Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • 2010 National Summer Learning

    On June 8th, the First Lady launched United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move, a national call to service. This summer the President and First Lady have called on Americans to use service as a tool to promote physical activity, healthy eating and to prevent losing academic learning during the summer months. This call to service encourages 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.

    To help address these challenges the Corporation for National and Community Service has partnered with the Department of Education, National Summer Learning Association, Reach Out and ReadFirst Book and the National Military Families Association -- among others, to reach a broad and diverse group of youth to promote National Summer Learning. All throughout the Summer, schools and organizations will be hosting events, giving away books and focusing on promoting the importance of summer learning. To find out about all the activities going on across the nation check out theNational Summer Learning Day website.

    United We Serve: Let’s Read. Let’s Move makes it easy for Americans to help youth build strong minds through summer reading. Kids engaged in summer reading activities are better prepared for the new academic year, show improvement in spelling, writing style, vocabulary and grammatical development. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it best when he said:

    “The key to stopping summer learning loss is reading.  If a child reads a minimum of five books between June and August, they will be on track for success next school year. We need every child to read at least 5 books this summer and every adult to help. We are really excited to help kick off Let’s Read. Let’s Move and look forward to working with the Corporation for National Service and the rest of the Administration on this important initiative.”

    To do their part, the Department of Education is inviting cabinet members, senior administration officials, and other public figures to their 2010 Summer Enrichment Series to read children’s books, promote healthy lifestyles, and participate in games and fitness activities with children in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

    Even if you miss out on the activities in the month of June, it’s never too late to pick up a book and do your part. If your community is looking to get involved and participate, please see the Summer Learning Day Planning Kit  or visit to find a way to volunteer in your community.

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

  • 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service

    As she wrote on the White House blog the last week, Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes gave the keynote address at the opening plenary session for the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. We have included her full remarks below.


    The White House

    Melody Barnes’ Remarks at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service

    June 28, 2010

    Radio City Music Hall - New York, NY

    1:30 PM EDT

    Hello! How’s everyone doing out there? It is great to see so many familiar faces.  First, I would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg for hosting us here in the great City of New York and for his consistent leadership in service and social innovation, particularly his work on the Cities of Service initiative. 

    We are all indebted to Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Michelle Nunn of the Points of Light Institute for their great leadership – and of course, thank you to the staff at CNCS and Points of Light Institute for all that they have done to make today possible. 

    I’m also thrilled that Senator Warner – from my home state of Virginia -- is here as a supporter of service and innovation.

    Let’s give all of them and all those who have helped pull this fantastic event together a round of applause.
    I am excited to join all of you who have dedicated your lives to serving your communities and giving others the opportunity to do the same.  I can’t believe it’s already been a year since the last National Conference in San Francisco, but what a tremendous year it has been for service.

    As you well know, our nation faces a daunting set of challenges.  But, from day one, the President has acted on the principle that “service is a solution” – that service is a critical tool as we address our national priorities: education, health care, energy, and economic recovery. 

    The President and First Lady have always believed that the best ideas don’t come from Washington.  They come from individuals and communities all across the country.  That’s why the President tasked me with creating the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation as part of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House – to find the best ways to invest in and scale programs that work and find ways to help communities better solve their own problems.  We know that we need to get the policies right, but we also know that Americans everywhere are already working to make a difference – and they deserve our support.   

    That’s why one of the President’s top priorities in his first 100 days was to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  We worked with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress and with those of you who have been working in the trenches for years to give the American people more opportunities to serve.

    This legislation bears the name of a consummate public servant and guiding light for so many of us, and Senator Kennedy worked tirelessly with his close friend Senator Hatch to pass it.  The Act provides the greatest growth in service opportunities in a generation, including an increase in the size of AmeriCorps from 75,000 members to 250,000 by 2017.

    Included in the Serve America Act is the exciting new Social Innovation Fund or SIF.  The SIF will support innovative and potentially transformative community solutions that are having an impact at the local level and have the potential to serve even more communities. During the past year, the Corporation for National and Community Service crafted the fund with help from thousands of you who lent your feedback and ideas, and CNCS will be announcing the first grantees later this summer.
    At last year’s conference, the First Lady also asked every American to do their part when she launched United We Serve – an ongoing effort to get everyone involved in addressing our most pressing challenges.  Since then, millions of Americans have stepped up to the plate.  And this summer, the First Lady is calling on us again through United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move.  Working together, we can reduce the summer learning loss and tackle childhood obesity through exercise and healthy eating.  Already, federal agencies, non-profit organizations from 4-H to Reach Out and Read, and individuals are stepping up to answer that call. We hope many more of you – national organizations and individual citizens, alike – will do the same.

    During the past year, we’ve come a long way, and we’ve achieved a lot together.  So let me say: thank YOU for your work over the last year and the many years that preceded it. YOU made this happen.  YOU living proof that service isn’t separate from our national priorities, instead it’s pivotal to solving them.

    But let me say -- to borrow a phrase you may have heard from the President -- we have more work to do.

    While there is undoubtedly momentum in the right direction, the problems we face are daunting. Our nation is still on the long path to recovery, and an oil spill – the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history – has once again devastated the people of the Gulf Coast who have met so much hardship with resilience and determination. 

    In fact, it’s in times like these that we need the power of service and social innovation more than ever.  That’s why the theme of this conference is: “it’s up to you”.  As the President and First Lady have said over and over, government cannot address these problems alone.  We have to marshal the talents, resources, and ingenuity of people in communities across the country – people like you and the thousands you represent.

    There are many ways to make a difference: from military service to public service; from serving as a teacher, firefighter, police officer, or librarian, to running a local nonprofit that addresses unmet needs in a community. But the common thread is that those who serve do so for a reason larger than themselves. They take responsibility – YOU take responsibility -- not just for your own health and well-being, but also for your neighbors’.  Let me give you some evidence to support that statement.

    Is anyone here from Pennsylvania?!  Let’s talk about what’s going on there – an innovative partnership between City Year, Communities in Schools, and Johns Hopkins Talent Development.  Called “Diplomas Now,” the initiative is focused on solving the dropout crisis.  Well, the program started as a pilot in a Philadelphia school and began showing very promising results –an 83% drop in failing math students, an 80% drop in failing English students, and an 85% drop in student suspensions.  Because success should breed success, Diplomas Now has expanded to Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Antonio – and is looking to grow even more. 

    And think about Youth Villages, which Sonal Shah – the Director of my Social Innovation team -- visited in Memphis as part of our Community Solutions Tour.  Anyone here from Tennessee?! (Pause)  All right.   In 1994, Youth Villages decided to focus on a home-based model to help children struggling to overcome  serious emotional or behavior challenges.  Since then, they have seen remarkable results, with large numbers of kids integrating successfully into their communities while being served in a more cost-effective way.   For that reason, Youth Villages can now be found in 11 states and the District of Columbia.  Imagine if we could help every child with these challenges reintegrate into their community?  Youth Villages tells us it’s possible.

    These organizations show that innovation is about learning, changing and improving; they are enterprising in their use of service and volunteerism, and they are driving real results.  Whether it’s turning around schools that are failing our kids, engaging our seniors in promoting healthier lives for their peers, or preserving America’s great outdoors – service and innovation are integral to solving our national challenges. 


    The message I bring to you today is this:  our success as a nation depends now more than ever on YOU.  Your work to transform individual lives and communities is vital to finding new and innovative ways to meet our country’s most pressing challenges.  The solutions you are developing in your communities can be used to strengthen, reform and support our schools; help us bring quality, affordable health care to everyone; build a sustainable energy future; and ensure economic recovery, economic opportunity and economic growth in every community in the country.

    To achieve at that scale, we have to come together – the public, private, nonprofit, academic, and philanthropic communities.  We need to share best practices, share new ideas, and invest in what works.  And we need to support a new generation of leaders who can build on the great progress we have made together.   

    Let me leave you with one example.  Ashley Sloan where are you?  Please stand up and let us see you!  [Pause]  Ashley engaged in voluntary service on an ‘Alternative Spring Break’ while at the University of Kansas. That experience motivated her to join AmeriCorps NCCC as a team leader.

    One year after her NCCC experience ended, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast and Ashley felt like she had to do something.  She joined the St. Bernard Project -- an innovative organization that gets people back into their homes -- when it was in its nascent stages. And four years later, Ashley’s still committed – managing dozens of other AmeriCorps members and celebrating their 280th house built.
    As the Gulf Coast and other communities across the country continue to face daunting challenges, we are called to serve and can take heart that tens of thousands of AmeriCorps members and millions of volunteers are working alongside Ashley to provide vital services and needed support.

    You are the leaders who inspire people like Ashley Sloan and provide them with the concrete tools to make a difference.   That’s why even in the face of incredible obstacles, I know that with leaders like all of you, bright days are ahead.  We can do it.  We can succeed.  We can share talent and expertise and resolve to build an even stronger America.   Thank you and thank you for all you do.

    And now, I’d like to turn your attention to a video from our fearless leader in service, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. 

    Thank you so very much for your attention, and have a wonderful conference!

  • 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