Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Partnerships for Regional Energy Innovation in Omaha, Nebraska


    The administration has made it a priority to encourage partnerships across all sectors of the economy in order to address the greatest challenges facing our nation.  We recognize that government must play a convening and coordinating role in catalyzing progress on the President’s agenda, especially around efforts to forge effective relationships with organizations of all types.  This is particularly important in the area of energy, where new advancements are critical for our nation’s future.  In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama stated “We need to encourage American innovation … [and] no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.”


    In supporting this priority, the administration convened a regional conference on energy innovation yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska, focused on connecting entrepreneurs and small enterprise with representatives from organizations across sectors.  This conference was a unique partnership between the City of Omaha, Gallup, the Kauffman Foundation, and the Department of Energy.  Nearly two hundred attendees met at Gallup University’s Omaha Campus to discuss issues ranging from regional gap funding and human capital needs, to collaboration and the early adoption of energy innovation. 


    This meeting continued conversations that began in Washington D.C. on May 7, hosted by a variety of offices in the White House, and led by Undersecretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, Dr. Kristina Johnson.  Undersecretary Johnson presented the opening address at Omaha’s convening, where she discussed the importance of increasing our nation's use of clean energy and the necessity of diversifying our energy use portfolios.  Ted Zoller, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, presented the afternoon keynote remarks on regional energy innovation clusters and the interconnectivity of energy markets and sector leaders.  Finally, a series of deep dive sessions and issue reporting concluded the conference.


    In attendance were representatives from local, regional, and national organizations, federal representation from the White House National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council, theU.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Defense, and theU.S. Small Business Administration, as well as representation from the United Nations.  Additionally, local government was represented by the Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, State Senators Haar and Mello, and the Nebraska Commissioner of Labor, Catherine Lang.


    During the conference, organizations in each sector identified their role in addressing both near-term and long-term energy challenges, stressing the necessity of integrated and coordinated solutions.  Private corporations and venture capital firms expressed their interest in providing business acumen to start-up enterprises.  They also indicated that the focus of organizational advancement needs to be directed toward human capital development, not simply increases of financial capital into the market.


    Academia, including the Universities of Nebraska, Minnesota, Chicago, North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Arizona State, as well as regional community colleges, discussed its role in addressing the human capital needs identified by the attendees, and described its ability to create environments that spur constant innovation and business start-up opportunities.  Philanthropic foundations such as the Kauffman Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the A.E. Casey Foundation identified their strengths in working strategically with multiple stakeholders to address organizational needs, and their role in supplying risk capital to support energy innovation and human capital development.  Finally, non-profits, including the Nebraska Community Foundation, the Innovation Accelerator, and the Center for Rural Affairs explained their role in working with local communities.  Through their on-the-ground experience and relationships, they are able to identify local needs and interventions best supported by the other sectors represented at the conference.


    The day concluded with a reception co-convened by the Meeting of the Minds and the engineering firm HDR.  Overall, yesterday’s conference presented a unique cross-section of perspectives, provided an atmosphere for new cross-sector partnerships, and made progress for the administration’s ongoing efforts to advance dialogue and understanding between all sectors of the economy.


  • Peter Orszag Meets the Mighty Milers of New York

    And their off! After the First Lady launched United We Serve: Let's Read, Let's Move , the entire Administration has committed to promoting Exercise, Healthy Eating and Strong Minds for our children by answering the President and First Lady's Call to Service. Today, Peter Orszag, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, as part of United We Serve: Let's Read, Let's Move, joined a group of students in upper Manhattan who are leading the charge against childhood obesity. They are the Mighty Milers of PS 128 and they have collectively run over 42,000 miles this year!

    To learn more about Peter's meeting with the Mighty Milers and other schools participating in this initiative check out his blog post on the OMBlog.

  • Moving Interfaith Community Service on College and University Campuses Forward

    On Monday, our office was fortunate to co-sponsor an event on Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses with our colleagues at the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Our Dir Sonal, opened the event, while Charlie Anderson, Policy Assistant with SICP, moderated a break-out session in the afternoon.

    The conversation covered the engagement of young adults in interfaith and community service on college campuses, including both the successes and challenges. For more details on the event, check out the blog post at the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

  • United We Serve: Let's Read, Let's Move

    Today the First Lady of the United States and Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation of National and Community Service, launched the summer phase of the President and First’s Lady call to service, United We Serve: Let’s Read. Let’s Move. This summer our goal is to find opportunities for Americans to use service as a tool to promote physical activity, healthy eating and to prevent losing academic ground during the summer. This call to service will encourage Americans to help fight something called the “summer reading gap” - where kids who don’t read during the summer can lose months of educational progress - and childhood obesity. It will culminate the week of September 6, 2010 through September 11, 2010. The Serve America Act, passed with broad bipartisan support last year, made September 11th a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

    This year, in building off the First Lady’s Let’s Move Initiative, we are encouraging organizations and communities to participate through ten easy projects, including building and rehabbing playgrounds, clearing walking trails, holding community sports tournaments, and many others. These project ideas and helpful resources will be posted at

    And in her remarks, the First Lady emphasized your role in making this summer a success:

    “We’ll be asking individuals and community organizations, corporations, foundations and government to come together and devote their time and energy to helping folks in need… The idea here is very simple: and that’s to do everything we can to help our kids stay active and healthy – and to keep them learning – all summer long.”- First Lady Michelle Obama.

    Additionally, this year’s initiative will be highlighting the importance of getting kids to read during the summer, led by the Department of Education last year. Our goal this summer is to connect citizens from diverse communities, backgrounds, and perspectives, providing easily accessible service opportunities to fit their needs, and engage them in service that can lead to a lifetime of participation.

    United We Serve is a nationwide initiative to create a sustained, collaborative, and focused effort to utilize service as a solution to the most difficult challenges facing our communities and to make service a way of life for all Americans. The online home of United We Serve is, so head there to sign up and find the organization that makes the most sense for you. While we are encouraging people to get involved in Let’s Read, Let’s Move oriented projects, any impactful service in your communities that addresses the pressing challenge is encouraged, so if there are other opportunities for service, get involved in whatever way you can.

    It is now time to get organized and find your community’s way to be a part of United We Serve. Go to to post this summer’s volunteer opportunities in your community. Also, don’t forget to stay tuned for the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, in New York City, June 28-30, 2010.

    For more information on Service in general please visit the online homes of the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

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

  • Feds Feed Families 2010 Kick-off

    Hunger. It’s a scary word, but we like to think that it’s far away from our lives and our neighborhoods. But, for too many Americans it’s very real. That’s why, yesterday, we launched the 2010 Feds Feed Families with an event at the Capital Area Food Bank. All you have to do is bring non-perishable food to your participating Federal workplace, we’ll do the rest.

    The need for donated food is especially great during summer. School nutrition programs are on hiatus. The people who donate to their local pantries every week take vacations. In a still-recovering economy, many families need a little help. The Chief Human Capital Officers Council, the HR heads of each Federal agency, started Feds Feeds Families with the Office of Personnel Management last year to ask all Federal employees to help feed their communities.

    Federal employees nationwide are stepping up to meet this challenge by gathering 1,200,000 pounds of food for families in need this summer. We hope you'll join us! If you’re a Federal employee, you’ll probably see collection boxes in your agency. If you don’t, ask your agency if it can participate. Outside the National Capital Region, Federal Executive Boards will coordinate with food banks in their areas.

    We’ll be collecting food each month all summer and measuring our progress. We’ll track the agencies that give the most, and those that give the most per employee, and we’ll do something special for the winners.

    For more information or questions about Feds Feed Families please visit our website at or email .

    John Berry is the Director of the United States Office of Personnel Management

  • Community Health Data Forum: The Community Perspective

    On Wednesday, I moderated a Community Breakout Session at the Community Health Data Forum, hosted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in partnership with the Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) and our colleagues over at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This was a conference to discuss the use and continued creation of tools which could provide the public with access to community health data, to ultimately empower communities to take action.


    HHS and OSTP are coordinating and releasing troves of valuable health data to the public, and the Forum was a chance to highlight some of the ways that technology developers in the private sector are already using this data to create tremendously valuable tools for health systems, communities, and individuals to assess, synthesize and act upon this data to improve health. After seeing some of the potential ways the data could be processed and thinking about future uses, our session was designated to get community stakeholders to give feedback on how these tools can get communities to improve their health.

    To jump start our conversation we heard from some innovators who are using data and technology to be more inclusive of community participation and decision making. Dr. Jim Bower discussed his innovative work with Whyville. Additionally, Deborah Estrin discussed the Boyle Heights Project engaging the community using participatory wireless sensing through smart-phone technologies.

    We then opened it up to the audience to solicit thoughts or ideas on how we can use this data to reach out into communities and impact decision-making. One take-away from the discussion was there is a great need for communities and application developers to start having regular conversations regarding the use of data and solving community issues to connect the technologies developed to the needs on the ground.

    The goal is to find out how can we use this data to help the community make smarter decisions and how communities can hold institutions- health, government, and otherwise- more accountable. And as an exciting and actionable step, -HHS announced a partnership with Health 2.0 to create a Developer Challenge that will spur creative applications that can present the data in a form to impact communities. The challenge will conclude in October at Health Innovation Week, so stay tuned for more health data and more applications that will help get Americans on the path to a longer and healthier life.

    If you have ideas on tools that can be created to help communities use the data that’s being released to change behavior, go to to submit your ideas.

    And the whole Community Health Data Initiative in response to President Obama’s Executive Order regarding Transparency and Open Government that he released on his first day in office. For information on Open Government generally or progress on the Open Government Directive please visit




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