Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Replicating Success

    Speaking 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:
    • 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
    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  Send questions in advance to  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

  • "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

    (President Barack Obama applauds recipients after presenting 2008 Medals of Science and Medals of Technology and Innovation during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
    This 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.
    (President Barack Obama presents the National Medal of Science to Dr. JoAnne Stubbe of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    (President Barack Obama congratulates Charles Geschke, left, and John Warnock, center, of Adobe Systems after presenting them with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation during an awards ceremony in the East Room of the White House, October 7, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

  • Streaming at 1:30: National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation

    From his first days in office the President made clear that science, technology, and innovation would be elevated to core values in his Administration. But the awards being given today are evidence of how deeply rooted these things are in the American tradition. 

    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded.]

    The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation in recognition of individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering.
    The National Medal of Technology and Innovation has its roots in a 1980 statute and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce's U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The award recognizes individuals or companies for their outstanding contributions to the promotion of technology for the improvement of the economic, environmental, or social well-being of the United States.
    Here's the list of 2008 Recipients:
    National Medal of Science
    Dr. Berni Alder, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA
    Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health, MD
    Dr. Joanna Fowler, Brookhaven National Laboratory, NY
    Dr. Elaine Fuchs, The Rockefeller University, NY
    Dr. James Gunn, Princeton University, NJ
    Dr. Rudolf Kalman, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
    Dr. Michael Posner, University of Oregon, OR
    Dr. JoAnne Stubbe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
    Dr. J. Craig Venter, J. Craig Venter Institute, MD & CA
    National Medal of Technology and Innovation
    Dr. Forrest M. Bird, Percussionaire Corp., ID
    Dr. Esther Sans Takeuchi, University at Buffalo, SUNY, NY
    Team: Dr. John E. Warnock and Dr. Charles M. Geschke (Adobe Systems Inc., CA)
    Company: IBM Corporation, NY

  • An Historic Commitment to Research

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    Amidst some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the medical field, the President spoke this morning about his commitment to making a "lasting difference" in the health of the American people—and how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will play a role in creating those differences:
    Now, today I'm here to talk about our nation's commitment to research.  I want to thank Dr. Collins and his team for showing me and Kathleen some of the extraordinary groundbreaking research being done at the National Institutes of Health. 
    The work you do is not easy.  It takes a great deal of patience and persistence.  But it holds incredible promise for the health of our people and the future of our nation and our world.  That’s why I’m here today.  For decades, the NIH has been at the forefront of medical invention and innovation, helping to save countless lives and relieve untold suffering.  And yet, if we’re honest, in recent years we’ve seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace.
    We know that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector.  Some research does not lend itself to quick profit.  And that’s why places like the NIH were founded.  And that’s why my administration is making a historic commitment to research and the pursuit of discovery.  And that’s why today we’re announcing that we've awarded $5 billion -- that's with a "b" -- in grants through the Recovery Act to conduct cutting-edge research all across America, to unlock treatments to diseases that have long plagued humanity, to save and enrich the lives of people all over the world.  This represents the single largest boost to biomedical research in history.  (Applause.)
    Now, one of the most exciting areas of research to move forward as a result of this investment will be in applying what scientists have learned through the Human Genome Project to help us understand, prevent, and treat various forms of cancer, heart disease, and autism.  And having been a leader of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Collins knows this promise all too well.  And it's a promise that we've only just begun to realize.
    In cancer, we're beginning to see treatments based on our knowledge of genetic changes that cause the disease and the genetic predispositions that many of us carry that make us more susceptible to the disease.  But we've only scratched the surface of these kinds of treatments, because we've only begun to understand the relationship between our environment and genetics in causing and promoting cancer.
    So through the Recovery Act, the NIH is expanding the Cancer Genome Atlas, collecting more than 20,000 tissue samples to sequence the DNA of more than 20 types of cancer.  And this has extraordinary potential to help us better understand and treat this disease.  Cancer has touched the lives of all Americans, including my own family's; 1.5 million people will be diagnosed in the next year.  Half a million people will lose their lives.  We all know the terrible toll on families and the promise of treatments that will allow a mother to be there for her children as they grow up; that will make it possible for a child to reach adulthood; that will allow countless people to survive a disease that's claimed far too many lives.
    (President Barack Obama talks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a tour of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009. Listening are Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, and Dr. Francis Collins, left, Director of NIH, third from left. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
    A critical part of the President's desire to make strides in medicine is the Recovery Act—under the President’s plan, tens of thousands of jobs will be created in the medical sector:
    Now, we know that these investments in research will improve and save countless lives for generations to come.  And as I was taking a tour with Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci and others, just listening to the possibility of a HIV/AIDS vaccine, or hearing the latest treatments of cancer that allow people who previously only had resort to the most violent types of radiation or chemotherapy, now being able to take pills and seeing extraordinary progress, it is something that is entirely inspiring.  But we also know that these investments will save jobs, they'll create new jobs -- tens of thousands of jobs -- conducting research, and manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities all across America. 

  • A Vision for Innovation, Growth, and Quality Jobs

    President Obama laid out his vision for innovation, growth, and quality jobs earlier today at Hudson Valley Community College.  The President's plan is grounded not only in the American tradition of entrepreneurship, but also in the traditions of robust economic thought.
    During the past two years, the ideas propounded by John Maynard Keynes have assumed greater importance than most people would have thought in the previous generation.  As Keynes famously observed, during those rare times of deep financial and economic crisis, when the "invisible hand" Adam Smith talked about has temporarily ceased to function, there is a more urgent need for government to play an active role in restoring markets to their healthy function. 
    The wisdom of Keynesian policies has been confirmed by the performance of the economy over the past year.  After the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September, government policy moved in a strongly activist direction. 
    As a result of those policies, our outlook today has shifted from rescue to recovery, from worrying about the very real prospect of depression to thinking about what kind of an expansion we want to have. 
    An important aspect of any economic expansion is the role innovation plays as an engine of economic growth.  In this regard, the most important economist of the twenty-first century might actually turn out to be not Smith or Keynes, but Joseph Schumpeter. 
    One of Schumpeter’s most important contributions was the emphasis he placed on the tremendous power of innovation and entrepreneurial initiative to drive growth through a process he famously characterized as "creative destruction."  His work captured not only an economic truth, but also the particular source of America’s strength and dynamism.
    One of the ways to view the trajectory of economic history is through the key technologies that have reverberated across the economy.  In the nineteenth century, these included the transcontinental railroad, the telegraph, and the steam engine, among others.  In the twentieth, the most powerful innovations included the automobile, the jet plane, and, over the last generation, information technology.
    While we can't know exactly where the next great area of American innovation will be, we already see a number of prominent sectors where American entrepreneurs are unleashing explosive, innovative energy:
    In information technology, where tremendous potential remains for a range of applications to increase for years to come;
    In life-science technologies, where developments made at the National Institutes of Health and in research facilities around the country will have profound implications not just for human health, but also for the environment, agriculture, and a range of other areas that require technological creativity; and,
    In energy, where the combination of environmental and geopolitical imperatives have created the context for an enormously productive period in developing energy technologies as well.
    Looking across the breadth of the U.S. economy, the prospects for transformational innovation to occur are enormous.  But to ensure that the entrepreneurial spirit that Schumpeter recognized in the early twentieth century will continue to drive the American economy in the twenty-first century requires a role for government as well: to create an environment that is conducive to generating those developments.  
    The President’s program is directed at strengthening our economic ecology—an educated workforce, a fluid environment that stimulates entrepreneurship, and building blocks in key areas of the economy—that has long been central to America's prosperity.  These were core design considerations in putting together over $100 billion of Recovery Act funds that support innovation and they will continue to be core concerns going forward. With steps like these, the entrepreneurial spirit that Schumpeter recognized in the early twentieth century will continue to drive the American economy in the twenty-first century.
    I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the President remarks today or, to delve into more detail, into a new white paper prepared by the National Economic Council about the policies President Obama is implementing to create a broader, more inclusive, more prosperous America based on the ingenuity of our people.
    Lawrence H. Summers is Director of the National Economic Council


  • "The Open Internet: Preserving the Freedom to Innovate"

    Cross-posted from the blog.
    The Internet is the most transformational communications breakthrough of our time. It has become essential to the fabric of the daily lives of Americans.
    More and more, the Internet is how we get news, information, and entertainment; how we stay in touch with our friends and family; how we work and start new businesses; how we — and people across the globe — learn about our communities and express points of view.
    The Internet has also been an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, economic growth, and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America.
    The key to the Internet’s success has been its openness.
    The Internet was designed to be "future-proof" — to support ideas, products, and services that today's inventors have not yet imagined. In practice, it doesn't favor or disfavor any particular content or application, but allows end users, content creators, and businesses of every size and in every sector of the economy to communicate and innovate without permission.
    Notwithstanding its unparalleled record of success, today the free and open Internet faces emerging and substantial challenges.
    We’ve already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet's historic openness. We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen one service provider deny users access to political content.
    And as many members of the Internet community and key Congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons for concern about even greater challenges to openness in the future, including reduced choice in the Internet service provider marketplace and an increase in the amount of Internet traffic, which has fueled a corresponding need to manage networks sensibly.
    The rise of serious challenges to the traditional operation of the Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see technology used to shut doors to entrepreneurs instead of opening them. The spirit of innovation stifled. A full and free flow of information compromised.
    Or we could take steps to preserve a free and open Internet, helping to ensure a future of opportunity, prosperity, and the vibrant flow of information and ideas.
    I believe we must choose to safeguard the openness that has made the Internet a stunning success. That is why today, I delivered a speech announcing that the FCC will be the smart cop on the beat when it comes to preserving a free and open Internet.
    In particular, I proposed that the FCC adopt two new rules to help achieve this.
    The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used. Of course, network operators will be permitted to implement reasonable network management practices to address issues such as spam, address copyright infringement, and otherwise ensure a safe and secure network for all users.
    I also proposed that the FCC formally enshrine the four pre-existing agency policies that say network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.
    This is just the first step in what will be an ongoing process. While these goals are clear, the best path to achieving them is not, and involves many hard questions about how best to maximize the innovation and investment necessary for a robust and thriving Internet. That is why we have created
    This site is a place to join the discussion about the free and open Internet. is in Beta, and we’ll be adding features to enable participation in the near future. I encourage you to check it out to offer your input, or simply to read or watch today's speech.
    With the help of all stakeholders, the FCC can help secure a bright future for the Internet, and make sure that the garage, the basement, and the dorm room remain places where inventors can not only dream, but bring their ideas to life.
    And no one should be neutral about that.
    Julius Genachowski is the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission