Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Blue Star Families: A Lesson in Service and Courage

    Service comes in many forms.  To serve in our nation’s armed forces is one of the ultimate forms of service; service to the community, service to a set of values and ideals, and service to our nation.  Yet, all too often, the needs of our servicemen and women and their families go unnoticed, or we forget that a life awaits them once the battle is over.  That is where Blue Star Families (BSF) steps in.

    Founded in December of 2008 by a group of military spouses, BSF is committed to raising awareness of the challenges military families face both in the military and civilian worlds.  As a non-partisan, nonprofit organization, BSF works to connect the community of military families, both active duty and veterans, irrespective of rank, and provides them with the support and empowerment they need to create the best personal and family life possible.  This is accomplished through frequent blog posts and drawing attention to a wide range of topics such as advice and answers to the challenges military spouses and families typically face, navigating the difficulty of finding employment after a service member’s tour of duty expires, and the existence of grief-inducing problems our service members face daily

    Outside of their outreach to military families, BSF has also worked to engage the civilian population and address the importance of access to books for children on military bases.

    The sacrifices of our service members are truly invaluable, and they demonstrate a unique and selfless act of service.  It is for these reasons that both First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have made engaging the military community cornerstones of their agendas.  I hope that we can support our military families and veterans through national service and support the President’s call for national service.

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

  • My American Story: Volunteers Making an Impact

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the White House blog.

    As someone who came to this country as a teenager, and worked long hours to create a better life for myself and my family, I know America’s greatness flows not just from its laws and leaders, but from the extraordinary acts of everyday citizens. 

    For more than 20 years – working with and for people from all walks of life who are striving to live the American dream – I have seen that greatness firsthand. As CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, I know that everyday, in communities across America, citizens are finding solutions to community problems.

    That is America’s way. Americans have always believed in the idea that we can change things, we can make things better, we can solve problems, when we join together. 

    Today, as so many Americans face hardship, we need that spirit more than ever.  In difficult times, national service and volunteerism are smart strategies that tap the energy and ingenuity of our greatest resource – the American people – to solve problems and get things done.

    To expand the impact of volunteers on today’s challenges, we have produced My American Story, a series of television PSAs that feature Americans who have stepped up to be a part of the solution.

    From an Iraqi war veteran who serves with AmeriCorps helping fellow soldiers readjust to civilian life, to an RSVP volunteer who uses his life experience to help youth on probation; the spots show the power of people to improve lives and strengthen communities.

    Set in iconic American settings — the Statue of Liberty, the Gateway Arch, Seattle’s Space Needle, and Yosemite National Park — the PSAs remind us that service is fundamental to the American character, and that our nation is at it best when we serve others.

    This holiday season is a perfect time to get involved. Visit, where you can search by zip code and interest area for a volunteer opportunity that’s right for you.  And after you’ve served, share your story by submitting a video. See how your story connects to the American story.  

    Patrick A. Corvington is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

  • COMPETES Passage Keeps America's Leadership on Target

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the OSTP blog

    Today’s bipartisan passage of the America COMPETES Act represents a major milestone on this Nation’s path to building an innovation economy for the 21st century—an economy that harnesses the scientific and technological ingenuity that has long been at the core of America’s prosperity and applies that creative force to some of the biggest challenges we face today. Whether it’s developing new products that will be manufactured in America, or getting and using energy more sustainably, or improving health care with better therapies and better use of information technology, or providing better protection for our troops abroad and our citizens at home, innovation will be key to our success. And that is exactly what the COMPETES Act is all about.

    Passage of the Act comes at a crucial time in our Nation’s economic and technological trajectory—a time that President Obama characterized last month as a “Sputnik moment.” Just as Americans in 1957 quickly grasped the significance of the Soviet Union’s historic launch of the world’s first artificial satellite—responding aggressively with new investments in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education—Americans today are recognizing that we are once again on the brink of a new world. The decisions we make today about how we invest in R&D, education, innovation, and competitiveness will profoundly influence our Nation’s economic vitality, global stature, and national security tomorrow.

    COMPETES keeps America on a path of leadership in an ever more competitive world. It authorizes the continued growth of the budgets of three key agencies that are incubating and generating the breakthroughs of tomorrow—the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation.  COMPETES also bolsters this Administration’s already groundbreaking activities to enhance STEM education—to raise American students from the middle to the top of the pack and to make sure we are training the next generation of innovative thinkers and doers.

    COMPETES authorizes ongoing support for ARPA-E, the novel energy-research program modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which promises to give rise to “leapfrog” technologies that will reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources and stimulate a green economy while producing steady, high-quality jobs of the future.

    And in a great boost for the cause of generating novel solutions to tough national problems, COMPETES gives every department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions. Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America’s top talent and best expertise wherever it may lie. The Administration has supported this approach as part of its all-hands-on-deck approach to stimulating innovation, and under COMPETES we can expect a further blossoming of new ideas from citizen solvers across the land.

    It is heartening that Congress today recognized that the maintenance of America’s global leadership in science, technology, and innovation transcends politics and partisanship.  Full funding of the COMPETES Act is among the most important things that Congress can do to ensure America’s continued leadership in the decades ahead.

    As President Obama said in North Carolina last month, “This is our moment. … We’ve got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth. We need to do what America has always been known for:  building, innovating, educating, making things.”

    John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy


  • All Sectors, All Citizens Coming Together to Make Progress on Our Nation’s Challenges

    On December 14, 2010 President Obama signed an executive order to create the White House Council for Community Solutions. This new Presidential Council brings together leaders from a variety of sectors— businesses, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, universities, and community groups— to encourage the growth and maximize the impact of innovative, community-developed solutions. The Council is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

    The Council will serve three key functions:

    1. Enlist the Sectors—Engage leaders in the non-profit, philanthropic and private sectors to make progress on key national policy goals.
    2. Identify What Works—Provide strategic input and recommendations to help the federal government promote greater innovation and cross-sector collaboration to realize solutions to our nation’s toughest challenges.
    3. Highlight the Changemakers—Honor and highlight those making a significant impact in their own communities.

    The Council will focus on developing ways to enlist more Americans and leaders from across sectors to help catalyze change in communities and have an impact in addressing our nation’s important goals in education, youth development and employment.

    Here at the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, we are excited about the creation of the Council. The President has said it from the beginning—the best ideas do not come from Washington, they come from parents, teachers, small business owners and others across the country who are working to build and sustain strong communities. Government shouldn’t be supplanting these ideas; it should be supporting and highlighting these local-grown efforts. President Obama tasked this Council to find the creative, results-oriented ideas and highlight those ideas that work. We are energized by the commitment of the members and look forward to working with the Council.

    To learn more about the Council and its members, visit

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

  • TROSA: “Each One, Teach One”

    Founded in 1994, TROSA, or Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, Inc., is different than most other drug rehabilitation programs.  Located in Durham, North Carolina, TROSA offers a comprehensive, two year, individualized, residential substance abuse recovery program, during which residents receive support and employment.  By the time they graduate from the program, residents have a personal savings account, a donated and refurbished car, transitional housing, and marketable job skills.

    TROSA accepts substance abusers into their program under one condition: they must want to change their lives.  The philosophy is based on empowerment and self-help.  The program aligns with four principles: a strong work ethic; a good education; strong communication skills; and physical and mental well-being.

    TROSA illustrates the impact of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise by bringing together business ideas and skills with a social outcome.  Businesses gain skilled employees from TROSA, ultimately benefitting both the business and the individual.  TROSA’s commitment to personal success and change does not end when a participant finds employment; rather, TROSA provides a transition program that helps former clients as they leave the program. 

    TROSA’s motto “Each One, Teach One” turns learning and leadership into skills that are a part of everyday life.  TROSA is an example of a community solution that is successfully changing the lives of many people in their community.

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

  • Harnessing Innovation To Amplify Mission Success

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development blog.

    The spirit of innovation is spreading throughout the Federal Government, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is no exception. Greater government-wide focus on transparency, collaboration, and participation has opened new pathways for innovation and invigorated those that already exist. The government’s newest challenge is fostering cultures within individual agencies that facilitate innovation around their unique mission priorities without unnecessary rigidness.

    New initiatives that support innovation, such as,, and must allow both internal and external users to collaborate and leverage their efforts to foster positive change. This seamless integration of different groups will allow government agencies to take advantage of the best ideas not only within government but also from private citizens. For example, the recently unveiled NOW combines the tools employees need to foster engagement with integrated services that will ensure compliance with Section 508 requirements while monitoring traffic and providing analytical reporting.

    At HUD, we are looking to foster both inter-agency innovation as well as innovation via partnerships with external organizations and NGOs. The goal is to ensure that all good ideas receive a fair hearing. To this end, one of our Open Government flagship initiatives is the creation of an Innovation Lab that will guide new ideas from design to launch. HUD’s Innovation Lab will not only incubate technology ideas, but will also examine policy changes and process improvements. The Innovation Lab’s first two projects demonstrate the diverse paths to innovation allowed by HUD’s flexible approach. One project involves modeling and simulating prospective changes to HUD policies, while the other empowers local governments by predicting future patterns of homelessness through the use of predictive data analytics.

    In my role as CIO, I have been a strong advocate for looking at innovation outside of a strict IT perspective. Good ideas don’t always require technology, and wherever technology can serve as an enabler of innovation, an agile approach to solution development should be practiced. The goal of this approach is the swift production of utility and the simultaneous minimization of security, privacy, and other risks. HUD’s approach to innovation will help the Department leverage the wealth of knowledge inside and outside its walls, and enable it to solve mission-critical challenges in new and creative ways.

    Jerry Williams is the Chief Information Officer, Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.