Although Americans are often critical, citizens of this country have a lot to be thankful for. There are some good things happening here, for sure. One amazing program not known by many is the Social innovation Fund (SIF) housed in the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNSC) under the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. That’s a mouthful!
In other words, this is an initiative of President Barack Obama and is run out of the White House. This fantastic program is a pool of capital made available for social investment, hence the name “Social Innovation Fund”.
What it ultimately does is act as a significant grant program to provide capital to existing, outstanding, community-based programs for scaling up initiatives. The SIF focuses on programs within low-income communities, targeting three main areas: economic opportunity, youth development and healthy future.
To qualify for funding, an organization has to show a strong track record, present an excellent initiative to reach large numbers, and – most distinctively – be evidence-based in performance to track and express impact.
So, how does the program make a difference and how will the money spent matter, you ask?
SIF provides significant amounts of money in the form of a grant. Awardees receive $1 to $5 million annually. The SIF funds grant-making “intermediaries”. These well positioned institutions are already serving target communities so they know the most pressing challenges and are working hard developing programs to solve them.
In 2014, for example, the No Kid Hungry Campaign was awarded $1.5 million by SIF. This organization addresses hunger by instituting nutrition programs in schools. Their mission and priority is simple and real: end child hunger in the U.S. With these funds, the No Kid Hungry plans to complete the first ever child hunger assessment, using a strategy that engages the federal food programs.
It all follows best practice from the field of community-based participatory research. The intermediaries are grant middlemen who match the federal funds, dollar-for-dollar. After a rigorous selection process, a chosen nonprofit organization matches these monies received, doubling or tripling government funds!
As of early 2015, 35 intermediary grant-making organizations have been selected by SIF, ultimately working with a total of 217 organizations and funding $241 million, which has been leveraged for total disbursements of $516 millions.
This has generated extensive results and impacts. For example, United Way of Greater Cincinnati was awarded $1 million and supported 8 sub-grantees. One example out of these 8 sub-grantees was the Children’s Home of Cincinnati, awarded $325,000. The program serves 1,460 kids annually, focusing on the social, emotional developments of preschool children.
Why is this program significant?
SIF rewards evidence-based programs. Program evaluation is underused by NGOs but it is growing. Some organizations claim they have great programs but there needs to be documented results and evidence to back up words. This fund puts a spotlight on scaling-up national non-profits with proof something makes a difference. The money provided explicitly combines private and public resources which leverages funds and essentially doubles them.
SIF: a concrete achievement of this Presidency with potential to make a real difference. Please share your thoughts: Is this a good program? Any negative implications? Limitations?
For more information about the Social Innovation Fund: www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/sicp/initiatives/social-innovation-fund www.nationalservice.gov/programs/social-innovation-fund
Naomi Levy recently graduated from University of Miami with a Masters degree in Community and Social Change. She’s passionate about social innovation, triple-bottom-line companies and B Corporations. Naomi eats, drinks and breaths social impact and lives in the NYC area. She writes for UPspring (www.upspringassociates.com) – formerly Social Enterprise Associates – a network of consultants working to leverage the power of the marketplace for good. This registered B Corporation works with entrepreneurs and their organizations to put ideas into action, raise capital, and measure results to advance the ‘triple bottom line’.