Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog
- Posted byon October 30, 2009 at 5:27 PM EDT
Earlier this month, I joined the President in New Orleans for his first visit there since the election. A key part of the President’s message was that the Gulf Coast’s recovery didn’t flow just from government programs and policies:
I've talked a lot today about what steps we've taken at the federal level to help the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild. But the true story is this community's unbending resilience. That doesn't start in Washington. It starts right here, in the reborn neighborhoods of New Orleans. . . . The story of this city's resilience begins with all the men and women who refused to give up on their homes; who stayed to clean up and rebuild -- not just their own homes or their own yards or their own lives, but their neighbors', too.
I wanted to witness this bottom-up strength firsthand, so after the president’s speech, I visited Café Reconcile, one of the many innovative community organizations that have stepped up to help the Gulf Coast recover following Katrina.
Located in the distressed Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, Café Reconcile (www.cafereconcile.org) helps at-risk young people aged 16-22 with life skills, while training them for jobs in the restaurant business, one of the largest employers in New Orleans. Reconcile’s students are poor, many are high school dropouts, come from broken homes, are victims of abuse, or are veterans of the juvenile justice system. Café Reconcile provides case management, academic training, and on-the-job experience at a working restaurant that is popular for its staples like baked chicken, fried catfish (with or without crawfish sauce), and jambalaya.
On Thursday I sat down with staff and participants to enjoy a late lunch. We were joined by Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu and Tulane University President Scott Cowen.
“There are no bad kids on the streets of New Orleans,” Reconcile’s Director of Programs, Donna Bowie told us. “They may not have had the nurturing and support that you and I had, but that's what we provide at Café Reconcile."
One by one, the young program participants and alumni shared their stories, stories of heartbreaking challenges like teenage pregnancies and run ins with the law, but also stories of redemption, of the difference it makes to have caring adults, supportive peers and a job to do.
Christopher Lewis came to Reconcile after being kicked out of school for fights and combating a drug habit. He told us that Reconcile gave him a sense of responsibility, “I realized that the world keeps moving and I can't just stay put. My mom can't do it for me, my family can't do it for me, I have to do it for myself."
Sometimes it is the small things that make all the difference. Michael Smith, a 20-year-old participant in the program, told me about the self-confidence he gained just by wearing a professional uniform. He started to tear up as he talked about his nine younger siblings, who had been through so much, being proud of him as he left home dressed for work. Smith experienced family drug use, witnessed neighborhood violence and has been forced to move six times since returning to the city following Hurricane Katrina. He came to Reconcile after dropping out of school as a junior and struggling to maintain employment.
Nearing the end of Reconcile’s program, his peers hail him as a natural leader in the restaurant. Most importantly, Michael has set an example for his siblings and his community.
“Reconcile taught me the skills to get a job and keep a job,” said Doris Sylvan, a 19-year-old single mother who graduated from Reconcile’s program and now works there mentoring other students while attending community college. “There need to be more programs like this.”
Well, here at the White House, we agree with Doris. There need to be more programs like Café Reconcile, not just in New Orleans, but across the country. All across the nation, people are finding solutions to society’s most intractable problems, like the dropout rate, childhood obesity, persistent poverty, or homelessness. These innovators are breaking through bureaucratic barriers and reaching people in need in ways that no government program could. We think that these hidden gems should be identified and their solutions replicated in more communities, but that’s easier said than done.
Let’s take the case of Café Reconcile. The nonprofit is planning a big expansion that will include a catering business, a family learning center, and business accelerator. In order to achieve that growth, the organization needs a few things. It needs additional staff, new equipment and renovated space – or what we call “overhead costs” to expand its operations.
These resources are often the hardest funds to raise from foundations and private donors. Reconcile needs to be able to prove to potential funders that it is having an impact by showing, for instance, that their students go on to get their GEDs and keep jobs. Proving that impact takes expertise and resources that are also hard to come by for small community groups. Finally, Reconcile needs technical expertise to help them continually improve their model and help more kids.
We think that the government has an important but limited role in helping groups like Café Reconcile take the next step.
That’s why the President has established a Social Innovation Fund. Run out of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Social Innovation Fund will provide the growth capital that is largely lacking in the philanthropic sector.
This fund will invest in programs we know are high-impact and help them grow to other communities around the country. This is a new role for government. Instead of simply funding services year after year, the President believes government can play a more dynamic role by seeking out creative, results-oriented programs and serving as a catalyst for replicating those efforts. That’s also why we are looking at other ways to promote capacity building among nonprofits, all the while having a dogged focus on impact and metrics. We have to know that we are getting a good return on the investment of taxpayer dollars.
This isn’t an idea that started with President Obama. Scott Cowen and Mitch Landrieu have been on the front lines for years. At Tulane, Cowen is working to train the next generation of innovators who are changing the way we solve problems. Tulane was selected by Ashoka, the world's leading network of social entrepreneurs, as a Changemaker Campus. Landrieu created the nation’s first statewide Office of Social Entrepreneurship, which is looking to help promising nonprofits identify and leverage available resources.
Lieutenant Governor Landrieu in his closing statements at Café Reconcile explained why Louisiana has become a hotbed of social entrepreneurship and why it matters for the rest of the country. “In the aftermath of Katrina, we are teaching the rest of the country how to deal with the problems of living in a great city. We didn’t ask for this responsibility, but the truth is that the answers to America’s problems are coming from the streets of New Orleans.”
That is true for innovative nonprofits all across the country. The solutions to our great challenges may be being invented on the streets of Portland, Denver, Miami, or everywhere in between. Only New Orleans may be the only place where those solutions also come with Shrimp Ettoufee.
Melody Barnes is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council
- Posted byon October 27, 2009 at 6:01 PM EDT
The cars of the future are coming, and they will be built right here in the United States. Vice President Joe Biden echoed that sentiment today as he announced that the former GM Boxwood Manufacturing Plant in Wilmington, Delaware was reopening for business. With the help of the Administration, loans from the Department of Energy, commitment from the state of Delaware, and the dedication of the American workforce, Fisker Automotive will soon begin manufacturing long-range, plug-in, electric hybrid vehicles at the Boxwood Plant. By 2014, the company plans to roll 75,000 to 100,000 plug-in, hybrid sedans off the assembly line each year.
The excitement in the crowd today reminded us that American innovation and manufacturing built the automotive industry in the 20th century – now, we will rebuild and retool it during the 21st century in a more efficient, inventive, and environmentally friendly way. As the Vice President said today: “American innovators, American business, American labor has never let this country down when we've been given a fighting chance. And today, this factory in Delaware, and the industry, are going to get back up off the mat.”
The future is now and Americans are investing in the new automobile. Not just the manufacturing, but all aspects of the supply chain—from engineering the battery to powering the cars, from building the materials needed for assembly to shipping the finished product all over the world. As the Vice President said: “Imagine an America that has freed itself from the grip of the oligarchs of oil by plugging their cars into a new electric grid of renewable energy based on wind and solar and geothermal. Imagine a world where people pop the hood of their cars and they see stamped on the battery ‘Made in America.’"
Soon, we won’t have to imagine.
Elizabeth Alexander is Press Secretary to the Vice President
- Posted byon October 22, 2009 at 9:00 AM EDT
President Obama may have been speaking metaphorically when he promised, during his inaugural address, that his administration would "restore science to its rightful place." But he was also speaking literally. And as a number of Administration initiatives have since made clear, one of the most rightful places for science today is the classroom.
The Obama administration has pursued with real zeal an array of approaches to bolstering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education (also known as "STEM ed"). These have ranged from formal federal grant programs such as Race to the Top, which is providing competitive grants to states that pump up the innovation in their academic programs, to events such as Astronomy Night on the White House lawn—the historic educational fest earlier this month that brought 150 local middle schoolers onto the South Lawn after sunset, where NASA astronomers and others pointed dozens of telescopes at the Moon, Saturn and its moons, and the furthest reaches of the universe.
The emphasis makes sense. Science and technology are responsible for a very large portion of this nation’s economic growth over the past 50 years. And scientists and engineers today are in the best position to solve many of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world, including energy shortages, climate change, inadequate healthcare, and poor nutrition.
It’s wonderful that this country was home to so many Nobel Prize winners this year. But STEM education is increasingly being appreciated as the key to assuring that America cultivates a new generation of experts as well, with the skills to create the new green technologies we need to strengthen our economy in the 21st Century.
STEM education will be a major topic at this week’s meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which will feature a STEM presentation by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. You can watch the livestream on Friday, Oct. 23, at 10:45 a.m., at www.whitehouse.gov or at www.OSTP.gov.
- Posted byon October 15, 2009 at 4:28 PM EDT
Cross-posted from OpenInternet.gov/blog.
The Internet's open architecture has enabled this network of networks to become a unparalleled platform for innovation and speech, as well as an enduring engine for economic growth. Last month, I proposed that the FCC adopt a fair and high-level framework to preserve an open Internet. While my goals are clear, the path to achieving them involves many hard questions about how best to maximize the innovation and investment necessary for a robust and thriving Internet. Getting input from all stakeholders will be important as the Commission begins to address many critical questions. That is why we launched OpenInternet.gov. We wanted to create a place where people could join the discussion about the open Internet. While OpenInternet.gov is still in Beta, we are encouraged that thousands of visitors have already used the site to watch my speech proposing open Internet principles and more than 500 people have offered comments.
Today, we are expanding the ways people can use OpenInternet.gov to participate in this discussion by launching the site’s blog. Visitors to this blog will be able to find expert commentary from FCC staff on how best to preserve the Internet’s openness and questions that arise during this debate. Our staff hopes to use this forum not only to share ideas but also to receive them. We encourage all visitors to weigh in with their own thoughts and engage in an open dialogue.
The blog will also offer timely information on the FCC's latest activities to preserve an open Internet. On that front, we have an important announcement to make. Next Thursday, October 22, my fellow Commissioners and I will be hosting a meeting at the FCC’s headquarters to begin the process of establishing rules to preserve the Internet's openness. These proceedings will be open to the public and streamed live on this site. Please check it out, and let us know what you think.
This blog is just the latest piece of an agency-wide effort to engage the public. We hope you will take advantage of it and keep coming back. Come by and let us know what you think.
Julius Genachowski is the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
- Posted byon October 8, 2009 at 9:15 AM EDTSpeaking before a group of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders on June 30th, President Obama stated that:The bottom line is clear: Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots – and government shouldn't be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts. Instead of wasting taxpayer money on programs that are obsolete or ineffective, government should be seeking out creative, results-oriented programs like the ones here today and helping them replicate their efforts across America.The Corporation for National Community and Service (the Corporation) is taking up the President's call through the creation of the Social Innovation Fund—a fund that was authorized by the bi-partisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009.The Social Innovation Fund is currently being designed, and for those interested in learning more and participating in a question and answer session, representatives of the Corporation will be hosting a conference call on October 15th (sign-up information is below).We know that every day innovative and effective nonprofit organizations are working to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our nation—from low high school graduation rates, to the acute job skills deficit, to a lack of access to affordable, quality health care.They are driven by the passion to help others and to lead change in their communities, and these factors are an indispensible part of their success. It is what makes the long hours bearable and what compels thousands of people to volunteer with them in the pursuit of a goal larger than themselves.But their success is also a function of their drive to find the best—the most efficient and effective—ways to do their work. By subjecting themselves to evaluation, they are able to calculate their impact and plot a new course of action if the evidence points to an approach or an idea that will allow them to make an even greater difference in people's lives.Through the Social Innovation Fund, President Obama is committed to supporting the growth and replication of innovative nonprofit organizations and practices that can demonstrate their impact. Specifically, the fund will provide on a competitive basis, multi-year federal support to promising nonprofit organizations in communities across the country.The President has asked Congress for $50 million in funding, which will then be matched by investments from a network of experienced grant makers and the nonprofit organizations themselves.The goal is to build a pipeline of organizations and practices with strong evidence, and the capacity to grow and increase the impact of their work. The Social Innovation Fund will provide the support needed to help move organizations from the promising stage to the stage where they have more concrete evidence that what they do, works.This is a new way of doing business for government. For that reason, the process of designing the Social Innovation Fund has been proactive, with outreach to interested individuals and communities early in the design process in order to capture their best thinking and ideas. The Corporation and the White House have conducted over 50 meetings with stakeholders such as:
In addition to these targeted meetings, the Corporation conducted five listening sessions around the country and phone calls open to the public on the implementation of the Serve America Act, including the Social Innovation Fund, and created a space on their Web site to solicit public feedback.Over the next several months, the Corporation and the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation will be continuing this outreach with meetings in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Santa Fe and elsewhere.We are seeking the best thinking and lessons learned in communities across the country, in order to improve and shape the design of the Social Innovation Fund. We believe that the Social Innovation Fund will underscore the importance of innovation in solving our nation's most serious challenges, and the need to invest in "what works."While the fund alone won't solve our nation's challenges, it offers the hope of finding the next great idea or organization, and giving it the push it needs to reach more communities.The federal government has often been a catalyst in spurring innovation—from the creation of the Internet to the development of community-based health centers. Now, more than ever, we must help to find and support bold ideas and approaches that will improve the lives of millions of Americans. The challenges we face today are simply too numerous and too complex to be tackled in isolation, community by community.Again, we hope you'll join us in this effort by participating in a briefing call and question and answer session about the Social Innovation Fund hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service from 1-2pm EST on Thursday, October 15, 2009. To register for the call and secure call logistics, please visit http://www.innovationcall.org/. Send questions in advance to Innovation@cns.gov. We will address as many questions as time allows on the call.Nicola Goren is Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service
- Nonprofit organizations addressing our nation's many challenges
- Foundations that invest both organizational expertise and resources in nonprofit organizations
- Community foundations with extensive experience in local communities
- Evaluation experts with unique knowledge about how to measure impact
- Academics and other experts with knowledge about how to support innovation, growth and expansion of high-performing nonprofit organizations
- Organizations focused on service and volunteerism, including hundreds of participants at the National Conference on Service and Volunteering
- Other federal agencies working to surface and fund innovative organizations, such as the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development
- Federal agencies with existing funding for innovation and a wealth of historical knowledge, such as the Small Business Administration and Department of Defense; and
- Local and state government leaders
- Posted byon October 7, 2009 at 5:19 PM EDTThis afternoon the President presented recipients of this year's National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology with their awards. A humbling moment to be amongst some of the brightest and most pioneering minds in the world, he spoke about the importance of science and exploration—and expounded upon the necessity of creative and virtuous individuals to our country and to humanity:At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we can't afford to invest in science, that it's a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I could not disagree more. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, and our health, and our way of life than it has ever been. And the winners we are recognizing only underscore that point, with achievements in physics and medicine, computer science and cognitive science, energy technology and biotechnology. We need to ensure that we are encouraging the next generation of discoveries -- and the next generation of discoverers.That's why my administration has set this goal: by investing in education, funding basic and applied research, and spurring private innovation, we will devote 3 percent of our gross domestic product to research and development. That's more than at any point in recent history. (Applause.)And as part of this effort, we're putting in place policies that will move us from the middle to the top of the pack in math and science education over the next decade. We are challenging states to dramatically improve achievement by raising standards, by improving the use of technology, and by making it possible for professionals like our honorees to bring a lifetime of experience and enthusiasm into the classroom. And we've also launched a Race to the Top fund to encourage states to compete for the most innovative programs in math and science, as part of a broader effort to foster new ways of engaging young people in these fields.Later, he expressed excitement over tonight's South Lawn astronomy event, which will include a live chat at 7 PM/6 CT with NASA astronaut, first woman in space, Sally Ride.
White House Blogs
- The White House Blog
- Middle Class Task Force
- Council of Economic Advisers
- Council on Environmental Quality
- Council on Women and Girls
- Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
- Office of Management and Budget
- Office of Public Engagement
- Office of Science & Tech Policy
- Office of Urban Affairs
- Open Government
- Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships
- Social Innovation and Civic Participation
- US Trade Representative
- Office National Drug Control Policy