The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an opinion piece several weeks ago about the new $50 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) created in the Kennedy Serve America Act. The author, Vince Stehle from Surdna Foundation, asks Will the White House Social Innovation Fund Become a Beacon — or a Distraction?
After pondering his question and then discussing it with several colleagues, I’d like to suggest that it’s neither. To me, the creation of the SIF and its promise of financial capital to support proven solutions to community challenges is more a validation that the nonprofit sector is an important source for innovation in this country.
Most people think of the medical industry or NASA or Silicon Valley when they hear the words “innovator” or “innovation.” And people also usually associate the terms “charity” and “donations” or maybe even “hand outs” with nonprofits, social service organizations or social causes.
The SIF is a platform that helps turn this paradigm on its side. And I think the Millennials, more than any other age cohort in the workforce today, understand this shift well.
Many of the best and brightest graduates are searching for jobs related to global or domestic issues or social problems. They are innovating in this space by creating new ways to support important social causes or developing more efficient systems and processes to tackle challenges that have endured in the nonprofit sector for years. Some well-known examples include Teach for America, Facebook Causes and kiva.org.
Like Stehle, I hope that the nonprofit community views the SIF as something greater than a source for funding. Because despite its modest pool of resources, the SIF has “tremendous upside potential,” as Hubie Brown likes to say.
It’s an opportunity for the sector to begin to reposition itself as “resource generators,” rather than solely being viewed as “resource consumers.” And, I’m looking forward to the legacy of innovations and innovators the SIF will inspire for years to come.