Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • 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.

  • The Jacobs Family Foundation’s Innovative Community Ownership Solutions

    I recently had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Vanica, President and CEO of the Jacobs Family Foundation, and learn about their exciting and powerful work in San Diego, CA.

    Seeing the opportunity to better their own community, the Jacobs Family Foundation worked with the Market Creek community of San Diego, one of the poorest areas in San Diego, to invest in developing and improving the community.  In true innovative form, the Jacobs Family Foundation used a community-based IPO model, allowing over 400 community members to buy shares in their economic development.  This IPO process not only served to educate residents about finance, but also taught them the value of investing in community improvements, which has led to more money being spent in the community, greater civic engagement to reduce crime, and a cleaner, better neighborhood.  All of these efforts paid off in the form of over $500,000 in investment capital and a 10% return on investment every year since the close of the IPO.  What’s even more inspiring is that almost half of the resident investors have put their dividends into a joint fund for investing in additional community developed ownership.

    The Jacobs Family Foundation is an example of an organization looking for new philanthropic roles and relationships for strengthening under-invested neighborhoods by making grants and other investments that support innovative, practical strategies for community change.  Through use of economic incentives, such as new market tax credits and CDFI’s, the Jacobs Family Foundation is able to bring innovative solutions to the table.

    The changes in Market Creek and the work of the Jacobs Family Foundation are profound examples that show when we engage and work together as communities we can truly improve our quality of life and solve the problems that we face.  It doesn’t take a large national campaign, just a few committed individuals that want to make things better.

    The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) is a non-profit foundation that operates on the premise that residents must own and drive the change that takes place in their community for it to be meaningful and long-lasting.  JCNI explores new pathways to change through entrepreneurial relationships, hands-on training, and the creative investment of resources.

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

  • Conference on Next Generation Leadership

    The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation focuses on doing business differently by promoting service as a solution and a way to develop community leadership.  Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots - and government should not be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts.  President Barack Obama has recognized that “the challenges we face today are simply too big for government to solve alone, and we need all hands on deck”.  

    It is a priority of the Administration to find new ways for the government to work with individuals and organizations to solve national problems.  Given the scale of challenges we face, people are increasingly looking for leadership to emerge within their communities.  Innovation, service, and volunteerism are on the rise, and new resources and models of partnership are needed.  The Administration recognizes that the success of our nation’s future rests in the hands of the country’s next generation of leaders, as well as their ability to successfully empower communities and create, elevate, and sustain community solutions.

    In partnership with the Office of Public Engagement, this Office has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to develop collaborative responses to America's complex problems by convening a group of accomplished young leaders from across the country. The meeting was organized by young leaders, for young leaders, and featured senior administration officials who discussed innovative White House public-private partnership initiatives such as Educate to Innovate, the Recovery Act, and the Let's Move Partnership for a Healthier America.

    The afternoon consisted of highly interactive working sessions covering a broad range of leadership and collaboration challenges.  The structure of these discussions was built around the principles of the White House cross-sector partnerships strategy, which outlines three basic roles when organizing leadership:  convening of diverse stakeholders around an issue or within a community, catalyzing action to address challenges on a local, regional, or national scale, and coordinating leaders in order to address shared objectives.  Participants provided practical, substantive, and creative contributions for the group to consider, which stemmed from key challenges they themselves identified during the conference.  Arranged by engagement methodology, these big pictures questions included:

    --How do we re-create the public square?  Or create public square 2.0?
    --How do we foster impactful conversation in the era of 140 characters?

    --What is the government's role in influencing the social agenda, through policy or through education?
    --How do we dramatically increase capital flow to mission-driven investors, entrepreneurs, and historically marginalized communities? 

    --How do we measure and encourage risk-taking among foundations?
    --What are the best metrics of impact, how do we measure engagement, and how do we know when we are done?

    The conference concluded with participants announcing that they had begun planning subsequent convenings in their respective regions in order to galvanize support, build momentum, and address local challenges based on the engagement models developed during the day.  They determined that only through collaborative leadership could communities across the country empower themselves by unlocking the energy, ingenuity, and skills of the next generation in order to discover new solutions to old problems.

  • Let’s Read, Let’s Move and then Let’s Grow: The South Memphis Farmers Market

    Never underestimate the power of a community. Communities all across America are coming together to solve their own issues.  One community led by Rev. Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D., Pastor and CEO of St. Andrew AME Church Enterprise, roughly 22 South Memphis organizations, business and religious institutions worked together for 18 months to take action and create a revitalization plan composed of over 60 community projects.

    In alignment with the First Lady’s Let’s Move Initiative, focusing on access to healthy and affordable food, and with United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move, the City of Memphis, Tennessee has demonstrated the power of a community solution. As our country recovers from economic crisis, the ability for a community to empower its neighbors and organizations is vital to their success. As President Obama has stated many times “government cannot do this alone” and “good ideas do not come from Washington.” The new Farmers Market in Memphis is our proof, along with many other successful community solutions across the nation.

    The Farmers Market is a piece of a larger plan for the revitalization of South Memphis. More than 400 neighbors came together and decided what the future of South Memphis could be. For more information about the New Farmers Market or the community’s planning process. Please visit the Corporation for National and Community Service Blog or the South Memphis Revitalization Action Plan.

    Sonal Shah, Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation