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Social Innovation Fund Grant Recipient Wins Harvard Award for Innovative Programs

by Paul Carttar

The Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), a New York City-based Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant recipient, recently won Harvard University's noteworthy Kennedy School of Government Innovations in American Government Award for its powerful approach to fighting poverty in New York and across the country.

CEO is a social research and policy organization within the New York City government, created in 2006 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to find new, effective anti-poverty strategies to help low-income New Yorkers. Harvard officials praised five of CEO's programs and expressed hope that other jurisdictions will replicate these financial literacy, education, and employment training initiatives to help the working poor climb up the economic ladder.

“Poverty is one of the great challenges of our time, and as someone who has spent a great deal of time working on the issues of poverty and social policy, I'm particularly pleased that CEO was selected as our Innovations in American Government Award winner,” said David Ellwood, dean of Harvard Kennedy School of Government in a release announcing the honor. “The award honors the Center's efforts to support the working poor at key transition points—starting school, entering the workforce, and having a family.”

CEO was one of the initial 11 intermediaries around the United States selected to receive grants from the Social Innovation Fund. The SIF has provided significant growth capital and support for CEO's efforts to demonstrate the effectiveness of its programs outside New York City. In July 2010, CEO received an annual $5.7 million grant from the SIF to establish programs in Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; Tulsa, Okla.; San Antonio, Texas; and Youngstown, Ohio.

The programs based on CEO's pilots include the following:

  • SaveUSA is a matched savings initiative that offers low-income tax filers the opportunity to save a portion of their Earned Income Tax Credit and receive a 50 percent match if they continue to save for one year. During the program's first year, participants opened 1,600 accounts with nearly $1 million in savings in New York and three other cities.
  • Jobs-Plus addresses entrenched poverty among public housing residents by saturating targeted developments with job and career support, community building and rent incentives. During a previous national trial, residents' earnings showed sustained increases relative to a comparison group, even after the program ended.
  • Family Rewards offers very low-income families a broad range of financial incentives for activities designed to reduce current poverty while also working to reduce longer-term poverty. The pilot program reduced severe poverty by 13 percentage points, increased average savings by 62 percent and increases parents' full-time employment by 6 percentage points.
  • Project Rise offers education and paid internships to young adults who lack a high school diploma or GED and are out of school and out of work. Approximately half of the youth in the New York City pilot program remained employed or in education programs nine months after completing the internship.
  • WorkAdvance is a new workforce model that employs sector-focused and skills-building strategies to boost their earnings. A study of the New York pilot program found that participants were three times more likely to be placed in jobs, work more hours and earn higher wages than clients at traditional workforce centers.

The Social Innovation Fund is an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) that promotes public and private investments in effective nonprofit organizations to help them grow to serve more people in low-income communities.

To accomplish this goal, the SIF awards grants of $1 million to $5 million for up to five years to grant making intermediaries with track records of evidence-based decision-making. These intermediaries then match the federal contributions dollar-for-dollar and hold open competitions to identify and fund the most-effective nonprofits working in low-income communities, which match the grants dollar-for-dollar again.

Since 2010, the SIF has awarded $95 million to 16 intermediaries like CEO that have invested in more than 150 nonprofit organizations in 33 states and Washington, D.C. Each of those organizations is currently implementing innovative programs focused on solving critical community challenges. Thus far, these grants have yielded $250 million in commitments to raise additional funding from private donors to support these powerful solutions.

The 2012 Social Innovation Fund Grants Competition is now open, and we encourage all qualified grant makers to consider applying. Applications are due by Tuesday, March 27, at 5 p.m. Eastern.

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