Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • A Day On for Service

    Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the holiday recognizing one of America’s great leaders and civil servants.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a nation and challenged future generations to constantly strive for a more perfect union.  Half a century ago, he called on all individuals to take action to improve their communities and make our country stronger.  Today, we remember him by calling on all Americans to dedicate this January 17th, 2011 to serve our communities.

    Although we face new challenges, Dr. King’s call to service remains an American value.  As a country challenged by the most challenging economic climate of our generation, we have recognized that government alone is not the solution.  We know that America is great because we have the ability and the passion to come together in difficult times.

    We recognize service as a solution.

    Let us take today to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the importance of service.  Together we can overcome barriers, strengthen our communities, and empower our neighbors.  Today, we will be joining the President and our colleagues in the Domestic Policy Council in a day of service.  We hope that many of you will join us in spending some part of your day with your family, friends, and neighbors serving your community.

    Visit the to find out about volunteer opportunities in your community.  And share your story with us about how you honored the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service.

    Sonal Shah is the Director and Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant for the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • Challenges & Successes for AAPI Business Owners: Our Summit on Entrepreneurship and Small Business Growth

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the Office of Public Engagement blog.

    Since the earliest days of the Obama administration, spurring innovation has been a singular priority of our economic recovery efforts.

    So I was excited to spend this morning at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, CA, speaking at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Summit on Entrepreneurship and Small Business Growth.

    The purpose of this Summit was to bring together local Silicon Valley stakeholders to discuss steps the administration has already taken to empower businesses, and to discuss how we can expand opportunities and identify roadblocks to federal government programs among the AAPI community.

    It's a critically important undertaking.

    Hundreds of Silicon Valley's tech companies are run by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders - a fact that reflects just how important the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation are in the AAPI community.

    In fact, AAPIs have the highest rate of business ownership among all minorities, and AAPI businesses account for half of all minority business employment in the United States.

    These facts should be of interest not just to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, but to all Americans, because AAPI and other minority businesses make substantial contributions to the U.S. economy, generating up to $2.5 trillion in gross receipts and 16.1 million jobs.

    In the last few years, AAPI businesses - indeed all businesses - have reaped significant benefits from Obama administration policies designed to spur growth and job creation ranging from increased tax deductions for new equipment and startup costs, and tax credits to provide employee health care coverage to improve access to capital through the Small Business Administration.

    Despite all the success the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has had as a whole, many aspiring AAPI business owners continue to face linguistic and cultural challenges when it comes to accessing federal programs.  Many still cannot get the loans or the capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers, thus stifling the opportunity to contribute to our community, to our economy, and to our future.

    To help knock down these barriers to success, the Summit featured advice and counseling from top advisors from the White House National Economic Council, Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, Department of Treasury and the Export-Import Bank.

    The Summit is among the first salvos in a major push by the Obama administration to solicit public input from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. In the coming months, more than 20 executive departments and agencies will tour the country looking for new ideas and proposals on how the federal government can make real the goals shared by large business leaders and entrepreneurs alike.

    Attendees at the Summit took part in break-out discussions aimed to dial in on critical areas on growing business, including funding opportunities from the Small Business Administration, steps toward becoming a federal contractor and introductions to the federal government's domestic assistance programs, trade promotion, and export finance agencies.

    The Summit was by all accounts extremely productive, but it is just a first step.  We're going to keep working to ensure that everyone in the AAPI community who wants to achieve success will have the opportunity to find it.

    Gary Locke is Secretary of Commerce


  • There is Nothing Like Hope for the Holidays

    The holiday season and time spent with family and friends has a way of reminding me how blessed I am.  It was also a great reminder of the responsibility I felt to share the holiday spirit within our community.  To do this, some of my colleagues joined me and the DC community in celebrating the 20th anniversary of Holiday for Hope. 

    Holiday for Hope is hosted by Howard University and organized by Dreams for Kids, which is a national nonprofit that empowers at-risk youth and those with disabilities through dynamic leadership programs and life-changing activities.  Holiday for Hope brings together over 600 homeless and underprivileged kids for a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration.  There were arts and crafts, live musical and dance performances, magic shows, cookie and hat decorating stations, and a full holiday feast.  Even Santa and Buddy the Elf made an appearance!

    Holiday for Hope started as a small group of volunteers visiting a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve in 1989. Now, throughout the country, there are over 10,000 homeless and underprivileged children celebrating Holiday for Hope like we were in Washington, DC.  It is amazing how one act of engagement and kindness can turn into a movement of people all working to build a stronger community for those around us.  It reminds me of the quote by Margaret Mead that says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    Happy New Year from our office to you and your families!

    Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • The White House Initiative on AAPIs, Entrepreneurship & Small Business

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the Office of Public Engagement blog.

    This coming week the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) will host the inaugural White House Initiative Summit on Entrepreneurship & Small Business Growth. The Summit will take place on the campus of Microsoft, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and provide a forum for Small Business owners and entrepreneurs to engage with policy makers on how to start or expand their small businesses.

    The Obama Administration’s commitment to small businesses is unparalleled. President Obama and his cabinet secretaries, from agencies and administrations as diverse as Health and Human Services, the SBA  and the Veterans Administration – to the Departments of Energy, Treasury, Commerce, Defense and Education, among others – recognize that in these tough economic times, Small Businesses and entrepreneurs are indispensible in forging the recovery. Moreover it is through the innovation of our entrepreneurs that new industries and durable jobs will be created.

    Since taking office, the President and has signed into law landmark legislation including the Recovery Act, the Health Care Affordability Act, Financial Reform, and the Small Business Jobs Act that provide targeted incentives to Small Business Owners to bolster existing businesses or branch out into new industries via three specific avenues: Access to Capital, Counseling and Mentoring, and Government Contracting.

    Perhaps some of the more notable initiatives include the creation of the $30 billion small business lending fund for community development banks, the 16 tax cuts the President signed into law and the increase of SBA 504 loan limits to $5mm for Small Businesses. On the counseling front, the Administration increased the number of Women’s Business Centers and Veteran Business Outreach Centers to train and counsel budding entrepreneurs around the country. And with regard to contracts, the administration recently announced that fully 32% of Recovery Act contracts went to small businesses, with the goal of increasing overall government contracting opportunities for Small Businesses moving forward.

    These are but a few ways the government is trying to spur small business job growth. We are looking to make the list longer, and look forward to engaging with you at the WHAAPI Summit.  I am honored to join Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Don Graves, US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, Council of Economic Advisers Senior Economist Ronnie Chatterji, and Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the Initiative. Together we wish to celebrate the longstanding contributions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to the national economy, and importantly, start to a larger dialogue to discover and discuss issues facing AAPI business men and women at the nexus of policy and business.

    Ginger Lew is Senior Counselor to the National Economic Council.

  • Blue Star Families: A Lesson in Service and Courage

    Service comes in many forms.  To serve in our nation’s armed forces is one of the ultimate forms of service; service to the community, service to a set of values and ideals, and service to our nation.  Yet, all too often, the needs of our servicemen and women and their families go unnoticed, or we forget that a life awaits them once the battle is over.  That is where Blue Star Families (BSF) steps in.

    Founded in December of 2008 by a group of military spouses, BSF is committed to raising awareness of the challenges military families face both in the military and civilian worlds.  As a non-partisan, nonprofit organization, BSF works to connect the community of military families, both active duty and veterans, irrespective of rank, and provides them with the support and empowerment they need to create the best personal and family life possible.  This is accomplished through frequent blog posts and drawing attention to a wide range of topics such as advice and answers to the challenges military spouses and families typically face, navigating the difficulty of finding employment after a service member’s tour of duty expires, and the existence of grief-inducing problems our service members face daily

    Outside of their outreach to military families, BSF has also worked to engage the civilian population and address the importance of access to books for children on military bases.

    The sacrifices of our service members are truly invaluable, and they demonstrate a unique and selfless act of service.  It is for these reasons that both First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have made engaging the military community cornerstones of their agendas.  I hope that we can support our military families and veterans through national service and support the President’s call for national service.

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

  • My American Story: Volunteers Making an Impact

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the White House blog.

    As someone who came to this country as a teenager, and worked long hours to create a better life for myself and my family, I know America’s greatness flows not just from its laws and leaders, but from the extraordinary acts of everyday citizens. 

    For more than 20 years – working with and for people from all walks of life who are striving to live the American dream – I have seen that greatness firsthand. As CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, I know that everyday, in communities across America, citizens are finding solutions to community problems.

    That is America’s way. Americans have always believed in the idea that we can change things, we can make things better, we can solve problems, when we join together. 

    Today, as so many Americans face hardship, we need that spirit more than ever.  In difficult times, national service and volunteerism are smart strategies that tap the energy and ingenuity of our greatest resource – the American people – to solve problems and get things done.

    To expand the impact of volunteers on today’s challenges, we have produced My American Story, a series of television PSAs that feature Americans who have stepped up to be a part of the solution.

    From an Iraqi war veteran who serves with AmeriCorps helping fellow soldiers readjust to civilian life, to an RSVP volunteer who uses his life experience to help youth on probation; the spots show the power of people to improve lives and strengthen communities.

    Set in iconic American settings — the Statue of Liberty, the Gateway Arch, Seattle’s Space Needle, and Yosemite National Park — the PSAs remind us that service is fundamental to the American character, and that our nation is at it best when we serve others.

    This holiday season is a perfect time to get involved. Visit, where you can search by zip code and interest area for a volunteer opportunity that’s right for you.  And after you’ve served, share your story by submitting a video. See how your story connects to the American story.  

    Patrick A. Corvington is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service