Last night the First Lady discussed the Social Innovation Fund at the Time 100 Most Influential People Awards; we asked Michele Jolin, Senior Advisor for Social Innovation for the Domestic Policy Council, to tell us about it:
Yesterday, the President announced that he would ask Congress in the FY2010 budget to provide $50 million in seed capital for his Social Innovation Fund, fulfilling a campaign pledge. The Fund will identify the most promising, results-oriented non-profit programs and expand their reach throughout the country.
This is a dramatically different way for the government to do business – and it reflects the President’s new governing approach -- finding and scaling the best social innovations; partnering with those who are leading change in their communities; and creating a policy environment for all these innovations to thrive.
President Obama has said that this is an "all-hands-on-deck" moment and that government cannot solve our nation’s problems alone. He has said that it is critical to partner with citizens, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, foundations and corporations to make progress on our nation’s great challenges. The President has also talked about finding new solutions to old problems, and this is where the social innovation can play a unique role.
As the First Lady said in her remarks on Tuesday to the TIME 100 Most Influential people:
The idea is simple: to find the most effective programs out there and then provide the capital needed to replicate their success in communities around the country that are facing similar challenges. By focusing on high-impact, result-oriented non-profits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of the public trust.
The First Lady also talked more broadly about the need help nurture a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who will direct their skills and energy toward solving their community’s – and our nation’s – most serious social problems:
Careers focused on lifting up our communities – whether helping transform troubled schools or training workers for green jobs or helping low-income families access health care – are not always obvious. But, at a time when our nation is facing unprecedented challenges, encouraging careers in public service and social innovation are more important than ever.
The First Lady highlighted the work of a couple of young, new social entrepreneurs. One example was Rebecca Onie, a creative young woman who founded "Project Health" to help break the link between poverty and poor health. Rebecca organizes college students to staff Help Desks in urban medical centers, universities and community centers. Students then connect low-income families to other critical community and government resources – such as housing vouchers, supplemental nutrition assistance, and educational support.
This is just one example of the kind of social innovation and entrepreneurship that the Obama Administration wants to encourage and replicate in communities across the country.
The Social Innovation Fund will help do that. We recognize that there is no ready and available source of growth capital for programs and ideas that have demonstrated they work and are ready to spread. This gap in the social capital markets is a good niche for government action. The Social Innovation Fund will build a "pipeline" of programs that have demonstrated results and are ready to spread across the country to meet community needs. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in programs that work and find innovative, effective solutions to our nation’s most serious challenges.