created.

    Since taking office, the President and has signed into law landmark legislation including the Recovery Act, the Health Care Affordability Act, Financial Reform, and the Small Business Jobs Act that provide targeted incentives to Small Business Owners to bolster existing businesses or branch out into new industries via three specific avenues: Access to Capital, Counseling and Mentoring, and Government Contracting.

    Perhaps some of the more notable initiatives include the creation of the $30 billion small business lending fund for community development banks, the 16 tax cuts the President signed into law and the increase of SBA 504 loan limits to $5mm for Small Businesses. On the counseling front, the Administration increased the number of Women’s Business Centers and Veteran Business Outreach Centers to train and counsel budding entrepreneurs around the country. And with regard to contracts, the administration recently announced that fully 32% of Recovery Act contracts went to small businesses, with the goal of increasing overall government contracting opportunities for Small Businesses moving forward.

    These are but a few ways the government is trying to spur small business job growth. We are looking to make the list longer, and look forward to engaging with you at the WHAAPI Summit.  I am honored to join Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Don Graves, US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, Council of Economic Advisers Senior Economist Ronnie Chatterji, and Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the Initiative. Together we wish to celebrate the longstanding contributions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to the national economy, and importantly, start to a larger dialogue to discover and discuss issues facing AAPI business men and women at the nexus of policy and business.

    Ginger Lew is Senior Counselor to the National Economic Council.