Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • Fighting HIV/AIDS in Washington, DC

    Washington, DC is host to the 19th International AIDS Conference this week. As leaders from around the world gather to address this global crisis, we reflect on the role of the Social Innovation Fund and our partners in the fight here at home.The Social Innovation Fund was established by the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 and is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    Sarah* had been living with HIV for 10 years when she discontinued her treatment. After witnessing a murder in her neighborhood, she was afraid to leave her house for care.  She was isolated, suffering from post-traumatic stress, and had to cope without HIV treatment for more than three years. 

    A Positive Pathways Community Health Worker discovered Sarah’s situation in July 2011 and reached out to her, calling her more than 10 times before she finally responded. With the support of the Health Worker and a medical case manager, Sarah began addressing her post-traumatic stress, secured safe and regular transportation to a treatment site, re-engaged in HIV care, and even received assistance with her housing needs. 

    Support from Within the Community

    Community Health Workers in Washington, DC

    A group of Community Health Workers with the Washington AIDS Partnership's Positive Pathways Program.

    In Washington, DC, Community Health Workers are frontline support for hard-to-reach women suffering from untreated HIV and AIDS. Washington AIDS Partnership’s innovative Positive Pathways program recruits Health Workers from the city’s high-risk communities and trains them to help their neighbors overcome barriers to treatment. 

    Through the Community Health Worker network, Positive Pathways identifies out-of-care women, builds peer-based trust, teaches them about living with HIV, provides personalized assistance to help them navigate service systems, and supports them throughout the early part of their medical care until they become independently engaged.

    Expanding Care to More People

    Because of this innovative model for connecting with hard-to-reach women, the Washington AIDS Partnership received a $320,000 Social Innovation Fund grant through AIDS United in 2011.  During the first eight months of implementation, the Washington AIDS Partnership contacted 2,367 individuals and enrolled 268 people who had been out of care. With additional funding from the Social Innovation Fund, the program aims to enroll 500 more people.

    Nearly 14,500 people live with HIV or AIDS in Washington, DC. For almost half of these people—around 42 percent—there is no evidence that they are in care. Community Health Workers are making critical strides to enhance their health, quality and length of life, while also strengthening our collective efforts toward prevention.

    Sarah’s story is part of our ongoing effort to highlight how social innovators are strengthening our communities and addressing social needs across the country. We hope stories like this inspire you to think creatively and take action in your own community.

    *Sarah’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

     Jonathan Greenblatt is Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation


  • Matching Jobseekers to Careers

    This story highlights the work of the Social Innovation Fund, established by the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 and administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    Travis is a single father of two from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Since 2008, Travis had bounced between part-time and temporary jobs. His wages had peaked at around $10 per hour, though he needed at least $12-$14 an hour to support his family. With limited interviewing and workforce experience, he didn’t think he would ever find full-time work – let alone have a career.

    Travis found a solution when he was referred to Madison Strategies Group’s (MSG) WorkAdvance program in August 2011. 

    Why Does WorkAdvance Work?

    Through WorkAdvance, Travis received career counseling, gained interviewing skills, and was referred to full-time jobs with room for advancement. In less than three months, Travis was working for Southwest United Industries as a shipping and receiving clerk making $12 an hour. With the continued support of WorkAdvance, Travis earned a raise in less than one year on the job. He’s now earning $14.50 an hour in a stable, full-time position. 

    The success of the MSG’s WorkAdvance program lies in its focus on the needs of employers as well as the needs of jobseekers. When WorkAdvance first opened its doors in Tulsa, it identified transportation as a growth industry with significant labor market and skills gaps. MSG worked with transportation companies to understand their needs. In the process, MSG identified high-quality, career-track job opportunities in the sector and developed programs to prepare adults like Travis to be hired and to excel.

    The WorkAdvance model was developed by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), and from research results from several national studies. The model builds on evidence showing that an industry-focused approach to workforce development can improve job placement rates and wages.

  • Helping People with Mental Illnesses Thrive

    This story highlights the work of the Social Innovation Fund, established by the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 and administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    Josh, 45, was one of the millions of Americans suffering from a mental illness, but he was not receiving treatment. He was unemployed and living in a halfway house, and he could hardly find the motivation to do the dishes or leave his room.

    "I felt I wasn't going anywhere," he said. “I hadn’t had a job for a year, and I wasn’t a part of anything. I decided I needed to get out and be more active.”

    That is when Josh turned to Buckelew Programs, a nonprofit organization that, for 40 years, has provided homes, jobs, and hope to people with mental illness. 

    Working Their Way Back Into Society

    An estimated one in four adults in the United States experiences a mental health disorder [1], In addition to the immense personal struggles individuals face, the economic cost of mental illness to the nation is also substantial, including the costs associated with lost productivity

    That’s why in addition to providing traditional clinical services, Buckelew helps people with mental illnesses build the personal and professional skills they need to succeed and keep steady jobs. Buckelew also hires people like Josh to work for their social enterprises. Josh gained experience as a cleaning professional through Buckelew’s Blue Skies Cleaning Service, which specializes in environmentally-friendly office cleaning. This experience positioned him to find a job at Northgate Mall in Marin County, California, and eventually enabled him to move out of the halfway house and into a permanent home. 

    “I’ve learned responsibility and how to work with others,” Josh reflects. “It’s a good work environment, and I like the effort it takes.…I feel useful—a part of something—and that makes me feel good.”

  • The Promise of Crowdfunding for Social Enterprise

    Earlier this month, the White House hosted a briefing for the American Sustainable Business Council, a national network serving social enterprises from early-stage startups to established success stories, like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s.  Senior White House staff took time to meet with chief executives and thought leaders, such as Seventh Generation founder Jeffrey Hollender and Stonyfield Farms pioneer Gary Hirshberg, to discuss many aspects of the President’s agenda to support overall economic growth, including the Impact Economy

    As part of the conversation, the discussion focused on the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.  The JOBS Act is a bipartisan bill signed by the President into law in April that will allow small businesses and startups to raise capital from investors more efficiently, leading to faster growth and hiring. 

    One of the key features of the JOBS Act is to enable “crowdfunding” – letting companies raise up to $1 million in small increments from many investors.  As the President said, this is “a potential game changer”:

    Right now, you can only turn to a limited group of investors -- including banks and wealthy individuals -- to get funding.  Laws that are nearly eight decades old make it impossible for others to invest.  But a lot has changed in 80 years, and it’s time our laws did as well.  Because of this bill, start-ups and small business will now have access to a big, new pool of potential investors -- namely, the American people.  For the first time, ordinary Americans will be able to go online and invest in entrepreneurs that they believe in.

    In many ways, nonprofits and social enterprises are already adept at raising money through crowdfunding – think of donation-based tools like Network for Good or zero-interest microfinance platforms like Kiva.  What the JOBS Act will do is allow micro-investors to purchase a stake in the venture.

    Many social enterprises already have benefited from donation-based crowdfunding platforms, and they are looking forward this new opportunity to attract impact-minded investors.  Two such companies guest-posted on the White House blog, and their founders attended the JOBS Act signing ceremony:  Stockbox Grocers builds tiny grocery stores in urban “food deserts,” while LuminAID Lab manufactures solar-powered lights for disaster relief.  Both companies stress the power of crowdfunding to connect social enterprises with their communities and customers.

    At a time when nonprofits are struggling for revenue, as charitable donations have slowed and government budgets are tight, the social sector needs to find new strategies to attract resources.  The Obama Administration has taken some important steps toward this end, developing policies and programs to unlock capital and to increase investment.  For example, the Administration launched the Social Innovation Fund to provide growth capital to high impact nonprofits. In two years, it has catalyzed nearly $400 million toward communities’ solutions. The Treasury Department recently updated the example Program Related Investments, providing guidance that should facilitate the flow of impact investing from foundations and philanthropists to support businesses and nonprofits pursuing charitable purposes.

    Building on this momentum, crowdfunding offers tremendous promise.  Some believe that it has the potential to revitalize underserved communities by improving access to capital for small businesses.  As the leader of a major group representing Main Street microenterprises recently wrote, “Given the tremendous demand for credit among microbusinesses and entrepreneurs, crowdfunding offers real promise for underserved business entrepreneurs and may allow the organizations that serve them the ability to reach even deeper into the entrepreneurial community.”

    To be clear, investment-based crowdfunding is not legal just yet. Congress required the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to write new rules of the road for crowdfunding, which will be finalized in 2013. Some open questions include the following:

    • Any company raising money through crowdfunding must use an SEC-regulated intermediary.  How should these intermediaries be required to educate investors, safeguard investor privacy, reduce the risk of fraud, and ensure other investor protections?
    • In any given year, investors are limited in the total amount they can invest across all crowdfunding investments (5% of annual income or net worth if less than $100,000, or 10% of annual income or net worth if greater than $100,000).  How should intermediaries be required to verify that investors stay within these limits?
    • What disclosures should be required of the companies raising money through crowdfunding, above and beyond those spelled out by Congress?

    The SEC has invited members of the public to submit comments to inform their rulemaking.  These comments could include considerations unique to social enterprises, along with those investors willing to trade some financial return for greater social or environmental benefits.

    To provide comments on crowdfunding, read the JOBS Act and visit the SEC comment page.

    Doug Rand is a Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  

  • Shifting the Odds for At-Risk Youth

    This story highlights the work of the Social Innovation Fund, established by the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 and administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    Alison’s* daily struggles while raising two young children made her dream of a college degree seem unobtainable. But things began to turn around when the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, DC connected her with a Promotor.

    The Promotores (Spanish for “advocates”) program was developed by LAYC to help meet the needs of young people like Alison. The program links at-risk youth to non-traditional counselors, Promotores, so that they can provide hands-on guidance on local issues like poverty, high unemployment, and lack of affordable housing. Promotores work to help young adults finish high school and go on to higher education, secure and retain employment with long-term career potential, and overcome difficulties with housing, life skills, and more. They connect youth to programs and services and establish long-term relationships with them, often lasting for four to six years.

    Promoting a Path to Success

    For Alison, her Promotor helped her apply for financial aid and scholarships, and she was accepted to Trinity University in Washington, DC. Alison’s Promotor then helped her apply for the necessary benefits to provide for her children, so that Alison could focus on her education. Alison also enrolled in a volunteer work program, where she was placed at a DC-area hospital and later was able to secure a paid position.  And with her Promotor’s help, she applied for and received a placement in an apartment for her family through a transitional housing program.

  • Social Innovation: A Strategy for Expanding Opportunity

    This week, I had the pleasure of attending the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago, IL. This annual gathering of the nonprofit sector brings together activists and organizers, government officials and nonprofit leaders from around the country. These individuals shared best practices, swapped ideas and shined a spotlight on stories of service and innovation in our communities.

    This year, many conference attendees were talking about how to use financial capital to spread successful solutions from one community to others all across the country. One of the most important developments in this area is the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). Launched in 2010 and managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), SIF invests money in nonprofits and foundations, so they can accelerate the work of high-impact organizations and replicate their approaches in new localities and markets. 

    SIF recently announced grants to 49 nonprofit groups and local public agencies. Every dollar the SIF spends is matched with private money, three to one.  With these new grants, SIF is now supporting nearly 200 innovative organizations in 34 states and the District of Columbia. It is financing the expansion of initiatives focused on youth development, economic opportunity, and healthy futures while touching the lives of thousands of families and improving the prospects of tens of thousands of Americans.