I kicked off this blog by stating that the world is at an inflection point. As we head into the holiday season, I can’t help but feel that the work of advancing social innovation – developing, testing, and honing promising approaches, rewarding exceptional performance, spreading and scaling success, and catalyzing public-private partnerships across the nation – is approaching a critical inflection point as well.
As the Corporation for National and Community Service prepares to release its guidelines for public comment, there continues to be more and more activity on this issue bubbling up at city, state and federal levels.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Louisiana’s Office of Social Entrepreneurship to meet the 12 social innovators that the Office is supporting in an effort to identify and spread promising models, while some of my colleagues from Root Cause visited the OneStar Foundation’s Texas Social Innovation Initiative, which also just launched a program to do very much the same.
The Conference of Mayors recently announced a “Cities of Service” coalition, championed by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City and assisted by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, to support and engage mayors that want to emphasize service, as outlined in the Serve America Act, in their cities.
And, the new edition of Philanthrocapitalism, a great book by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, points out that the work happening at the federal level in the Office of Social Innovation and the Department of Education, among other things, demonstrates the Administration’s grasp of the importance of social innovation to our nation’s success.
Perhaps most exciting, from my perspective, was a recent convening at the Capitol (which I will share more about in a future post) hosted by Root Cause’s Public Innovators initiative. The event had three goals:
- Further the conversation about advancing social innovation throughout the federal government.
- Educate federal government officials and staffers about how to best address the issues they care about by partnering with social innovators, and offer recommendations on how this can best be done.
- Create a space in which to engage in substantive dialogue between innovators and government so that those in the room come to see each other as resources and partners.
There was an amazing collection of government leaders there: Congressman Jim Moran from Virginia, Congressional staffers (Chris Campbell from Sen. Hatch’s office, Peter Frosch from Rep. McCollum’s office, and Brian Van Hook from the Senate Small Business Committee/Sen. Landrieu’s office), Marta Urquilla from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Judy Reese Morse, Louisiana Lt. Governor Landrieu’s chief of staff, and Shivam Mallick-Shah from the Department of Education, all heralded this new way of solving old problems. Nonetheless, it came through clearly that these government leaders are heeding the warning that the enthusiasm of the few must move quickly to the many, and that we must begin to demonstrate success.
The challenge is, of course, that demonstrating success quickly will be difficult. We must find ways to move the agenda forward not only by clearly defining what success looks like, but also by bringing many efforts and approaches to the table. We need to test a variety of ideas so that each can offer lessons to the others and, if one is proven inadequate, it will not delegitimize the entire agenda. This will take unprecedented leadership, such as we have never seen, that puts an emphasis on collaboration as we all continue to prioritize our own sustainability. The inflection point, as we enter 2010 – a year some say will be even more challenging for the social sector then last year – is clear. The question is, how will we respond?
Photo by jonas maaloe via flikr
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