Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • 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

  • 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