Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • COMPETES Passage Keeps America's Leadership on Target

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

    Today’s bipartisan passage of the America COMPETES Act represents a major milestone on this Nation’s path to building an innovation economy for the 21st century—an economy that harnesses the scientific and technological ingenuity that has long been at the core of America’s prosperity and applies that creative force to some of the biggest challenges we face today. Whether it’s developing new products that will be manufactured in America, or getting and using energy more sustainably, or improving health care with better therapies and better use of information technology, or providing better protection for our troops abroad and our citizens at home, innovation will be key to our success. And that is exactly what the COMPETES Act is all about.

    Passage of the Act comes at a crucial time in our Nation’s economic and technological trajectory—a time that President Obama characterized last month as a “Sputnik moment.” Just as Americans in 1957 quickly grasped the significance of the Soviet Union’s historic launch of the world’s first artificial satellite—responding aggressively with new investments in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education—Americans today are recognizing that we are once again on the brink of a new world. The decisions we make today about how we invest in R&D, education, innovation, and competitiveness will profoundly influence our Nation’s economic vitality, global stature, and national security tomorrow.

    COMPETES keeps America on a path of leadership in an ever more competitive world. It authorizes the continued growth of the budgets of three key agencies that are incubating and generating the breakthroughs of tomorrow—the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation.  COMPETES also bolsters this Administration’s already groundbreaking activities to enhance STEM education—to raise American students from the middle to the top of the pack and to make sure we are training the next generation of innovative thinkers and doers.

    COMPETES authorizes ongoing support for ARPA-E, the novel energy-research program modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which promises to give rise to “leapfrog” technologies that will reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources and stimulate a green economy while producing steady, high-quality jobs of the future.

    And in a great boost for the cause of generating novel solutions to tough national problems, COMPETES gives every department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions. Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America’s top talent and best expertise wherever it may lie. The Administration has supported this approach as part of its all-hands-on-deck approach to stimulating innovation, and under COMPETES we can expect a further blossoming of new ideas from citizen solvers across the land.

    It is heartening that Congress today recognized that the maintenance of America’s global leadership in science, technology, and innovation transcends politics and partisanship.  Full funding of the COMPETES Act is among the most important things that Congress can do to ensure America’s continued leadership in the decades ahead.

    As President Obama said in North Carolina last month, “This is our moment. … We’ve got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth. We need to do what America has always been known for:  building, innovating, educating, making things.”

    John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy


  • All Sectors, All Citizens Coming Together to Make Progress on Our Nation’s Challenges

    On December 14, 2010 President Obama signed an executive order to create the White House Council for Community Solutions. This new Presidential Council brings together leaders from a variety of sectors— businesses, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, universities, and community groups— to encourage the growth and maximize the impact of innovative, community-developed solutions. The Council is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

    The Council will serve three key functions:

    1. Enlist the Sectors—Engage leaders in the non-profit, philanthropic and private sectors to make progress on key national policy goals.
    2. Identify What Works—Provide strategic input and recommendations to help the federal government promote greater innovation and cross-sector collaboration to realize solutions to our nation’s toughest challenges.
    3. Highlight the Changemakers—Honor and highlight those making a significant impact in their own communities.

    The Council will focus on developing ways to enlist more Americans and leaders from across sectors to help catalyze change in communities and have an impact in addressing our nation’s important goals in education, youth development and employment.

    Here at the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, we are excited about the creation of the Council. The President has said it from the beginning—the best ideas do not come from Washington, they come from parents, teachers, small business owners and others across the country who are working to build and sustain strong communities. Government shouldn’t be supplanting these ideas; it should be supporting and highlighting these local-grown efforts. President Obama tasked this Council to find the creative, results-oriented ideas and highlight those ideas that work. We are energized by the commitment of the members and look forward to working with the Council.

    To learn more about the Council and its members, visit

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

  • TROSA: “Each One, Teach One”

    Founded in 1994, TROSA, or Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, Inc., is different than most other drug rehabilitation programs.  Located in Durham, North Carolina, TROSA offers a comprehensive, two year, individualized, residential substance abuse recovery program, during which residents receive support and employment.  By the time they graduate from the program, residents have a personal savings account, a donated and refurbished car, transitional housing, and marketable job skills.

    TROSA accepts substance abusers into their program under one condition: they must want to change their lives.  The philosophy is based on empowerment and self-help.  The program aligns with four principles: a strong work ethic; a good education; strong communication skills; and physical and mental well-being.

    TROSA illustrates the impact of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise by bringing together business ideas and skills with a social outcome.  Businesses gain skilled employees from TROSA, ultimately benefitting both the business and the individual.  TROSA’s commitment to personal success and change does not end when a participant finds employment; rather, TROSA provides a transition program that helps former clients as they leave the program. 

    TROSA’s motto “Each One, Teach One” turns learning and leadership into skills that are a part of everyday life.  TROSA is an example of a community solution that is successfully changing the lives of many people in their community.

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

  • Harnessing Innovation To Amplify Mission Success

    Ed. Note: This post was originally posted on the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development blog.

    The spirit of innovation is spreading throughout the Federal Government, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is no exception. Greater government-wide focus on transparency, collaboration, and participation has opened new pathways for innovation and invigorated those that already exist. The government’s newest challenge is fostering cultures within individual agencies that facilitate innovation around their unique mission priorities without unnecessary rigidness.

    New initiatives that support innovation, such as,, and must allow both internal and external users to collaborate and leverage their efforts to foster positive change. This seamless integration of different groups will allow government agencies to take advantage of the best ideas not only within government but also from private citizens. For example, the recently unveiled NOW combines the tools employees need to foster engagement with integrated services that will ensure compliance with Section 508 requirements while monitoring traffic and providing analytical reporting.

    At HUD, we are looking to foster both inter-agency innovation as well as innovation via partnerships with external organizations and NGOs. The goal is to ensure that all good ideas receive a fair hearing. To this end, one of our Open Government flagship initiatives is the creation of an Innovation Lab that will guide new ideas from design to launch. HUD’s Innovation Lab will not only incubate technology ideas, but will also examine policy changes and process improvements. The Innovation Lab’s first two projects demonstrate the diverse paths to innovation allowed by HUD’s flexible approach. One project involves modeling and simulating prospective changes to HUD policies, while the other empowers local governments by predicting future patterns of homelessness through the use of predictive data analytics.

    In my role as CIO, I have been a strong advocate for looking at innovation outside of a strict IT perspective. Good ideas don’t always require technology, and wherever technology can serve as an enabler of innovation, an agile approach to solution development should be practiced. The goal of this approach is the swift production of utility and the simultaneous minimization of security, privacy, and other risks. HUD’s approach to innovation will help the Department leverage the wealth of knowledge inside and outside its walls, and enable it to solve mission-critical challenges in new and creative ways.

    Jerry Williams is the Chief Information Officer, Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • The Jacobs Family Foundation’s Innovative Community Ownership Solutions

    I recently had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Vanica, President and CEO of the Jacobs Family Foundation, and learn about their exciting and powerful work in San Diego, CA.

    Seeing the opportunity to better their own community, the Jacobs Family Foundation worked with the Market Creek community of San Diego, one of the poorest areas in San Diego, to invest in developing and improving the community.  In true innovative form, the Jacobs Family Foundation used a community-based IPO model, allowing over 400 community members to buy shares in their economic development.  This IPO process not only served to educate residents about finance, but also taught them the value of investing in community improvements, which has led to more money being spent in the community, greater civic engagement to reduce crime, and a cleaner, better neighborhood.  All of these efforts paid off in the form of over $500,000 in investment capital and a 10% return on investment every year since the close of the IPO.  What’s even more inspiring is that almost half of the resident investors have put their dividends into a joint fund for investing in additional community developed ownership.

    The Jacobs Family Foundation is an example of an organization looking for new philanthropic roles and relationships for strengthening under-invested neighborhoods by making grants and other investments that support innovative, practical strategies for community change.  Through use of economic incentives, such as new market tax credits and CDFI’s, the Jacobs Family Foundation is able to bring innovative solutions to the table.

    The changes in Market Creek and the work of the Jacobs Family Foundation are profound examples that show when we engage and work together as communities we can truly improve our quality of life and solve the problems that we face.  It doesn’t take a large national campaign, just a few committed individuals that want to make things better.

    The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) is a non-profit foundation that operates on the premise that residents must own and drive the change that takes place in their community for it to be meaningful and long-lasting.  JCNI explores new pathways to change through entrepreneurial relationships, hands-on training, and the creative investment of resources.

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

  • Conference on Next Generation Leadership

    The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation focuses on doing business differently by promoting service as a solution and a way to develop community leadership.  Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots - and government should not be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts.  President Barack Obama has recognized that “the challenges we face today are simply too big for government to solve alone, and we need all hands on deck”.  

    It is a priority of the Administration to find new ways for the government to work with individuals and organizations to solve national problems.  Given the scale of challenges we face, people are increasingly looking for leadership to emerge within their communities.  Innovation, service, and volunteerism are on the rise, and new resources and models of partnership are needed.  The Administration recognizes that the success of our nation’s future rests in the hands of the country’s next generation of leaders, as well as their ability to successfully empower communities and create, elevate, and sustain community solutions.

    In partnership with the Office of Public Engagement, this Office has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to develop collaborative responses to America's complex problems by convening a group of accomplished young leaders from across the country. The meeting was organized by young leaders, for young leaders, and featured senior administration officials who discussed innovative White House public-private partnership initiatives such as Educate to Innovate, the Recovery Act, and the Let's Move Partnership for a Healthier America.

    The afternoon consisted of highly interactive working sessions covering a broad range of leadership and collaboration challenges.  The structure of these discussions was built around the principles of the White House cross-sector partnerships strategy, which outlines three basic roles when organizing leadership:  convening of diverse stakeholders around an issue or within a community, catalyzing action to address challenges on a local, regional, or national scale, and coordinating leaders in order to address shared objectives.  Participants provided practical, substantive, and creative contributions for the group to consider, which stemmed from key challenges they themselves identified during the conference.  Arranged by engagement methodology, these big pictures questions included:

    --How do we re-create the public square?  Or create public square 2.0?
    --How do we foster impactful conversation in the era of 140 characters?

    --What is the government's role in influencing the social agenda, through policy or through education?
    --How do we dramatically increase capital flow to mission-driven investors, entrepreneurs, and historically marginalized communities? 

    --How do we measure and encourage risk-taking among foundations?
    --What are the best metrics of impact, how do we measure engagement, and how do we know when we are done?

    The conference concluded with participants announcing that they had begun planning subsequent convenings in their respective regions in order to galvanize support, build momentum, and address local challenges based on the engagement models developed during the day.  They determined that only through collaborative leadership could communities across the country empower themselves by unlocking the energy, ingenuity, and skills of the next generation in order to discover new solutions to old problems.