Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog
- Posted byon May 4, 2012 at 4:02 PM EST
Recently, the Obama Administration took a simple but important step that has the potential to do a lot of good in communities across the country – anything from improving education, creating opportunity in low-income communities, or keeping our water and air safe.
Traditionally, foundations have tackled our most vexing problems primarily by making grants to organizations. Foundations are required to make annual charitable contributions of at least five percent of their total assets. These overwhelmingly are done via grants and most stay very close to the five percent minimum. The remaining 95 percent of assets are maintained in an endowment and typically invested in a diversified portfolio in order to preserve or increase value to enable continued giving in the future. The proposed rule issued by the Treasury Department and IRS would make it easier for philanthropies to make what are called Program Related Investments (PRIs).
PRIs allow foundations to put more of their resources to work to advance their charitable mission through means other than grant-making – like equity investments, loans, loan guarantees, or other investments. Despite their flexibility, PRIs historically have not been used with much frequency because of confusion as to how they work and the high costs associated with them. For example, many foundations find it necessary to proactively seek legal counsel to confirm that an investment would qualify under the definition of charitable purpose even before using a PRI.
- Posted byon April 26, 2012 at 9:47 AM EST
Ed. note: To recognize the impact service members have on young children, the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation introduces readers to Naila Bolus, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jumpstart, one of the largest part-time AmeriCorps programs.
When asked how service members expand educational opportunities for preschool children in low-income communities, Naila writes:
In North Philadelphia, 50 Temple University students – all Jumpstart Corps members – have spent the past two semesters immersed in preschool classrooms in one of this city’s most under-resourced communities. Twice each week they trod past garbage-strewn abandoned lots, broken sidewalks and shuttered buildings into classrooms infested with cockroaches. But they can see what many people cannot – the wealth of opportunity in the community and the tremendous potential in the young children they serve. As I sat with a group of eight Jumpstart Corps members this week, they were reflecting on their year of service and the incredible progress made by their “partner” children – e.g. a reticent child now one of the most outspoken; a child who couldn’t recognize the letters in her name now able to write them clearly. As these Jumpstart Corps members prepare to take their final exams, they do so with the pride of knowing that they have helped dozens of children master the language and literacy skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
For too many young children, the neighborhood in which they live remains the greatest predictor for their future success. Indeed, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten 60% behind their wealthier peers, and in the absence of high-quality programs – like Jumpstart – this gap only continues to widen as children advance through school and life. Conversely, research tells us that investing in high-quality early education is the best way to increase lifetime productivity and graduation rates while decreasing crime and other societal ills. In fact, as Nobel Laureate and University of Chicago professor James Heckman has shown, every dollar invested in early education produces a return on investment of at least 7% and in some studies as high as 15%.
- Posted byon April 20, 2012 at 7:30 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th– 21stto recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Paul Woodson, Mayor of Salisbury, NC. The City of Salisbury transformed two neglected blocks of South Shaver Street and is an honoree for the Make A Difference Day city awards. When asked about the impact volunteering has had on communities, Mayor Woodson writes:
Like many Piedmont North Carolina communities, Salisbury was hit hard by closures of textile mills in the ‘90s followed by two deep recessions. The resulting decline in private-sector revenues dug a deep hole in public and non-profit budgets, causing the city government to struggle to provide the same services without a tax increase.
Founded in 1753, Salisbury is an older city with an aging housing stock. To compound the challenge, the housing crisis of 2008 left many homeowners stranded, either battling foreclosure or without disposable income to make needed repairs to their homes. This left a ripple of deterioration throughout many city neighborhoods.
The Salisbury Community Appearance Commission (CAC), a City Council advisory board, spearheaded a partnership with the Council to develop a cohesive concept that would help foster accountability among residents and communities for cleaner, safer neighborhoods -- one block at a time. With Council support, the CAC implemented a unique initiative called BlockWork.
- Posted byon April 20, 2012 at 7:00 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Jerramiah T. Healy, Mayor of Jersey City, NJ. In 2011, over 600 volunteers beautified 80 sites in one day and due to their efforts, Jersey City is an honoree for the Make A Difference Day city awards. When asked about the impact volunteering has had on communities, Mayor Healy writes:
As the second largest city in the state, Jersey City is known as Wall Street West for the hundreds of financial services corporations that are located here. Our city of 250,000 people is one of the most diverse in the nation and we pride ourselves on celebrating both our diversity and our civic pride.
For the past three years, Jersey City has demonstrated this civic pride by participating in Make A Difference Day, the annual volunteer effort sponsored by USA Weekend Magazine and supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service.
For Make a Difference Day 2011, The Jersey City Parks Coalition, conceptualized a citywide planting project named the ‘BIG DIG’. Volunteers would plant hearty tulip and daffodil bulbs in parks and patches of grass throughout the city. Come spring, the fruits of our mutual labor would be reaped.
- Posted byon April 20, 2012 at 6:45 PM EST
While the economy continues to show signs of improvement, there are still many workers who are facing challenges in connecting to new careers. The Department of Labor has encouraged dislocated workers to pursue education and training to improve their skills and better position them to compete for employment opportunities. Many workers have taken advantage of these opportunities, but it is also important to lay a path forward for those workers who have not enrolled in training and seek other options to build their skills and increase their chances to find employment.
Today, the Department has issued guidance—in the form of an Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL)—recognizing that active volunteering can help expand opportunity for unemployed individuals by enabling them to develop and maintain skills, expand their professional networks, and enhance their resumes while helping in their community. Activities such as coordinating an after-school program, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or assisting individuals in filing Earned Income Tax Credit claims all create immediate benefit for individuals in need and underserved communities. Such activities also help the participants to sharpen the soft skills that many employers demand.
We also know that, as more businesses stress the importance of corporate citizenship and shared value, many more are encouraging their workers to volunteer. In many ways, this is not a new development. A wide range of companies such as AT&T and IBM have long standing programs that encourage employees to volunteer. As this trend continues to spread, knowing that a job seeker is already committed to the community may be another positive attribute from the employer’s perspective when assessing potential candidates.
- Posted byon April 18, 2012 at 2:36 PM EST
Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Neha Gupta, a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania who built a library for underprivileged youth. Neha is a national honoree for the Make A Difference Day awards. When asked about the impact of volunteering, Neha writes:
It’s a tradition in my family to celebrate birthdays by taking food and gifts to orphaned children in my family’s hometown in India. I have participated in this custom since I was young.
When I visited India in 2005, I was marked by the harsh conditions that orphans endure. Without a quality education and support system, orphans have little means with which to change their circumstances. Instead of just feeling empathy towards them, I decided to help break this cycle. I was nine years old when I started Empower Orphans, and these last seven years have taught me much about myself and the world. Together with fellow teen volunteers, we have raised more than $485,000 to purchase necessary items and services for orphans and underprivileged children.
Over time, I have learned that volunteering and service have exponential impact. Not only have I provided orphaned children the opportunity to help themselves, but I have led thousands of others to do the same. I have met countless people who share my interest in making a difference and together we have built an ever-growing community that empowers orphans. Through volunteering, my peers have changed their own lives, too. Volunteering has prepared me, not just for college, but for the life I hope to live afterwards.
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