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Social Innovation Fund: Expanding the Impact of Promising Programs

by Paul Carttar

The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a groundbreaking program at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) that positions the federal government as a catalyst to improve the lives of underserved Americans. One of the Obama Administration's “tiered-evidence initiatives,” the SIF mobilizes public and private resources to grow promising community-based solutions that demonstrate real results in the areas of economic opportunity, healthy futures and youth development.

February 10, we announced the 2012 Social Innovation Fund Grants Competition and we encourage all qualified grant makers to consider applying. Applications will be due by Tuesday, March 27, at 5:00 pm Eastern Time.

Every day across the country, local communities are implementing innovative results-oriented solutions to some of our toughest challenges. The SIF model rests on a key assumption: by investing in local innovations, government can spur the growth of effective social programs and deliver better outcomes for low-income communities.

SIF grantees are experienced grant making “intermediaries” that are well-positioned to identify the most innovative community programs and guide them towards greater impact and stronger evidence of success.

Since 2010, the SIF has awarded $95 million to 16 intermediaries that have invested in more than 150 nonprofit organizations in 33 states and DC. Each of those organizations is currently implementing an innovative program focused on solving a critical community challenge, including the following:

  • WorkAdvance boosts the earnings of unemployed and low-wage working adults by helping them prepare for and enter quality jobs in targeted industries with opportunities for career growth;
  • Gateway to College National Network builds the capacity of colleges, school districts and states to revolutionize education for high school dropouts and underprepared college students so that all young people can achieve academic credentials; and
  • St. Joseph Health System provides access to primary care and medical specialists in rural areas by operating two virtual primary care delivery clinics.

To date, these grants have yielded $250 million in additional funding commitments from private donors to support these powerful solutions.

Grants are awarded for up to five years, ranging from $1 million-$5 million annually. Intermediaries match the federal funds, dollar-for-dollar, and hold open competitions to select the most promising nonprofit organizations working in low-income communities with evidence of success. Once selected, these nonprofits must also match the funds they receive, dollar-for-dollar, and participate in rigorous evaluations of the impact of their programs.

The Social Innovation Fund presents an extraordinary opportunity to move the needle on some of our greatest social challenges. Since its launch two years ago, the SIF has helped build a national conversation among communities seeking results. We know there are more outstanding intermediaries to be found – effective grant makers who aspire to improve lives and transform communities through strategic support of high-impact nonprofits – and we hope some of these will join our remarkable portfolio.

Paul Carttar is the Director of the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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