Wow, there was a lot of feedback here and on the tweet-stream about my post yesterday on the proposed Innovation Fund. I wanted to move my conversation to a constructive place (you can do whatever you like with your own conversation!), in no small part because my mother said I shouldn’t be mean to Mrs. Obama. Since I still hope to meet her someday I agreed (and if you thought Queen Elizabeth II looked tiny next to her, wait ’til I show up!)
I was encouraged by the constructive comments in the post from yesterday, and also a subtle shift in the description of the Innovation Fund in a press release put out by the White House (thanks to Nathanial Whittemore at Change.org for the link) described the purpose of the fund this way:
- Catalyze partnerships between the government and nonprofits, businesses and philanthropists in order to make progress on the President’s policy agenda
- Identify and support the rigorous evaluation and scaling of innovative, promising ideas that are transforming communities like, for example, Harlem Children’s Zone, YouthVillages, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Citizen Schools.
- Support greater civic participation through new media tools
- Promote national service.
In addition, as Nathanial points out the press release calls is the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (italics added.)
These changes are more than reading the tea leaves but also a reminder that all of these efforts are works in progress that will invariable and inevitably change over time – and change once Congress gets a hold of their budgets as well. So, in the spirit of working collaboratively to make this better, here are a few ideas that I’ve heard that we hope the White House folks will consider in developing this fund further:
- The office will fund intermediaries that will serve as hubs to quickly share innovative ideas. Passionate, talented people are the genesis of social change – capital finds them. And there are a lot of them out there.
- These intermediaries would take the place of funding single organizations. The networks will generate great ideas, smart ways of doing things, elegant failings from risk takers. The network will grow and learn and feed itself.
- Patrick suggested that this effort include something like the Change Exchange in Oregon to highlight the work of great social innovators, connect them to one another and to private donors.
- DanHutson wrote: “How about funding a series of nonprofit innovation incubators where nonprofit folk can pick the brains of people in business and tech as to real-world application of social media and other tools to improve effectiveness/results. Most nonprofits barely have time to pursue their mission effectively, let alone learn all this new stuff and how it may help them.” Yes, absolutely, let’s pay talented, passionate, perhaps needing-a-new-fuel cell nonprofit leaders to take a 3 month sabbatical to learn. We need leadership development that the feds can fund for experienced professionals to reinvent themselves with a network rather than siloed organization perspective.
So, let’s start there. Some of the commentary from yesterday was that $50 million wasn’t enough to scale nonprofits nationally. They’re right, and it’s another reason not to do it! Think agile, growing, robust networks filled to the brim with smart, energetic people connected to one another and all of their own personal networks and resources — and now unleash them!